Foreshadowing and foregrounding in writing


Foreshadow:  hints and clues that tip the reader off as to what is to come later…

I guess foreshadowing might also follow the analogy of building a house, it’s about laying foundations and placing clues that later come to fruition. In fact it might be the metaphor for the way you see your career, get the training right and who knows where it might lead.

It also leads me to the phrase I read once and love, don’t promise them a strawberry and give them a pickle … actually that wasn’t quite it, but it’s another little play on foreshadowing, don’t draw the reader’s attention to something, some aspect of a character’s personality, like a phobia of spiders, if you don’t draw on it later. It would be intuitive this fear might be a weakness at a crucial plot moment,  and it might also be a strength in overcoming it.

The use of techniques to foreshadow some event is a tension builder, and if you’re subtle, it’s also a way of using back-story about a character, but without plot-stopping chunks of exposition. By this I mean how you foreshadow is important, so show a scene that reveals a fear of spiders, the brother leaves a plastic spider in the bed, or something like that. What this does is show the fear without shouting about it and the reader will imbibe it, store it away and wait for it to be used later. After all, why say something if it doesn’t have a function? You can use red herrings, but these are different although they might be used to foreshadow some event later. Only it’s not what you think it is!

So do think about how you foreshadow in your writing, but the trick is not to be too obvious or the plot will become too transparent.

So, that’s foreshadowing, but what’s foregrounding? The same?

Not quite, but it does highlight something you may use later and it is more of a  literary device . It’s a way of making narrative stand out on the page.

Foreground: to bring some aspect of the narrative into sharp focus

At a basic level this does the same as foreshadowing, in that it draws the reader’s attention to something, that has to therefore be important, perhaps like a film, we shift angle to something happening in front of the camera. Behind there is a scene of a school shooting, lots of people, but we see the boy standing by the fence fiddling with a toy gun. The toy gun might throw you and is essentially the stand out object. We have foregrounded this. And we assume it has some relevance to what really happened  and will be used later on.

We might also see foregrounding in literary style, in the use of language, so certain phrases stand out on the page. For example the rule of three for emphasis, a work used wrongly and out of context that plants it firmly into the reader’s mind. Perhaps the use of words wrongly might have a real significance at a crucial moment of the plot, lead to a misunderstanding?

We use all kinds of techniques so the way the story is told becomes more than just a once upon a time there was this boy that liked to play with toy guns, but a real journey into someone’s mind, a connection to something, becoming someone else … it really is about how you tell it and a lot of devices we use, come because we read them in other books, we play with ways to tell the story. You don’t always need to know even all the intricacies of them … you just know them. What’s interesting is when you read your work and see how you have foreshadowed or used foregrounding to make phrases stand out in the text without thinking about.

So there you have it, a little foreshadowing of this weeks Blogs, some devices we might use to make our work stand out.


And remember Fiction Clinic on Friday. I only have one piece so far. Send me about 500 words and say what’s bothering you about it and we’ll look at it anon on Friday. Send before Thursday afternoon to

That’s all, happy writing!


Leave a comment

Filed under Back-story, Description, Editing, Exposition, Fiction Clinic, Flashback, How to edit opening chapters, Learning to be a writer, Literary Fiction, Mainstream Fiction, Mentoring, Novel writing, Publishing, Reading, Short Stories, Writing, writing like building

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s