Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: how to use foreshadowing

Photo via LE Carmichael WANA Commons
Photo via LE Carmichael WANA Commons

The best way to have a successful novel is to learn to be a master at generating tension and conflict on every page. Of course we need to have an overall story problem that the protagonist needs to resolve by the end of the story. But, a lot of the story tension responsible for turning pages will be generated by things other than the Big Boss Troublemaker (antagonist responsible for the main story problem in need of solving).

Bad choices, baggage, close-range antagonists, false starts, wrong turns, protag’s immaturity are all ways we can keep readers wanting more. We generate questions that beg answers and give just enough for the reader to keep going, but not enough for the reader to feel quite satisfied.

If we don’t generate questions needing answers, the reader grows quickly bored. On the other hand, if we never give even little answers, the reader will grow frustrated.

It’s a fine balance to strike and one that requires simple practice and study to master.

One fabulous tool for generating tension is foreshadowing. This is where we hint that something will happen or be necessary later in the story. Ah, but as artists we need to make sure that every loop is closed by the end or we risk annoying the reader. It’s Chekhov’s Gun—never introduce a gun in Act I that we don’t intend on firing by Act III.

Readers are perceptive. In fact, we as writers are counting on readers to be perceptive otherwise foreshadowing won’t work. Right? Ah, but as I said, readers are perceptive, so if we merely introduce some element because we need a contrivance to keep a reader hooked? They can catch that, too, and that’s bad juju.

I happen to love scary movies and thrillers. This past weekend I watched The House at The End of the Street, which is actually a really good movie to watch for an example of how NOT to use foreshadowing. Now, the movie is fun to watch for a decent an okay thriller and there were some great storytelling elements, namely how to hide the real antagonist by masking him with diversionary antagonists (tactic used in most mysteries).

But, though the movie was fun, the ONE THING that bugged me was a lighter. The mom keeps playing with this Zippo lighter that belonged to her ex-husband who was in a band. She plays with the lighter in Act I. Daughter even mentions this. Mom plays with the lighter in Act II and the camera even focuses on the lighter.

Ooooooh. Something important about this lighter.


In ACT III, when real bad guy is revealed, Mom is critically injured and protagonist gets a hold of a gun. She fires, hitting three propane tanks which we hear start leaking gas. 

Cool thing is at least movie people did their homework watched Mythbusters, and at least knew that shooting propane tanks (despite what zombie FPS games show) DO NOT explode when we shoot them. But, they DID make them leak GAS after SHOWING US A LIGHTER TWO FREAKING TIMES!!!!!!

*smooths shirt*

It is at THIS point I expect Mom to dramatically toss daughter Dad’s Zippo and as they haul tail out of there, they blow bad guy into the troposphere. Aha! Dad never paid child support, but at least if he wasn’t useful, his LIGHTER was useful.


Lighter is never mentioned or shown again and no BOOM! and I was super bugged.


In your story, feel free to show guns, knives, lighters, totems, personal items, diaries, letters, and kittens using grenade launchers, but if we focus on them, they must serve a purpose other than filling space.

Okay, kittens using grenade launchers are okay, but only cuz they’re super cool and not used nearly enough in literary fiction.


Here’s the trailer for those interested. Bad and okay movies are good homework, because they show us what NOT to do. Ask yourself—Why was I bored? Where did I lose interest? Why did I want Such-And-Such character to be devoured by voodoo-undie-fleas?

*cough Anakin Skywalker*

As I said, this movie is an okay flick, but the lighter thing bugged me and so now it will bug you too!


What do you think? What are some of the best uses of foreshadowing you’ve seen or read? What are some of the worst?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of January, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NOTE: December’s winner is Steph Scottil. Please send your 5000 word Word document or your synopsis (no more than 1000 words and in a WORD doc) OR your query letter to my assistant Chad at c carver at wana intl dot com.

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of January I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.