Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Hint of Things To Come; or ... Foreshadowing

Last week, I did something disconcerting.

I threw Celia, the main character in my work-in-progress, off of her airship while it was in flight.

Don't worry, she's fine. She was wearing a harness and had a rope tied to it. Of course, Nicholas Fletcher, her love interest, was pretty upset about it anyway, because he wasn't expecting it.

He should have been, though, because I foreshadowed it a couple of times earlier in the story. I mentioned a couple of times how, when Celia was younger, her father used to have to tie a rope around her so that when she fell -- or perhaps jumped -- over the edge, he could haul her back in again. And after I'd mentioned that a couple of times, I pretty much had to have a scene where Celia went over the edge of the gondola, didn't I?

I have to admit that my foreshadowing doesn't always work out that well. Quite often, I have to go back after the fact and say, "Hmm, how can I foreshadow this major plot point earlier on in the story?" Sometimes I can find a way to tuck hints in seamlessly, but sometimes it doesn't work out so well. That's why it's so satisfying to me when I can put the foreshadowing in, well, ahead of time.

Then, of course, there's the question of how much foreshadowing you should do, and how much is enough, and how much is too much. As a reader, I like there to be surprises; I don't like everything to be laid out too clearly ahead of time. And I certainly don't like to be hit over the head repeatedly by the author, who is determined that I not miss what's coming because I just wasn't paying attention.

So I don't foreshadow everything. I don't even do all the major plot points. But I do like to throw in a few hints, just to see who's paying attention.

How much foreshadowing do other folks do? What are some of the best and worst examples you've read (or written)?