Monday, October 10, 2011

Why I Hate Foreshadowing

I don’t just dislike it a little bit; whenever I read it, I get an icky taste in my mouth.

This is why:

  1. I already know something big is going to happen. It’s a book. That’s how it works. 
  2. After reading the back cover, I probably know the big thing you’re foreshadowing. 
  3. When you foreshadow, you run the risk of disappointing your readers. I just finished a book that went on and on about how the MC is afraid of burning in hell for the terrible things she’s done. When I read what she did, I thought, “That’s it?” 
  4. I like being surprised. Doesn’t everybody? 
  5. It isn’t true to life. I don’t get any foreshadowing, so why should my characters? When I discover things at the same pace as the character, I feel like I’m along for the ride. 
  6. It pulls me out of the story. Because it isn’t true to life, foreshadowing reminds me, “Oh yeah, this is a book and an author is writing it. It isn’t real.” 
  7. It’s always so melodramatic. Foreshadowing usually reads like this: “Little did I know that this small action would destroy everything I hold dear,” or “This should have been a sign to me that my life was about to change for the worst,” or even, “If I had known what lay in store for me, I would have prayed for God to take my soul then and there.” For heaven’s sake. Lighten up.
 
I predict that many lovers of foreshadowing will argue with me on this. Since I honestly don’t understand foreshadowing, I look forward to hearing your points.

11 comments:

  1. All very good points. Ham-fisted foreshadowing ruins a lot of books for me.

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  2. I think that foreshadowing should be as inconspicuous as possible so that when something dramatic happens the reader will find it more believable. If a character never takes flying lessons it becomes off-putting when the big moment comes at ten thousand feet with him behind the throttle when we didn't know he could fly in the first place.

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  3. I agree with you that blatant foreshadowing is awfully horrible. But foreshadowing that's done really well can be kind of fun. When it's in the background and almost missed it can be cool to see how it ties things together.
    I have an example but it's not literary, sorry. It's just the first one that came to mind.
    We were recently re-watching the fourth season of The Office. If you don't watch it this might not make sense, but it's the episode where Michael is wanting his employees to find him a girlfriend and Jim jokingly tells Pam that he's going to give Michael her mom's number. Later on Michael actually does date Pam's mom for a short time.
    This is a little more difficult because you'd have to be paying really close attention and remember this tiny detail over several episodes, but it's fun to go back and say, 'oh wait, that actually did happen.' That kind of foreshadowing can be good, but when it's being thrown in your face it's just gross.

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  4. It all depends how it's done. If it's of the "if I'd known then what I know now" school of foreshadowing, well that can be a bit much. (Though I must admit to being a sucker when Sarah Waters pulls one of her "to write of this is to anticipate my story" routines, like in TIPPING THE VELVET.)

    But skillfully done foreshadowing can be uber-cool—especially if the readers doesn't realize it's foreshadowing until after the fact. Then they have the pleasure of looking back with an "aha!" moment. Foreshadowing used in this manner can reveal authorial control over the story in a good way.

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  5. I agree with you on this one! It pulls the reader out of the experience, I think.

    On a completely random note: I went away on vacation and didn't have internet access. One of the first things I did once I got home and online was read your blog posts. You are seriously one of my favourite blogs to read. So thank you for what you do.

    http://the-creationofbeauty.blogspot.com

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  6. Wow. That blew me away, HansonShirt. I'm blushing! Thank you!

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  7. Wow, I never thought about it that way. I really need to check my foreshadowing. Great post. I'm a new follower.

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  8. I guess that I have to partially agree with you on this one. Blatant foreshadowing (such as the examples you gave) is incredibly annoying. However, the best kind of foreshadowing is the little clues that you don't see when you read the book initially, but notice on your second time through (if you happened to like the book enough to read it a second time). I'm a new follower by the way, and I think your blog is great!

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  9. The way I understand it is that the only purpose of foreshadowing is to make later actions seem plausible to the reader. If you look at it that way, it makes a lot more sense. Foreshadowing prevents melodrama/sentimentality. But yes, it should be handled carefully. If you have a character continually saying, "I COULD KILL HIM AND I PROBABLY WILL -- SOMEDAY." Then, well... And, visa versa, a character suddenly bashing someone's skull in when they never had violent tendencies to begin with. 1984 has some amazing foreshadowing. They mention the picture hanging on the wall, they mention checking it for bugs, etc. and what do you know? Plus a thousand other "tells".

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  10. I think it all depends on what the piece is you are reading. In some cases foreshadowing is humorous. In some cases, I think it is actually necessary to tell the particular story and without it would be less impactful. I think you know you're reading a book too, if not, you have more serious issues but I get your point and would say I agree that in many cases, it can ruin the story. Look how well it can be used in movies too.

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  11. I agree. Any book targeted at a demographic of fully grown adults should avoid this cheap gimmick. I enjoyed foreshadowing when I was a young reader. Now, it irritates me, unless it is done as a clever parody.

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