Foreshadowing is like a puzzle. You plant clues which interlock with each other, and when the picture is finished, there’s only one outcome. Sometimes the outcome is obvious to the readers, other times it isn’t.

If the outcome is supposed to be obvious, then the puzzle will likely be complete for the readers before the characters figure it out.

Example: Clue 1 – The twins’ father died the same night the hero from their village went missing.

Clue 2 – Their father’s body wasn’t found, just as the hero was never found. 

Clue 3 – The only ones who knew their father’s identity is their mother and the mentor figure.

Clue 4 – When the twins meet the hero, he (the hero) makes an offhand comment about loving their mother. 

Clue 5 – The son looks eerily similar to the hero and has some of the same mannerisms. 

But if the outcome isn’t so obvious, this is where red herrings come in. Red herrings are misleading or distracting, and in the following example, H’s conclusions about another character’s past are supposed to be misleading.

Example: Clue 1 – A couple H went to church with, Mr. and Mrs. R, have another grandchild. RED HERRING: H believes the grandchild is their daughter’s, based on slight physical similarities. 

Clue 2 – Mrs. R says her older son, E, has had a rough year. 

Clue 3 – E wears a dog tag chain, suggesting he served in the army. RED HERRING: H comes to the conclusion E was in the army, which would match his mother’s statement of him having a rough year.  

Clue 4 – H finds a photo of E’s last family reunion. In the photo, E is holding an infant and a woman is leaning a bit close to him. RED HERRING: H believes the infant is E’s niece and the woman is a relative who was trying to fit into the frame.

Clue 5 – E is constantly telling H to stay away from his (H’s) family to protect them. RED HERRING: H believes E is feigning concern.

Clue 6 – H notices E has what seems to be survivor’s guilt and PTSD. More proof for H’s belief E served in the army, but as H already knows, war isn’t the only cause for survivor’s guilt and PTSD. 

When foreshadowing, the clues should give the sense that they’re important, but don’t stay too focused on them. Give them little afterthought, and space them out casually.

And when that foreshadowing is paid off, it should be paid off during important moments in the story.

Tell me your thoughts below in the comments! And as for the conclusion to both scenarios I presented in the examples, feel free to tell me what outcomes you think the clues lead to!

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