Saturday, May 23, 2015

3 Ways to Make Unintentional Foreshadowing Happen

Post by Catsi Eceer, co-founder

One of my favorite experiences in writing is when unintentional foreshadowing happens. I know several other writers who agree with me.

In case you're not quite sure what unintentional foreshadowing is, allow me to explain. Foreshadowing is, according to the dictionary definition, "a warning or indication of a future event." In writing terms, it means a hint at a bigger plot point.

Say that the main plot twist in your story is when it is revealed that the previously-thought antagonist turns out to actually be on your Hero's side. To foreshadow this, you might have the antagonist appearing briefly confused in the one scene he is in when Hero attacks him. You could have him say something that doesn't line up with the mantra the bad guys believe. Any little hint that he isn't quite as evil as we all are led to believe is foreshadowing.

Foreshadowing is a tricky thing, though. If it's too obvious, you'll spoil the surprise of the plot twist. (Ever watch a poorly done movie, hear a line and go, "Okay, now I know how the movie is going to end"?) If it's too subtle, the reader won't notice it at all.

This is where unintentional foreshadowing saves the day.

So what exactly is unintentional foreshadowing? It's when you're re-reading your rough draft, and there in the second chapter is a line that hints at your climax...and you didn't even think twice when you wrote it. Only now does the importance stand out to you.

In my opinion, unintentional foreshadowing is the best foreshadowing. Why? Because since you didn't notice anything unusual when you wrote it, the reader isn't going to notice anything unusual. They won't suspect the plot twist because of the line, but once the plot twist happens, they'll remember that part and be like, "OH."

The tricky thing about unintentional foreshadowing happen, though, is that it's unintentional. When you try to put it in, it becomes intentional.
So how can you make sure unintentional foreshadowing happens?

  1. Know about your plot twists while you're writing.
    I'm the sort of person who plots out every little thing before I even put down the first sentence. I know what the plot twists are before I'm anywhere near them. Even if you're not the outlining type, taking the time to figure out what all of the surprises in your story will be can be a great help. Your subconscious, since it knows about your plot twists, will affect the sentences you write and you'll end up putting in more hints than you realize.
  2. Don't overthink things.
    Don't stress about putting in unintentional foreshadowing. Remember, it's unintentional. Just let yourself think maybe-just-a-little-too-much about your story, and it'll come naturally.
  3. Let your characters be themselves.
    The best foreshadowing lines come straight from the mouths of characters. More than anything else, I've found that when I just let my characters talk as they would naturally talk, unintentional foreshadowing comes out. And more than that, foreshadowing of character change becomes visible.

Have you ever found some unintentional foreshadowing in your writing?

We have a short story contest right now, where your submission must contain a dangling participle. See the guidelines here.


  1. Great post, Catsi! :)
    I actually had a few of this sort of thing in my OYAN book. I stayed up REALLY late at night finishing it and I didn't remember writing half the book when I went back and read it. Well, at least I surprised myself with how well I did. :P

    1. That's always nice, especially when we are often prone to rereading it and surprising ourselves with how bad our writing is. XD So congratulations for getting it the other way around.