WARNING: This post contains plot spoilers from the movie Frozen.
Part I of this two-post series discusses foreshadowing, with the Disney movie Frozen as a good example. You foreshadow something major that will happen or be realized later in your story when you start dropping hints early in the story about what’s coming.
Now let’s talk about how foreshadowing relates to theme.
Theme is a sticky subject. Ask a dozen different authors what theme is, and you’ll probably get a dozen different answers.
For the sake of simplicity, theme is the overarching idea behind what you wrote. You can start with a theme and write the story out of it, or you can write the story first and then discover what themes you subconsciously included. Either way works.
For instance, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird has underlying themes about racism and prejudice. Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women has themes about the importance of family ties and the inevitability of change. Taylor Steven’s The Doll has themes about honor, personal integrity to your values, and sacrificing the one for the sake of the greater good.
Those are themes. If you like, a theme is kind of the message or moral of your story, but ideally you've worked it into the story line seamlessly so it doesn't stand out and get preachy or argumentative.
So how does foreshadowing connect with theme?
In the movie Frozen, Elsa’s magical powers cause a number of problems. The first time around, when she accidentally injures her sister, their once-lovely surroundings (ice rink, snowman, mounds of snow) turn colder and menacing. Later, when Elsa is barricaded in her ice castle, trying to force herself not to feel anything, the palace around her once more reflects her state of mind.
What’s the common denominator?
Whenever Elsa is afraid, she loses control of her powers. The more she tries to force herself to control her powers, the more out-of-control they get, and the more scared she becomes. It’s a terrifying cycle. By the movie climax, she escapes into a full-blown blizzard, raging with her terror.
The movie theme says that love chases away fear and makes all things possible. Elsa’s fear had to be present throughout, and grow in intensity, for the viewers to feel satisfaction when, at the end, Elsa realizes that love is what she needs most of all.
What’s the theme of your current work-in-progress? Try writing it in a single sentence. The theme should deal with bigger, overarching issues than the smaller problems your characters face. Then, see if there are ways you can go back through your manuscript to foreshadow and strengthen that theme.
Foreshadowing and theme, closely linked, deepen reader engagement with your story.