Foreshadowing: A Look Back and a Look Forward

by Steve Hooley

I enjoy browsing the archives of the Kill Zone Blog from time to time. There are many posts hiding here that contain a wealth of wisdom and good advice and are worth rereading.

Recently, I was looking for articles on foreshadowing and found buried treasure in a post by Jodie Renner from January, 2014. I had glanced at several discussions of foreshadowing and found that Jodie’s article was concise, well organized, and perfect for our discussion today.

Since it has been eight years, I thought it was worth revisiting and using for today’s discussion. So, nuggets of wisdom from the past (the archives) and a discussion on ways we can set up the narrative for the future

I have summarized the article below, but the original article is well worth rereading.

Fire Up Your Fiction with Foreshadowing


Keep your reader curious and worried, and keep them turning pages.


“Foreshadowing is about sprinkling in subtle little hints and clues…about possible revelations, complications, and trouble to come.”

Uses and Purposes:

  • To lay the ground work for future tension
  • To reveal character traits, flaws, phobias, weaknesses, and secrets to increase reader engagement
  • To add credibility and continuity to your plot so that changes and events are more believable


  • Show a pre-scene or mini-example of what happens in a big way later
  • Protagonist hears conversation or gossip that doesn’t make sense until later
  • Hint at secrets or memories your protagonist has been hiding and trying to forget
  • The news warns of possible danger
  • The main character notices other character’s unusual or suspicious actions, reactions, tone of voice, facial expressions, or body language
  • Show protagonist’s inner fears and suspicions
  • Use setting details and word choices to create an ominous mood
  • Protagonist or someone close has disturbing dream or premonition
  • Fortune teller or horoscope foretells trouble
  • Make the ordinary seem ominous or plant something out of place
  • Use objects a character ignores while they are looking for something else
  • Use symbolism


No author intrusion giving an aside to the reader


  • Non-outliners – write the story then add the foreshadowing
  • Use like a strong spice – not too much, not too little
  • Operative word is subtle


Hopefully Jodie will be able to stop by today, say hello, answer some questions in the comments, and add any additional points or tips she’s acquired since 2014.

By the way, a thorough discussion on foreshadowing is found in Jodie’s book, Writing a Killer Thriller, an Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction.


Questions and Discussion

  1. What are your favorite techniques for foreshadowing?
  2. In your favorite books, what techniques for foreshadowing have been most likely to create (in you) anticipation or foreboding?
  3. What other techniques for foreshadowing can you think of?
  4. What other uses for foreshadowing can you think of?

43 thoughts on “Foreshadowing: A Look Back and a Look Forward

  1. Good morning, Steve. Thanks so much for this (and a tip of the fedora to Jodie). I have been thinking quite a bit about foreshadowing since I’ve been watching Outer Range, which seems so far to be one large foreshadow, if you will, and a very intriguing one. I’ll be watching the next episodes with your post in mind. I am also re-reading The Stand by Stephen King, which is full-to-brim with it.

    Have a great weekend, Steve!

    • Good morning, Joe. Thanks, and thanks for mentioning Outer Range. I was not familiar with the series, but it sounds interesting. I was just talking to Cindy about what movie to watch tonight. We’ll look for it.

      I began reading The Stand at the beginning of the Covid pandemic. It was too depressing, and I didn’t finish it. I need to go back and finish reading.

      Jodie said she would try to stop by and say hello later today. I look forward to any additional wisdom she might have.

      Thanks for your comments, and I hope you have a great weekend!

      • I’ve been fortunate to have Jodie as my editor for all 4 books in my medical thriller series. We met via TKZ. 🙂
        She has ninja-level skills in all aspects of editing!

    • Thanks, Terry. And thanks for the link. A great article! And good to have it here, up front, for everybody to read today along with Jodie’s article.

      I like Johnny Carson’s line, “If they buy the premise, they’ll buy the bit.” Get it in early, if you expect them to believe it later. This whole concept should probably be one of our first rounds of editing. I always struggle with knowing how much to foreshadow, when I’ve already set it up in a previous book of the series. Since many of my beta readers haven’t read the previous books in the series, they let me know when I should have “re-foreshadowed.”

      Thanks for adding your book to the discussion, and I hope your day is a good one.

  2. Such helpful information, Steve. Thanks to Jodie, also.

    Another foreshadowing technique is to slip into the antagonist’s POV for a brief chapter or scene. The protagonist doesn’t know s/he will soon be at risk but the reader does.

    This requires multiple POVs in the story and obviously won’t work in first person POV. That’s a big reason why I switched from first person to third person with different characters’ POVs.

    Superior knowledge is a technique Hitchcock used to great advantage in his suspenseful films. The audience is shouting “Don’t open that door!” but the protagonist turns the knob anyway.

    • Thanks, Debbie.

      Your suggestion for using the protagonist’s point of view is a great one. The dark shadow in silhouette behind the sheet. And Hitchcock was certainly a master at setting up fear and anxiety.

      Great ideas, Debbie. Thanks for always contributing to the conversation. Have a wonderful day!

    • I love your idea about adding a scene or chapter from the antagonist/villain’s POV from time to time, Debbie. And yes, multiple POV technique works best when the whole novel is in third person. But I suppose one could write the protagonist’s POV in first person, then go to third person for the antagonist? Although I think that would be too jarring and probably distract the reader too much by making them wonder if the author is just trying to use some “clever” literary device… Never a good idea to jar the reader out of the actual story and make them think about the writing techniques.

  3. Love this post, Steve. Foreshadowing is such a powerful and important technique in fiction. My wife and I are currently watching the new Marvel series, Moon Knight, which very effectively foreshadows upcoming events, as well as character abilities, etc.

    Foreshadowing is pretty key to a mystery, too, in my opinion, in helping set up the eventual reveal of the actual murderer. Tricky as all get out, but so necessary.

    Have a wonderful weekend!

    • Thanks, Dale. Thanks for the tip on the Moon Knight series. Sounds very interesting.

      Foreshadowing in mysteries, I don’t know how you do it. Slipping in the real clues unnoticed. Setting up the red herrings. It makes my head spin. Now that would be a great subject for a TKZ post by all the mystery writers here.

      Thanks for your participation and good ideas, and have an excellent weekend!

    • Yes, mysteries definitely need foreshadowing too. I really admire mystery writers, as like you say, it’s tricky to get it just right, trying to maintain that balance of sprinkling in little hints, but keeping the reader guessing. 🙂

  4. Love these treasures you unearth from the archives, Steve. Another technique is the jump cut, where you start one scene, build conflict and tension and end at a pivotal moment, then switch to another scene (like the antagonist or detective), and then cut back to the original scene and continue on from there. It’s an advanced technique, but works remarkably well. Hmm, maybe I should write a post about it…

    Hope you have a great weekend!

    • Good morning, Sue.

      Thanks for your great ideas, as always. I never thought of the jump cut as a technique for foreshadowing, but it is. And it makes the reader decide to not read just one more chapter/scene, but two.

      Under that category, would the cliffhanger also be a technique for foreshadowing?

      That’s why we have these discussions. There are so many ideas that are exposed when we stir the pot.

      And I would second the motion that you should write a post about the jump cut. Have a wonderful weekend!

    • I agree, Sue — those jump cuts are so effective in keeping the reader turning the pages! A post about jump cuts would be a great idea! Some authors end almost all chapters that way, so it’s really hard to put the book down! 🙂

  5. Page 4: Sending that witty poem to Bishop Filippo must be the stupidest thing I have ever done—worse than that night in Bilbao.

    Page 170: Diego pointed north. “Bilbao?”
    Tenirax shook his head. “I still have nightmares about the place. I will never go back.”

    Page 223: Madrid? That was a long way. Bilbao was closer, but the farther, the better, in the case of that God-forsaken city.

    Page 239: His mind flew away to Bilbao as it had been ten . . . was it perhaps fifteen? No, by all the Saints, it had been twenty years before! He remembered it all as if it were only yesterday . . . 

    At this point in the book, I had no idea what happened in Bilbao, other than there must be a woman involved, knowing my MC. So I made up the woman, and, after a false start,
    the Bilbao sequence soon followed . . . up to a point, where I left it hanging until the Confession sequence, later in the book.

    Other works that use this very same technique include Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series, wherein the MC often alludes to “that awful night in Darjeeling.” I don’t recall whether we ever learned what happened there, but the trick was unforgettable.

    Other techniques might include a painting, or some such, that portrays a situation analogous to that of the MC, an image of potential doom. Yes, tarot cards can serve the same purpose, or even a bit of downbeat music.

    Obviously, some sorts of foreshadowing can also conceal a set-up to be followed with an ultimate pay-off unrelated to what was foreshadowed.

    • Great ideas, J. That must have been quite a night in Bilbao. I wonder if the title of the book was/is The Scars of Bilbao.

      Other techniques: visual images such as a painting or tarot cards. And music. Good. What about smells?

      Your foreshadowing about Bilbao worked. I still want to know what happened there.

      Thanks for your ideas. Very interesting.

      • LOL! Thank you, Steve. Yes, smells might work. “Detective turns corpse over and gets a momentary whiff of Evening in Pasadena cologne. Later, he smells the same aroma coming from right behind him . . .”

        The title is The Perils of Tenirax : Mad Poet of Zaragoza.

  6. One technique I discovered for subtler foreshadowing, especially when foreshadowing a character secret, is what I call the symptoms strategy.

    Examine your character’s secret or flaw, and brainstorm ways it affects other parts of their life. You have the diagnosis, find the symptoms, the opposite of what doctors do. For example, if my character was locked in the closet as a kid, they might be terrified of the dark right now.

    • This is great, Azali. Wonderful idea. And with that technique, you can subtly add new symptoms and findings as the story progresses. Also, as a disease progresses, the symptoms and physical findings may change. Or make it psychosomatic, where the manifestations change with the setting/time/ situation.

      Excellent idea! Thanks for your contribution.

    • One of Hitler’s quirks was to pace a room on a diagonal. I suspect he’d been locked in a closet and dealt with it by making the space seem as large as possible.

  7. If it’s a choice between foreshadowing and not giving away the plot, never choose foreshadowing. That clever bit you’ve figured out is often a neon sign pointing to some plot twist way ahead of time for good readers. In mystery and thrillers in particular, most of the readers are paying careful attention.

    All my foreshadowing was put in by my subconscious, and I didn’t notice it until my first rewrite. I either built it up a bit if it didn’t do the neon sign bit, or I removed it.

    I much prefer interlocking questions so the reader is pulled forward by curiosity.

  8. Thanks for this great post, Steve. This is a good time to remind readers to click on the “TKZ Library” on the toolbar along the top. Lists many TKZ posts by topic, with links to each post.

  9. Good morning/afternoon, Jodie. Thanks for stopping in and adding your wisdom. It’s always appreciated and very helpful.

    Thanks for writing this post in 2014. It’s still a great post to brush up on foreshadowing. Love some of the new ideas we’re getting from readers today.

    If I don’t get a chance later today to thank you for all your contributions here at TKZ in the past and the present, let me say it now.

    I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

  10. I tried leaving a comment this morning, Steve, but WordPress has been weird for me today including at my own site. I’ll try again. Thanks for bringing up the foreshadowing discussion. It made me think of something. Is a prologue just another foreshadowing device? Jodie – if you’re still around what do you say?

    • Thanks for stopping by, Garry. Sorry that WordPress has been picking on you. Can’t imagine why they would do that.

      I don’t know if Jodie will be back around today, but I’ll take a crack at your question. From a non-expert, it would seem to me that a prologue can serve many purposes, including foreshadowing. In fact, I would think that would one of it’s major functions.

      Now, we’ll wait and see if a real craft expert weighs in.

      Hope you have a wonderful weekend!

  11. Steve and Jodie, Thank you for the great discussion. Steve, you’re wise to review the TKZ library — there’s a wealth of information and advice in them there archives!

    As a mystery writer, I try to leave clues, both valid and red herrings, to spice up the action. I also love the “jump cut” that was mentioned. Leave the reader hanging while you cut to another scene, then skip back.

    Great information!

    • Thanks, Kay. I always appreciate your comments, and I agree with you on the TKZ library archives. I think we’ll be making more use of them in the near future. In fact, today’s post is really a foreshadowing of what’s coming.

      I admire those of you who write mystery. It’s seems to me that there must be a mountain of work in hiding the real clues and slipping in the red herrings.

      Thanks for your thoughts, and I hope you have a good weekend!

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