Writers need to know whether they are foreshadowing or telegraphing in their stories but not everyone understands the difference.
By now, most of us know that we should go back and touch up our stories so that there is a hint of foreshadowing – so that our readers can look back and think ‘aha, that rascally author hinted at X, X and X and by god, I didn’t know it at that time.’
If you have done that, hurray and kudos to you. You’ve done it right.
If, on the other hand, you’ve dropped so many HINTS (and I use caps for a reason) that the reader has an easy time figuring out what will happen – you are guilty of telegraphing your plot instead of foreshadowing it.
Under no circumstances should your reader guess what your story is all about. After all, why bother reading it then. Right?
Sometimes, though, authors get so muddled up that what they think is foreshadowing is actually telegraphing. Make sure you are not guilty of this common mistake.
In foreshadowing, the author drops enough hints so that the reader can whap the side of his/her head and think ‘oh god, I should have figured that out.’ It’s kind of like a mystery in many ways. Random characters that are woven in and out of the plot so that the reader questions who, what and why they are there is good. They should be able to be tied together by the end of the book and when the reveal is done, it should be a ‘eureka’ moment. That is good foreshadowing.
Good old J.K. Rowling and Georges R.R. Martin are past masters at this. Read, read and read these type of books to figure out their sneaky ways.
One great way of foreshadowing is to plop in clues after you have finished your first draft. Drive your readers insane. They will thank you in the end when they read your very satisfying ending that doesn’t gel with any of the theories they have formed in their own minds.
How often have you seen a movie where you have figured out the plot before the end? Isn’t it a massive disappointment? What’s the point of watching (or reading) something where you can predict the end?
Most of the fun is trying to do so, but not actually being successful.
If someone can guess correctly what’s going to happen to the main character, you’re telegraphing. This often happens when you are telling too much in your novel. Go back into your draft and obfuscate, confuse and muddle up your story line.
Bottom line – foreshadow, but do not telegraph.
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