A Few Thoughts on Foreshadowing

Let’s start with a definition: Per Wikipedia “foreshadowing or adumbrating is a literary device in which an author indistinctly suggests certain plot developments that will come later in the story.”

Usually when you think of foreshadowing, you think of a plot device that is used in mystery or suspense, but as more and more authors are writing series books, I am discovering that it is being utilized more in the romance genre.

In the mystery genre foreshadowing is used typically as a precursor to pending doom and build suspense for the great pièce de résistance.  I remember racing through the pages of Tom Clancy’s Patriot Games desperate to find out what was going to happen to Jack Ryan’s family.

In the romance genre it can be used for a mystery within the story, however many authors use it to create desire for the next book in the series.  It is like a movie trailer broadcasting coming attractions.  It can be about a character and a potential relationship or it can be a plot device.  But no matter what it is about the author creates a hook for the reader and gives them a reason to buy the next book.

However using it is not as easy as it seems.  A lot depends on the placement, simplicity, and the reader’s ability to interpret the clues.  Also how soon the reader receives the resolution.

For me the placement is paramount. Recently I picked up a suspense book and the opening page was about a killer watching a potential victim’s home.  Since I dislike serial killer books, that foreshadowing killed any desire to continue reading.  However, if the author had created a sympathetic or interesting character first then I might have been motivated to continue reading even with my abhorrence to serial killers.

Two books that I am reading for review (which is why I not mentioning titles) have the author using foreshadowing that again didn’t quite work for me.  While I enjoyed the first book there is the possibility of a potential triangle that has me leery, leaving me unsure if I want to invest anymore time in future books.  And in the other book, the author had a mystery about a ghost but after three books the ghost’s identity wasn’t a mystery, making the last book seem very anti-climactic.

Many romance authors use it for couple pairing. Suzanne Brockman in her Troubleshooters series was a master at foreshadowing future relationships.  With a paragraph she could ignite readers’ imagination for a new potential couple.  The problem occurred when some readers didn’t realize that the statement in Flashpoint by Sophia saying “I’ve got him at the very top of my short list of second husband” was actually a relationship prophesy.  Some readers look at this as a very obvious simple clue but the issue was complicated by later statements, a red herring within the romance, and other readers fixated on those supporting a Decker and Sophia coupling.  Nalini Singh also foreshadowed the coupling of Sienna Lauren and Hawke.  Since this was over a four year period, it left many questioning if they were reading the clues correctly.

Nora Robert’s in her new Inn BoonsBoro Trilogy has used it for couple Ryder Montgomery and Hope Beaumont, but didn’t do any for Owen Montgomery and Avery McTavish.  In this case the lack of clues about the Owen and Avery’s pairing brought me out of the story.  Although I can pretty much count on the fact that that the three women introduced are going to be paired with the men introduced in the books, it appeared that Owen and Avery’s relationship existed in a vacuum only being brought to the forefront with their book.

As far as timing, some authors give bits and pieces through numerous books, and then other authors not wanting to overshadow the main couple only do something at the end of the book.   Getting bits and pieces over several books certainly increases the anticipation for the couple.  Eloisa James has done this with several of her series like Desperate Duchesses. I personally enjoy this type of insight into the potential character’s growth.  However, with the bigger anticipation there is the bigger risk for disappointment.  And for me the days of waiting years for a character’s story are long gone.

Can you think of a series, where the author portending of a future plot device or future relationship has increased you enjoyment in the book?  How about when it fell flat?  Do you prefer being introduced to the characters in the beginning book, or do you just want an introduction before their actual book?  Have you quit a series, long before the resolution because of the timing?

– Leigh AAR

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