So if you remember my post about cultivating inspiration, you’ll know that I’ve been re-reading all my favorite books and using them to launch myself whole-heartedly into my own WIP. I’m now reading my favorite book on the planet, A Prayer for Owen Meany, which I’ve read at least twenty times. You’d think by now I’d have the entire book memorized, yet every time I read it, I see something I never saw before. This time, I’ve been acutely aware of foreshadowing.
If you’re not familiar, foreshadowing is a literary device authors can use to hint at some action or meaning to come later in the book. It can be handled in many ways, from a subtle allusion to a 2×4 upside the head. Earlier this year, our own Laurie Boris wrote a post about the most ham-handed way to foreshadow, aka telegraphing. As I’ve been reading Owen Meany, however, I’ve been struck by the more ingenious ways to foreshadow, ways that — had I not already read the book twenty times — I would probably completely miss.
First, as an editor, it makes me a little squirmy to write blog posts about “how” to write. Beyond basic grammar and clarity, the rules of writing, especially in fiction, are a kind of flexible armature and differ according to the author, the genre, and the situation. However, I’ve been seeing something in fiction lately that makes me want to slam my head against the keyboard: telling readers in quite unsubtle terms that the plot is about to take a shocking turn. The device is commonly called telegraphing. Continue reading “Telegraphing Versus Foreshadowing”
We have covered a lot of the technical aspects of writing. All of those are important. You want your manuscript to be well-edited and as error-free as possible. You want a nice cover, because you never get a second chance to make a first impression. You need a nice cover blurb that will hook the reader and invite further exploration.
Problems in any of those areas can cause a reader to hate your book. Good storycraft is the one thing that can cause a reader to love your book in spite of problems in those other areas. You can actually see evidence of this in reviews. You do not see reviews that call the author’s sparse use of the semicolon and deft application of commas breathtaking. The cover might sell a book, but it is rarely the subject of a line in a review. A good book is nothing more than a good story well-told. That is storycraft.
I break storycraft into seven elements: Authenticity, Authority, Continuity, Character Growth, Foreshadowing, Pacing, and Resolution. Continue reading “Storycraft 101”
Question: You always advised your students to join writers’ groups as if they could give no other good advice they would, at least, ask “What have you written this week?” But I’m starting to think I ought to search for a new group. They all agree that my work is, “Too hard to believe” and all my plot twists are either “impossible” or “improbable.” Okay, my stuff “pushes the envelope.” But I have avidly read books with weirder plots than mine…any ideas?
Answer: Thinking back to my own writer’s group days (with many thanks to the critique sessions at IWWG) my best guess is that it’s either a lack of foreshadowing, or a failure to write the action convincingly. Knowing your work from your student days, my guess is foreshadowing.
It is important to foreshadow and many writers fear to do it, in case they give too much away. FORESHADOWING is a technique that leads the reader smoothly along, hinting at what is coming next. Foreshadowing makes future action more believable. Most of us don’t notice it, but when it’s not there, crises seem too precipitate, changes too sudden, surprises are — well, too much of a shock not to overcome some readers’ “Willing suspension of disbelief.” Continue reading “Too improbable? A Writing Tip from Arline Chase”