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?