Little Hints, Big Surprises

Little Hints, Big Surprises

One of my favorite plot tools is foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is a warning or indication of something that will take place in the future. In my experience, the most common example of this plot tool in use is the existence of prophecies within a story. Prophecies also give the character they refer to the “chosen one” trope, so I’ve seen some writers call the use of prophecies lazy writing. After all, isn’t it more of a challenge if the protagonist is just a regular person making a big difference in the world than some “chosen one” following his destiny? I think that answer depends on whether the prophecies are the main fiber of the story or an extra string.

Personally, I really like both reading books with prophecies and using them in my own stories. They give the reader something to watch for or look forward to. It’s a puzzle that the author gives to the reader piece by piece. Each piece reveals more of the picture, which lets the reader try to predict what will happen next. This makes the story more engaging because it gives the reader a need to find out what is going to happen, sort of like an addiction. They need their fix of the next piece. If it’s exactly what they thought it would be, they feel validated and clever, and if it’s something they weren’t expecting, then it increases excitement and intrigue.

I aspire to be the type of story-crafter that can give the reader pieces of the puzzle that seem to make one picture but at the big reveal end up being something entirely unexpected. I want to convince my reader that the protagonist is in the right, and at the end reveal that all along he was the villain of the antagonists’s story. My favorite examples of this being used, Ted Dekker’s Thr3e and the movie Fight Club, involve schizophrenia and the realization that the protagonist and the antagonist are the same person. I don’t want to use the exact same trick, but I do want to leave my reader with the same sense of awe and realization that I had at the big reveals of those stories.

I love seeing the reader put two and two together. It makes me feel clever and validated as a weaver of stories. As I reader, I feel like I’m putting together a puzzle, but as a writer, I feel like I’m braiding a rope. As a kid, I liked to braid yarn together and then braid those braids together to make my own “rope.” The rope is the plot of the story, and each piece of yarn is a character arc, prophecy, conversation, or event. Like any analogy, this one has plenty of holes that could be blown in it, but it is how I feel when I’m writing. I may have an ending in mind, but I didn’t expect this conversation and this event to make that character pop up out of nowhere with an arc that has now become entwined with a main character and changed where the ending takes place.

I started this post talking about foreshadowing and ended it talking about Sir Hunter. I meant to talk about whether use of prophetic foreshadowing makes a writer lazy or not. Maybe I should start using college essay format in these posts, but that format always seemed too rigid. I like being flexible. Too much prophecy does tend to make a story follow a rigid structure, so make sure it’s only one of the many plot tools in your story and no one can call you lazy. Now the rope has been tied off.

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