I’m not sure if any of my readers have seen Ever After starring Drew Barrymore, Angelica Huston, and Dougray Scott. If you have, we’re best friends. If you haven’t, I’ll forgive you just this once, but hop on to Netflix asap and watch it! The movie is a unique Cinderella tale about the story of Danielle de Barbarac (Drew Barrymore), a vibrant young woman who is forced into servitude after the death of her father. Now, I am no chick flick fan by any means, but this film is hands down one of my top favorite movies.
So, why do I bring this movie up? Well, when I was writing this blog post today I couldn’t help but think of one pivotal scene from this movie that perfectly displays a great, yet simple example of effective foreshadowing. And I want to use it today as a basis for the art of foreshadowing.
At the outset, a young Danielle de Barbarac is enjoying time with her beloved father, Auguste. The two are clearly best friends. Danielle is wholeheartedly a daddy’s girl and Auguste is happily wrapped around his daughter’s little finger. But after Danielle’s father marries baroness Rodmilla de Gent, he must leave for what is more or less a work trip. Danielle is upset that she must be parted from her father for even a week, never mind live with her new stepmother and stepsisters she hardly knows.
As Auguste prepares to leave, he visibly reacts to a pain in his forearm. His face scrunches up in confusion and he stretches his arm out a bit.
Auguste soon notices all the gloomy faces waiting to say goodbye and so he bids his new family farewell. As for his darling Danielle, he assures her that they will soon be reunited. He also asks that Danielle help her new stepmother since she is new to the home and is not used to getting her hands dirty. As Auguste’s servant helps him up on his horse, Auguste experiences a second, stronger pain in his forearm. This time Auguste groans, even leaning over momentarily. But Auguste dismisses it and takes his leave.
As he departs on his horse, Danielle excitedly readies herself to continue their longtime tradition of waving to each other at the gate.
But Auguste does not even make it out of the gate before he suffers a third pain, now in his chest, thereby falling off of his horse.
Danielle screams and races toward her father. Rodmilla and the servants also race to be by his side.
But for Auguste, time runs short, and so he tells Danielle he loves her one last time. He however says nothing to Rodmilla. Baron Auguste de Barbarac then dies in little Danielle’s arms. As the audience can gather, Danielle’s father dies of a heart attack and the scene is set for stepmother Rodmilla de Gent to feed off of her insane jealousy of Danielle for years to come.
So, how can this simple yet effective example of foreshadowing help us as writers? Well there are three key methods based off of this example that create effective foreshadowing we can learn from.
1. Breadcrumbs (aka Tidbits):
As you may have noticed there were small tidbits, or as I like to say “breadcrumbs”, of clues that hinted at a serious problem in Auguste’s future. What were those breadcrumbs? They were the two moments that Auguste felt pain in his arm. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to give you a sense that something of pivotal importance was coming just around the corner.
That’s the idea with foreshadowing. It is vital that your breadcrumbs do not reveal the answer, but pose a question in the reader’s head. Further, readers may feel like you are insulting their intelligence if you bombard them with painfully obvious clues.
Remember, think breadcrumbs and not the whole loaf of bread! Suggestions of future pivotal plot points give readers the proper amount of information while inciting intrigue to keep the reader wanting more.
2. Relativity to Plot Point:
It is essential that your breadcrumbs are relative to the plot point you are building up to. Now you’re probably saying, “duh! that’s the whole idea!” and you’d be right to say that. But the thing is, it can be all too easy to lead readers into confusion if these breadcrumbs are not relative to the plot point.
As you read my retelling of the Ever After scene, you probably already guessed what was going to happen to Auguste before I even said it. Why is that?
You guessed it because there were proper clues that successfully lead you to the pivotal plot point.
But is that bad story-telling? Well for that moment in the Ever After tale, no, it was not bad story-telling. In fact, it was very successful story-telling. Like I said once before with foreshadowing, don’t give the answer away in your breadcrumbs. But at the same time don’t place breadcrumbs so minuscule or cryptic that your reader is confused when the plot point takes place.
Am I saying that your plot points should be predictable? No!
It is vital that you keep your readers guessing and include the element of surprise. But, the point I am stressing is this: do not leave sporadic, hardly noteworthy clues that are difficult to determine or that are irrelevant to the plot point.
3. Even Increments:
Auguste feels pain in his forearm not once, but twice. When were those two times? Were they one right after another? Were they spaced farther apart? Did anything unique happen in between that time to make the plot point that much more painful or pivotal? Were there character relationships being built before the plot point took place? If you have the answers, then you can understand the importance of spacing out your breadcrumbs at appropriate increments. You can also understand the importance of repetition. The two go hand-in-hand.
Even increments of repeated bread crumb placement gives the reader/viewer reminders to keep wondering. Keep in mind, it is never a good idea to pile clues up in each placement. Remember, tidbits! And tidbits repeated at the proper time are the ingredients to successful foreshadowing.
A Foreshadowing Debacle to be Wary of:
Timing. I cannot stress enough that placing clues too far ahead of your plot point just adds confusion to your story. So remember to use proper timing and determine when it is best to leave the first breadcrumb in the trail for your reader to follow!
Well that’s all for now on the art of foreshadowing. But what about you? Do you have more tips to help fellow writers understand the effective method of foreshadowing? Well I want to hear them. Comment below and share your thoughts! Thank you.
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