Telegraphing, Foreshadowing

The other day, I picked up a new YA that I had been looking forward to reading, and a few chapters in, I knew exactly how it was going to play out. The author gave away too much too soon, and I was able to figure out exactly what was going to happen. There is nothing I hate more than being able to predict what’s going to happen before it happens (I do this all of the time when watching movies/TV and it both amazes and drives my partner nuts!). Telegraphing is a common mistake that authors make that is often confused with foreshadowing.

Foreshadowing is the skill of being able to drop hints throughout the text as to what is going to happen without giving away the plot. Good foreshadowing leads the reader to what I’ve always called the Ahaha moment, where you finally reach the big reveal, and suddenly realize the significance of those details you were wondering about. For example: A novel weaves around multiple characters who are seemingly unconnected until it’s revealed that they are siblings. Thinking back, you almost want to smack yourself for missing the clues that in hindsight seem completely obvious, or you congratulated yourself for being right about how you thought they were all connected. You didn’t KNOW for sure, but you suspected. Authors such as George RR Martin and JK Rowling use foreshadowing extremely effectively, which is partly why fans love to discuss and analyze every detail of the stories.

There’s a tremendous difference between feeling like “well duh- I saw that coming a mile away”, and “Well duh- I totally should have seen that coming”. I don’t want it to be obvious who done it 50 pages into a 500 page novel. If future events in the novel are too quickly and obviously spelled out for me, it kills the pace and the suspense and there hardly seems a point in finishing it. As a reader, I want to be surprised. I want to wonder and guess. I want to form theories, and have details slowly and deliberately revealed throughout the story. When foreshadowing is done well, the reveal is all that more satisfying, making the reading experience a good one- not a disappointing one.

What books have you read that have either telegraphed badly or foreshadowed well?

2 Responses to Telegraphing, Foreshadowing

  1. Marc Vun Kannon Aug 31 2016 at 7:32 am #

    I recently read Divided in Death by J.D. Robb, which had a very neat bit of foreshadowing, built into the MC’s backstory.

  2. Katie Sep 1 2016 at 1:27 pm #

    I feel like Brandon Sanderson is a master at foreshadowing. In some regards, it almost backfires–I read each and every one of his stories so closely, hoping to pick up on all the little details that are sure to blow up into some huge reveal at the end. But hunting for such details is so ridiculously enjoyable that I don’t mind, even if I guess it ahead of time. Series like Mistborn and The Stormlight Archives are fantastic examples of this.

    There were also some foreshadowed moments in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series that blew me away. In the very first book, there’s a hint about something that will happen to one of the main characters–a hint that is actually stupendously blatant, in hindsight. There’s an additional hint in the fourth book. But when these hints all coalesce seven books later, I was completely blindsided. (Of course, the sheer length and number of story lines in this series may also work as a good distraction. I’m not sure how many people would be able to remember one small detail 8,000 pages after it happens.)

    I also was exceedingly happy with the turn of events in Sarah Maas’ A Court of Mist and Fury. I personally found a large portion of the plot of the first book to be too telegraphed… until I read the second book and suddenly realized that the “telegraphing” was intentionally done. Instead, it lulled me into a false sense of complacency, so that when the plot really began to pick up in book two, it was like a rug had been pulled from under my feet.

    I’m really glad you made the distinction between “I saw that coming” and “I never saw that coming!” That’s such a great way to phrase it. Thanks for another lovely post! 🙂

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