I’m not talking about all the usual suspects of literary crimes – the ones we’ve all discussed ’til we’re blue in the face – but rather, the other things that aren’t as commonly discussed but, nonetheless, drive me batty.
I’m currently reading a book (not work related) that is filled to the gills with foreshadowing statements. I kid you not, there is at least one in every chapter, each suggesting certain plot developments will happen later in the book. There are so many, in fact, that I’d like to predict this author’s literary career over and done with. Yes, it’s that bad. And I have to give a shake of my finger to the editor, who allowed this travesty to go unmolested.
What do I mean by this?
Foreshadow: to show or indicate beforehand.
It’s one of the literary devices in a writer’s tackle box. In the hands of a skilled writer, foreshadowing sets its little literary trap without the reader even being aware of it. It’s usually a small aside, meant to be akin to a passing statement. When that plot development happens, the reader instantly remembers the hint that was dropped chapters earlier.
It can be a big thing (the foundation of the plot, like in Romeo and Juliette, who would rather defy their families’ feud than live without each other. Or it can be a small thing like walking out without your new car registration and getting on the freeway. The foreshadowing hints that the character will need that registration at some point in the future.
It’s fine to just leave it at that:
Jane grabbed her purse and yelled upstairs to her husband. “I’m leaving now for the drive-thru daiquiri factory. Be home soon.”
Ron looked at the mail sitting on his desk and saw the car registration. He jumped up and ran downstairs. “Jane, hold on, you forgot to take the car registration.” Too late. Ron stood in the middle of the street and watched the tail lights of his wife’s car disappear around the corner.
That’s foreshadowing, and the reader now has a hint something is going to happen that involves Jane not having her car registration. Bada bing, bada boom.
What I really, really, really detest is when the author feels compelled to add a…“Jane would soon learn that she should have checked the mail.”
It’s unnecessary pluff and takes the reader out of the moment. The author makes a huge mistake for not giving the reader some credit for having a brain.
How you deliver that hint is what makes for fun reading or the fervent desire to consume bleach. Right now, I’m in the drinking bleach category because the author is so hideously clumsy with every single chapter…and this is a Random House pubbed book. There’s no attempt at being clever or remotely artistic. Readers don’t need to be told,
I’ve noticed that some writers worry that they’ve been too subtle and the reader won’t pick up the clues, so they feel compelled to give the reader a helping hand with a “HELLO, PAY ATTENTION TO THIS PART!” statement. If you’re that concerned, run it past your beta readers. Readers are a lot more intuitive than we think, and the worst thing we can do is treat them as if they’d dropped their brains in the back alley.
Are there scenes in your book where you do this, or are tempted to?