Thursday, July 17, 2014

Film Writes: Foreshadowing and Theme (Part I)

WARNING: This post includes plot spoilers from the movie Frozen.

Anton Chekhov once said that if there’s a gun on the wall in the first act, it needs to be used by the third act.

That’s foreshadowing.

Call attention to something early in the novel, and the reader will expect you to put it to use. The more attention you pay to that item or character trait, the more the reader will watch for it later, and the more important the reader will expect it to be to the plot.

If you don’t fulfill that expectation, you risk alienating your reader.

Subtle foreshadowing is another effective tool in fiction. You mention a point along the way, and later, that same point shows back up, but organically, as a seamless part of the plot.

Think Disney’s Frozen.

Subtle Foreshadowing

Elsa, princess of Arendelle, is a carefree child with the magical power to create snow and ice, until she accidentally injures her sister Anna with her powers. As Elsa kneels in the ballroom, holding Anna, all the ice around them freezes deeper and colder, with weird, intricate patterns.

Foreshadowing what’s to come.

Years later, after Elsa has run away from Arendelle and barricaded herself in an ice castle far from everyone, she paces alone, saying, “Don’t feel, don’t feel.” And as she does, the ice walls and ceiling around her freeze deeper and colder, and even grow jagged, menacing icicles.


Does something happen to your main character later in your work-in-progress (WIP) that you could foreshadow earlier in the story? What scene could you add to your WIP to foreshadow that future event or change? How can you thread that foreshadowing throughout your WIP so it’s organic and a natural part of the plot?

Look for Part II, about how foreshadowing connects to theme, in the next post.

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