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Monday, 19 July 2010

'I've Seen This Somewhere Before...'

Foreshadowing is one of those things that rarely occurs in first drafts. Unless you've got the multi-tasking mind of a genius, that is. I barely manage to keep track of my characters, keep a vague idea of my plot, and grasp the realisation that I have to draw it to a conclusion at some point without worrying about the intricacies.

Then came the rewriting stage and I started panicking - yes, I was telling a story, but did my novel work on any other level. I was whining constantly to myself: I want to create something that'll last. Well, to be fair, isn't that what we all want?

Something that adds another dimension to a novel is foreshadowing. I'm a huge fan of Jessica Page Morrell's book Between the Lines, a masterclass in writing the subtle elements of fiction. Although many writing books can feel like repetitive wastes of time and money, this one gives practical advice and uses many examples to back up the theories.

According to Morrell, foreshadowing can be used to lay the groundwork for three specific things: set pieces, character transformations and secrets. The one that I've been focusing on in my latest rewrite is the notion of set pieces.

One dramatic scene towards the climax of my novel involves my heroine being thrown violently against a table, garnering herself a nasty head wound in the process. This action in itself is unsurprising given the situation but I wanted more so I dropped in clues along the way that everything was about to spiral out of control. More than this, I concocted a mirror scene to take place in an earlier chapter.

Lily, my heroine, has a perfectly plausible fall down some steps after suffering a night of panic and exhaustion. She is cleaned up by her friend, Marie, in a scene that foreshadows the aftermath of the table incident detailed above. By inserting this scene I aim to increase the tension a little as the reader realises that Lily isn't immune to injury. Also, I wanted the echoes in the second clean-up scene to confuse the reader. Marie's intentions are ambiguous throughout and I feel this unseats logic even more.

Added to this, screenwriters are often told to repeat important images. This fixes something of importance in the viewer's mind and highlights the significance of it. Marie's helping Lily says a lot about her as a character at both junctures.

See? Not something I could've accomplished in my first draft!

Something to try if you're struggling with foreshadowing is to imagine the individual beats along the way to a particular incident. If A has to happen for B to happen so that C can occur what about the bit between A and B? If it's exposition of some variety then perhaps it can be utilised to foreshadow forthcoming events as well as filling in backstory or plot detail.

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