This week: The Shadow KnowsEdited by: LJPC - the tortoise
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This newsletter is about foreshadowing.
Quotes that foreshadow:
“By the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way comes.”
~ William Shakespeare, Macbeth
“There are older and fouler things than orcs in the deep places of the world.”
~ J. R. Tolkein, Lord of the Rings
“There is no exquisite beauty,” says Bacon, Lord Verulam, speaking truly of all the forms and genera of beauty, “without some strangeness in the proportion."
~ Edgar Allan Poe, Ligeia
Who Knows What Evil Lurks?
(Famous radio show from the 1930s.)
In this case, the Shadow knows everything because he's you -- the writer! You know what thrilling things are in your story, and you must hint to the reader what they are. Foreshadowing is a way of putting up literary sign-posts that point toward big events in the future. It encourages readers to stick with the story because exciting things are coming up.
A writer usually foreshadows by showing that if X happens, it would be the worst possible thing for the character(s), so when the reader gets to the event, he is even more upset by the development.
For instance, if you establish early in the story that a character has a fear of heights and would be deathly afraid to traverse anything high, then you can put in a scene at the end where s/he must cross a rickety bridge over a canyon to escape. But if you don’t foreshadow the character’s fear of heights, your ending reads like this:
The group raced to the summit of the hill. One by one, they made it across to the safety of other side where the heavy monster couldn’t follow. But Ann hung back, staring at the rickety bridge, her whole body trembling.
“Hurry up, Ann,” Tim yelled as the roars of the creature grew louder.
“I can’t,” Ann wailed. “I’m afraid of heights. I can’t cross!”
“What?” Tim’s mouth hung open in surprise.
And the reader is also thinking, What??!! When did she start being afraid of heights? I don’t remember that. The confusion will pull the reader right out of the story.
How to Foreshadow
Both dialog and inner thoughts are the usual way writers foreshadow future events. You can foreshadow the tone of the story, an actual event, or a reveal (where you reveal surprising info about a character).
Examples of Foreshadowing the Beginning of a Story to show trouble is coming:
“Stay in tonight,” Clair pleaded, clinging to her husband. “You must not go into the forest, tonight of all nights.” But he pulled away, gathered his cloak and rifle, and didn’t even say farewell as he strode out the door and into the darkness.
The reader will wonder what's in the forest and why is it worse "tonight of all nights?"
Jerry trudged up the path, fallen leaves crackling under his feet. The afternoon breeze tapered off. Not a breath of air fanned Jerry’s sweaty face. He stopped and cocked his head but heard only his own quiet breaths. The woods were dead silent -- the calm before the storm.
Uh-oh. What will happen when the storm comes?
Examples of Foreshadowing an Actual Event:
Here's one way the writer SHOULD HAVE foreshadowed the fear-of-heights problem demonstrated in the beginning.
The group of teens halted at the summit of the hill, and Ann gasped. “What’s that?” She raised a shaking finger and pointed at a half-rotted rope bridge stretching across the canyon. “We’re not crossing here, are we?”
“Naw,” said Tim. “That thing’s too dangerous. We’ll go the long way around.”
“Thank God.” Ann’s tense shoulders relaxed. “I hate heights. I’d never be able to cross it even if my life depended on it.”
Now, the reader is well aware of her phobia. At the end when the monster chases the kids to the bridge, the reader will already know exactly what Ann’s problem is, and the tension will increase.
Another example, inspired by Romeo and Juliet:
"If I can’t be with you, I don’t want to live.” Julie wrapped her hand around Roman’s.
“We’ll make a pact. If our parents won’t allow us to marry, we’ll kill ourselves and be together in the afterlife.” After Julie nodded, Roman gave her a solemn kiss.
Once the reader knows this, they’ll be much more worried when R & J talk to their parents and will have a good idea what will happen if the parents say no.
Examples of Foreshadowing a Reveal:
Janice smirked and shoved Tina toward the mine entrance. “Watch out! If you go in the mine at night, the Millers will get you and eat your face.”
“Stop it!” Tina lurched away from the entrance. “That story freaks me out!”
“Oh, come on. The Miller family were hunted down and killed after they murdered those kids and ate them. All the crazy, Face-Munching Millers are dead.”
Then later in the story, you reveal that Tina’s new boyfriend “Luke” is actually Luke Miller, a descendant of the murdering Miller family. Uh-oh.
”I bit him!” Lacey sat up in her hospital bed and faced the detectives who were taking down her story. “When the guy pulled me into the vacant house and stabbed me, it was too dark to see his face, but I bit him on his forearm. You have to find him before he comes here to finish the job.”
So the attacker has a bite mark on his arm, huh? Later, when a storm traps Lacey and a bunch of people in the library, you reveal that Miss Trundle, the town’s beloved old librarian, has a mysterious bandage on her arm. Heh-heh-heh.
Foreshadowing is a way of hinting at trouble coming.
By foreshadowing, the writer will increase the readers’ suspicions and encourage them to continue.
Foreshadowing can be used to create a tense atmosphere at the beginning of a story or used to show details that will become very important later.
Until next time: Let the horror bleed onto the pages with every word!
Here are some spooky stories for your reading pleasure!
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To my delight, some writers took the time to comment on my last newsletter: "Devil's Advocate" Thank you!
Comments listed in the order they were received.
dejavu_BIG computerprobs writes: Another fantastic, inspirational newsletter, LJPC ! Your 5 pronged approach to character arc, etc were concise and helpful. I'd love to see a newsletter with ideas on how to just hint at the horror happening- sort of letting reader imagination take over and imagine the gore but keeping psychological horror high.
Thanks for the kind thoughts! I love the idea about doing a piece about psychological horror, and I’ll do it next month! Along with my thanks, when the next NL goes live, I’ll send you an MB!
pinkbarbie writes: There's sometimes so many ideas to put into a short piece. What if I need all the ideas to be in one piece but have a word limit? When I started writing horror at the beginning here at WDC, I got some reviews saying that my story was confusing and that there was so much in a short piece of 1000 words. They were right because I realised that too. However, sometimes the story might not make sense or be as enjoyable if I left out some bits. This is an area I'm still struggling in.
Working with a word limit is a great way to learn how to be concise. I did a lot of "Daily Flash Fiction Challenge" when I first joined WDC and it helped a lot. If you want, you can send me the 1000-word story you’re having a problem with (or another flash fiction piece) and I’ll review it and see if I can find ways to keep the word count low while getting all the points across.
Bard writes: Specifically for the editor of this particular newsletter:
I happen to have a comment on section 4 - Character Arc
You use the word "must". That the character MUST change, but that's not true. Look at Indiana Jones or James Bond or a great number of characters from The Great Gatsby. They don't change; they don't grow - they just move on with no alternation to their views or beliefs or personality.
A captivating story and character does not NEED a character arc; characters don't have to grow. Even though my examples are action heroes, they no less apply to horror/scary stories as well. Not all characters must have some personality trait or internal device working against them to be compelling or to make the story work. It helps when the plot is character driven, but it is not necessary - especially when the plot is driven by overcoming physical difficulties that are entirely external based. A changing character is good and all, but, please, keep the 'stayer' character type in mind for future suggestions about character enhancement. Not all characters must change to be good characters - sometimes the most believable person is one that has no growth to achieve their goals.
The use of such definitive words such as 'must' create the wrong impression on new authors that may be reading and limit their true potential if they believe they can only make effective characters that grow.
Hi Alexia Wynd! I really appreciate the time you took to write a reply to my last newsletter and detail your concerns -- you made some excellent points. I’ll try to be as concise and helpful as I can in response.
It’s difficult to compare the success of movies with a novel because movies are a collaboration of many people, talents, and arts. In “Raiders of the Lost Arc,” Lucas, Spielberg, and Harrison had more to do with its success than the screenwriter, Kasdan. (Derivative films like “King Solomon’s Mines” with an Indiana Jones-type character named Allan Quatermain were flops.) The Indiana Jones movies received some awards for technical excellence but none for writing or original story. A novelist doesn’t have the luxury of special effects, exciting images, and a superstar playing the main character. It’s all in the writing.
Also, books like The Great Gatsby are literary fiction not genre fiction. It’s a special case. The author can do anything he likes. There are no rules.
In my newsletters, I try to take what I’ve learned from reading hundreds of blogs, articles, and books by agents, editors, screenwriters, and industry professionals. Then I pass on the technical advice to WDC members. There are different rules for comics, superhero stories, or graphic novels, but in genre writing, I’ve never heard of an agent or editor recommending the “stayer” character. The top professionals recommend deep characterizations with realistic character development and a character arc in addition to a host of other ingredients.
However, whether advice is from agents, editors, famous authors, or little ol' newsletter editors, it's just personal opinion. Writers can break rules and still make it onto the bestseller lists. I wish you success in all your writing endeavors!
9 years whew! writes: I love this NL, I always learn things and find things I want to keep for reference as I write. Thanks again for this!
Thanks so much for the compliment. I look forward to your replies to my newsletters every month!
Lornda writes: Awesome newsletter, Laura! I enjoyed reading all of your tips and advice on how to revise. As far as some input for you, how about exploring some aspects of writing horror into a psychological thriller? Are there any tips for adding elements to this side of the horror genre without the blood and gore? Or, maybe advice on using the mind to instill fear in a horrific situation?
Thanks so much for the kind words! I love your suggestion and will be doing a newsletter on psychological horror in my next NL. Along with my thanks, when my next NL goes live, I’ll send you an MB!
BIG BAD WOLF submits "Monster stuff" and writes: One topic you might try is what I call Light Horror- basically, while the creatures might be monsters; like werewolves, zombies, vampires, and so forth, they act more like humans; librarians, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and so forth.
Thanks for the suggestion, BBW. Novels where the main characters are normal-acting supernatural people/creatures usually fall in the category of Urban Fantasy. There are lots of successful Urban Fantasy books and series.
Vampyr14 writes: Great newsletter! It really helps narrow down the things to look for as a writer and a reviewer.
Thanks so much for the reply. Your support means a lot to me.
Taniuska writes: Such a great post, and you've pretty much touched on all the main elements of editing. When I tackle Character Arc, I always develop an incorrect core belief for each character, which helps with the arc. Incorrect core belief stems from a character’s past and is often based on an incorrect assumption, but by the end of the book they learn to overcome it:)
Incorrect core beliefs are a good technique. My characters tend to have a LOT of incorrect core beliefs (the dummies!) so it’s hard to focus on only one! Thanks so much for replying to the NL!
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