6 Types of Foreshadowing for Writers

Posted on Mar 20, 2023

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Written by P.J McNulty

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Using literary techniques such as foreshadowing is something of a risk. 

When done well, they add a level of skill and sophistication to your story that wouldn’t otherwise exist. Readers are able to appreciate your work on a deeper, more subtle level than purely that of plot.

However, when used the wrong way, a technique can derail your story. If you’ve ever experienced a story with an abysmally-executed twist ending you’ll know just how it spoil everything that came before it. It leaves a sour taste in the mouth of the reader that will stop them coming back for more of your work in the future. 

One such technique is foreshadowing. Skillful foreshadowing can make a reader want to experience your whole book right away to enjoy the hints they missed the first time. Bad foreshadowing not only spoils your book’s plot but does so in a way that demolishes your credibility as a skilled writer. 

Read on to discover more about the different types of foreshadowing and how they can be used for a better book.

What is foreshadowing?

Foreshadowing is a literary technique used to hint about how a plot might develop. It creates a sense of expectation and suspense as to how events might unfold, leading to dramatic tension and keeping the reader interested. 

Foreshadowing can me more or less obvious. It can be achieved through almost any aspect of the story, such as description, dialogue, or even a book’s title.

Essentially, foreshadowing allows the author to influence the reader’s emotional and intellectual sense of expectation as to how the rest of the book will unfold. 

Are there different types of foreshadowing?

Yes, there are different types of foreshadowing. Casual readers may speak of it as being a single technique but it can actually be deployed in distinct ways and for different purposes. 

Understanding the different types of foreshadowing is a great way to set yourself apart from other authors. When you understand how and why each is used, you can give your reader an emotional rollercoaster that many other books don’t provide. 

What are the different types of foreshadowing?

There are at least six distinct types of foreshadowing that you can use in your writing.

This isn’t a hard and fast list – literature is, after all, art, and as such can be interpreted and categorized in different ways. 

However, getting a solid grasp on these six types of foreshadowing is an effective way to start boosting your ability to deploy literary techniques. 

Here are the six types of foreshadowing we will cover:

1 – Concrete foreshadowing 

Concrete foreshadowing is the strongest, most literal type of foreshadowing of all. It’s commonly expressed through the principle of Chekhov’s Gun. 

Chekhov’s Gun states that every object in a story must have a purpose within its plot. For example, if a gun is mentioned as a wall decoration, it must later be fired in the story. 

Other writers, such as Hemingway, disagree with the concept of details only serving a role in the plot, but it doesn’t detract from the easiest, most solid form of foreshadowing involving directly showing something seemingly innocuous that later becomes significant.

2 – Prophecy foreshadowing 

While many types of foreshadowing involve subtle hints or suggestion from the author, prophecy foreshadowing shows what is later to come by it being outright stated, either verbally or some other form of prophecy. 

This can take the form of a direct and clear prophecy stating something will happen in the future, an unclear declaration about the future that only makes sense in retrospect, or a comment or claim that doesn’t sound like a prophecy at the time but turns out to be with hindsight. 

3 – Flashback foreshadowing 

Many writers categorize flashbacks and foreshadowing as two different techniques, but there’s a way that certain types of flashback can be seen as foreshadowing. 

To be clear, a flashback involves a narrative departing from its main timeline and showing something that happened earlier. This could be glimpse at a character’s childhood, or a time far further back in the past. 

So what exactly is flashback foreshadowing?

This type of foreshadowing is used only when the purpose of the flashback is to hint at what comes later. Flashbacks can be used for other reasons, such as explaining something that has already taken place or just to service worldbuilding and the lore the author is creating. 

Therefore, flashback foreshadowing can be defined as ‘a flashback intended to hint at later events in the story’. 

4 – Flashforward foreshadowing 

Much like flashback foreshadowing, flashforwards are often treated as something distinct from foreshadowing. Similarly, they can be distinct, or they can be a type of foreshadowing. Let’s consider why.

A flashforward is a departure from a narrative’s timeline in order to show something that takes place chronologically later. When this happens explicitly, the reader is fully aware they are being shown future events. The mystery and tension stem from knowing the destination but not how it will be reached. 

Flashforward foreshadowing, however, is more subtle than that. It won’t leave the reader thinking ‘I know what happens later’ in the story. It might, at most, leave them thinking ‘maybe that flashforward is hinting at what happens’ but not entirely sure. Or, the flashforward foreshadowing may only become apparent after the foreshadowed event transpires. It can even occur that readers are shown flashforwards without being aware they’ve departed the main timeline until later, causing a form of chronological twist. 

5 – Symbolic foreshadowing 

Symbolic foreshadowing, like other types of symbolism, requires some lateral thinking and interpretation from the reader in order to be understood. 

Unlike prophecy foreshadowing, where readers witness a telling of what will happen, or concrete foreshadowing, where an object later takes on greater meaning symbolic foreshadowing might involve something such as the clothes a character is depicted in, a particular season of the year, or even the weather.

To understand symbolic foreshadowing, try to first understand the role of symbolism in literature as a separate concept. Then, it becomes much easier to see how this can be used for the purpose of foreshadowing. 

6 – Fallacy foreshadowing 

Fallacy foreshadowing is a technique used by writers to suggest to their reader that their story will go in a particular direction when it eventually goes in a different direction entirely. Just as concrete foreshadowing is often understood through the concept of Chekhov’s gun, fallacy foreshadowing is easily understood as a red herring. 

Fallacious foreshadowing, when used skillfully, impacts the reader in two ways – first, they experience tension as the story builds to the outcome they expect. Second, they experience shock when things turn out totally differently – often with another form of foreshadowing hinting at the true outcome in retrospect. 

Should you foreshadow events in your story?

There are really only two criteria to help you decide that you should use foreshadowing in your story:

  1. You are able to do so in a way that makes the story better for a reader and doesn’t distract or annoy them 
  2. The foreshadowing is relevant and worthwhile – basically, the payoff has to be justify the amount of foreshadowing that went into it. You can subtly foreshadow something, but if the reader doesn’t care about the outcome one way or the other, it’s all for nothing. 

Foreshadowing is by no means compulsory. Good characters and plot are the absolute essentials for most fiction writers. Foreshadowing is something nice to use but by no means as important as other elements of your story. 

If you’re new to foreshadowing, try and abide by the principle of less is more – like spice or cologne, it’s effective in subtle doses but utterly repulsive when excessive. 

Examples of foreshadowing 

So what does foreshadowing look like in the context of an actual story?

In the Harry Potter series, Tom Riddle’s diary is kept by Harry for reasons he can’t really explain, but a feeling that to lose it would be like losing friendship, hinting at the horcrux twist that is to come. 

Ron Weasley also verbally foreshadows by joking that Riddle got his Hogwarts medal for murdering Myrtle, which later turns out to be the case. 

Finally, in Lord of the Flies, a hint to future developments is given when a character states they’ve got to obey rules because they are not savages. You probably know how that turns out!

Are you ready to include foreshadowing in your book?

You now have a good grasp of the different types of foreshadowing to use in your fiction story.

Don’t forget to focus on the other essential elements that keep readers satisfied. Take care of fundamentals like crating memorable characters and devising a gripping plot. 

But don’t overlook the potential for foreshadowing to enhance the reader’s experience. 

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