There are plenty of things for writers to study to become a better writer. The most important, however, is learning from foreshadowing examples in order to understand how to craft a satisfying story. Because at the end of the day, foreshadowing is among the most important element in fiction that dictates whether or not the climax and ending is satisfying.
And if you don’t have a satisfying story, what do you have?
A bummer. Nobody reviews bummer books well no matter how well your characters, plot, and world building is. And every review on your book counts—for better or for worse. So if you’ve been told to do foreshadowing well, but aren’t sure how to nail it and strike the balance between too much that gives everything away and not enough so your reader can’t put the pieces together, this guide will provide you with the info you need and plenty of examples to learn from.
Foreshadowing examples and how to do it well:
- The Purpose of Good Foreshadowing
- Types of Foreshadowing
- Obvious Foreshadowing Examples
- Hidden Foreshadowing Examples
- Scene Mimicry Foreshadowing Examples
- Description Foreshadowing Examples
- Mistakes to Avoid When Foreshadowing
What is foreshadowing & why is it used?
Foreshadowing is when authors write in hints and clues into the story that give insight into what will happen throughout the story with the purpose of crafting an inevitable ending that both makes sense and is satisfying to the reader.
You might think of mystery novels when you think of foreshadowing. While the main character is deciphering the clues to uncover the mystery, the reader is right there with them. In mystery, the author often reviews the foreshadowing in order to present the case.
Types of Foreshadowing to Add Variety to Your Story
There are various types of foreshadowing with more specific names. I find it more helpful, personally, to break up types of foreshadowing a bit further into tangible ways you can drop information into your story without the reader fully noticing.
So while you may know types of foreshadowing as concrete or prophecy or flashbacks, I’ve broken it down a bit further with these types:
These are the clues you want the reader to notice and hold onto. By writing these, you’re essentially saying, “Remember this, because I’m going to come back to it.” The purpose of this type of foreshadowing (which I’ll give foreshadowing examples for below) is to keep the reader turning the page. These are the elements in which the reader knows they mean something important.
This is, as you might expect, the exact opposite of obvious. These are the small easter eggs that many readers won’t even notice. In fact, these pieces are what you can look back on when reading a second or third time and see how the author gave us very subtle clues all along. More foreshadowing examples for this down below as well. Keep in mind that this type of foreshadowing is often the kind that goes viral, that readers discuss and contemplate. So it’s important to have, and it’s also okay if readers never discover it. Sometimes, they’re just easter eggs for you.
In storytelling, it’s important for readers to feel that the climax or other major events in a story are inevitable. They have to make sense. Scene mimicry is when you use a similar set up or scene type earlier in the story that will mimic major plot points later on. You’ll see foreshadowing examples below of this kind, as it’s one of the best ways you can write the opening of a story to best lure in the right readers.
I’d also say that character flaws and weaknesses would fall under this type of foreshadowing. When a character gives in to their flaw and it costs them something, this can often foreshadow not only the character arc, but a future scene in which they do it again.
Easter eggs are often best hidden in the spots where readers tend to rush through. While yes, readers pay attention to descriptions and the setting of a scene, most readers are excited to get to the action and dialogue of what’s next, because that’s usually where the entertainment happens. Which makes descriptions a fantastic place to hide details that foreshadow what’s to come. Examples of this below as well.
15 Examples of Foreshadowing to Learn From
Explaining the types above is all good and dandy, but what you need to learn are foreshadowing examples where you can watch these be played out. And as always, keep in mind that all of these types can be in play in a single novel, and they can also be spread out over an entire series.
WARNING: spoilers can be present for the examples given, for obvious reasons; the foreshadowing is often only notable when the plot point it effects is divulged.
Obvious Foreshadowing Examples
1. The Basement Door in The House on the Cerulean Sea
Early in the book, Linus Baker has to travel to a remote island and spend a month there to report on the orphanage and its caretaker. It’s noted before he arrives that they’re especially interested in the caretaker’s ability to manage the orphanage. This is obvious foreshadowing. We know that the story will unfold around this caretaker.
Then, a basement door is found. Linus discovers it after chasing after his cat, and it’s overgrown with flowers and plants from the garden, seemingly untouched for years. Linus decides to leave the door, but we readers know he’ll be back. It’s obvious because it’s placed there for the readers to see, fully knowing Linus will return to it.
2. Henry’s Timeline in The Time Traveler’s Wife
This story is old enough and is now a movie, but spoilers ahead!
This story follows Henry and Clare. Henry time travels, not of his own volition. He randomly comes and goes and it’s the story of their love over a lifetime and how they navigate these challenges. Sometime in the story, it’s made known that Clare never meets henry (he traveled to her when she was a child growing up regularly) when he’s older than his early 40s.
It’s obvious here that there’s a reason for this as we read. Then, as the book goes on, Henry meets his daughter when she’s 10-years-old, and her reaction to him informs him that he will, in fact, die when he’s 43. The story then continues for some time until this occurs.
3. Harry’s Scar Hurting in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
We first see Harry clutch his forehead in pain when he’s at Hogwarts for the first time. At this time, we know Harry got his scar from Lord Voldemort and there isn’t much evidence as to why it’s hurting this much at that point in the story. However, it’s obvious because the reader clearly know that his scar hurting means something important to the plot.
4. The Prophecy in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows
Prophecies are always obvious foreshadowing examples. They plainly state exactly what will come to be. The interesting thing about them is how they come to be. So it’s no surprise when the prophecy that says, “Neither can live while the other survives” means that Harry will have to kill Voldemort himself, and then that’s exactly what happens to defeat the dark lord.
However, it was never as simple as that, due to the need to seek and destroy all the horcuxes before that and all the trouble those events caused.
Hidden Foreshadowing Examples
the easter eggs that we can look back on to see that a character would betray the main character. the small comments or little details that make twists or unexpected plot progression make sense. it’s the small things the readers look back on and think “i should have known!” Mystery genre is amazing at this.
1. What’s Written in Metal in Mistborn
POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD: If you haven’t read Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson, this may spoil it, but is a fantastic example. I’ll try to keep as much spoilers out as I can.
In the second book of this series, The Well of Ascension, we see Sazed encounter a long letter carved into metal. He then uses his magic to hold it to perfect memory, storing this reading inside a metal object. Later, he copies what he stored onto parchment.
However, at the time of discovering this letter carved into metal, the author of it clearly states, “do not trust that which is not written in metal.” This very line is completely overlooked and forgotten by both characters and readers alike, leading to significant trouble. We don’t see how this impacts the story until it’s too late.
2. Conning the Mark in The City of Brass
In this story, we’re introduced to the main character, who is a pick pocket, divulging the art of conning. We know this is who she is and what she’s about, and those skills come in handy throughout the plot. But when we get to the end, it’s revealed that she’s in the position she’s in, acting a part, as a mean to con her mark—a big surprise to the reader.
3. A Death in The Hunger Games
It’s old enough and widely known enough, but spoilers will be told! Big ones! For The Hunger Games series.
There are a few hidden foreshadowing examples in this series for various things. The idea of Katniss saving Prim, and the question of whether or not she can, is introduced early in the story. The reader thinks that by volunteering to join the games, Katniss has saved her life. But when Katniss enters the game, there is foreshadowing that takes place with Rue. Rue reminds Katniss of Prim, and so she does her best to save her…but fails. This act of Katniss not being able to save the life of someone like Prim, foretells the eventual death of Prim in the final book.
At the time, however, it only seems like Rue is a young girl that Katniss wants to save.
Scene Mimicry Foreshadowing Example
1. Gandalf to the Rescue in The Lord of the Rings
Earlier in the first story, Gandalf comes in to save the day, using his powers to right the wrongs. During the climax, when it seems as though they’ll be defeated, he once again shows up to right wrongs and save the day.
With foreshadowing like this—someone coming to the rescue—you have to be careful. If it isn’t foreshadowed that the main character will be saved by an outside source, and then they are, it can upset readers because they want the character to solve the challenge for themselves. When you foreshadow it, however, then it makes sense and is just a part of the story.
2. Katniss Sacrificing Self in The Hunger Games
In the beginning of the story, Katniss Everdeen sacrifices herself by volunteering in the games. In a way, this is her giving her life for her sister’s, because she doesn’t believe she’d ever survive it. But it’s a great foreshadowing example of scene mimicry because during the climax, when she and Peeta are the only ones left, she decides to once again sacrifice herself by eating the berries. It’s just something this character would do, and it makes sense.
In this case, however, she’s stopped and gets to survive.
3. Kelsier-Only Plan Details in Mistborn
Semi-spoilers ahead! But I will not say the actual plot point.
In the first book in this series, Kelsier, who is a main character and mistborn, is running the show and planning the majority of the heist that takes place. But the thing is….Kelsier only brings people in to parts of the plan that they will be influencing. He keeps some stuff to himself, seemingly always going out on his own during the big events.
This seems like nothing other than a character trait, but it’s in fact foreshadowing the very end of the story, when he does this again in a major way.
The structure of this scene plays out at least three times before the climax when this behavior of his is repeated, yet again.
4. Henry in Danger in The Time Traveler’s Wife
From the beginning of the story, it’s told to the reader how dangerous Henry’s time traveling is. First of all, he can only time travel naked and therefore loses all of his clothes, popping up in time somewhere in the nude. We also see several instances in which he arrives in dangerous situations; in the middle of a highway, in someone’s home and is chased out by a man, when he has to grab the nearest outfit and is attacked for looking too feminine as a male.
These scenes are popping up in increasing severity until the climax of the story, where the dangers come to a head and result in a terrible fate. These foreshadowing examples are key in creating an inevitable ending.
5. Indiana Jones Adventuring
There are too many foreshadowing examples to choose from here. All of the Indiana Jones adventures open with a montage of our hero on some quest to get some talisman or treasure of some sort. Only in these scenes, he fails.
These scenes are mimicking the climax, in which they’re just embarked on a much larger and more important expedition and has to face a number of challenges before eventually succeeding this time.
Description Foreshadowing Examples
1. Sounds of Shuffling in Elantris
In this book by Brandon Sanderson, Princess Sarene presents one of the better foreshadowing examples when it comes to using descriptions of surroundings. While she’s in her chambers, we can an internal monologue of sorts that ends up being interrupted by a sound she hears, and has heard. It’s described as a whooshing sound and she let’s it go for the time being, only for it to be created by something significant later in the story.
2. The Tapestry in Throne of Glass
A little ways into the Throne of Glass book, Celaena arrives at her quarters in the palace. She describes the entire area with gold furniture and crimson decor as well as a tapestry hanging on the wall. While it just looks like a scene description at the moment, we’ll later discover the significant of the tapestry and what it reveals in the story.
The author here is using the opportunity of a standard room description to sneak in bits of foreshadowing we’ll visit later in the book.
3. The Room of Requirement in Harry Potter
Harry Potter is ripe with tons of little foreshadowing opportunities.
From the vanishing cabinet in Borgin and Burkes first being seeing in The Chamber of Secrets before later being used later in the series all the way to a casual mention of a bathroom Dumbledore stumbled upon when he really needed it, only to not be able to find it again.
The latter situation was specifically foreshadowing the later use of the room in multiple books, even in the finale when Harry needed to find the last horcrux hidden at Hogwarts. But when we first hear about it, it’s a casual snippet from Dumbledore that doesn’t seem to matter much, like other foreshadowing examples like descriptions.
Mistakes to Avoid When Foreshadowing
Using these foreshadowing examples is great, but there’s more to it than that. Most writers make a few key mistakes that can cost them readership (and contribute to people talking about how bad the foreshadowing is like the image below).
Here are a few mistakes to avoid when doing foreshadowing in your novel:
- Paying too much attention to the foreshadowed item: If you highlight an item you’re trying to foreshadow too much, you’ll give it away. Remember that readers know how to read a book; if you spend a lot of time in one area, they’ll assume it’s for a reason and file it away in their brain for later. This often gives away the endings if you’re trying to be sly about it. Try to hide your foreshadowing in other plot elements so they’re more focused on the action and not on what you just foreshadowed.
- Foreshadowing that isn’t character consistent: You can’t throw in something early in the book that’s totally out of character just so you can create a climax that’s also out of character. Notice that none of the foreshadowing examples above are out of character. They all make sense the entire time.
- Only doing one kind: You’re not doing yourself any favors if you only put in hidden foreshadowing. Your readers need to know that something is coming down the line, and it has to be something important. You can’t try to misdirect attention in a big way, only for that misdirection to not have anything to do with the plot later. Do various types of foreshadowing to give the reader a full experience.
While this element can be difficult for many writers, studying great foreshadowing examples can help you do it better and more seamlessly in the future. But you also have to remember that foreshadowing is only one of the many aspects that makes up a quality novel.
Check out this class to discover how to make a comprehensive, quality novel: