One very important thing to note about foreshadowing is that, in the hands of a skilled screenwriter, it can be a powerful tool, but in the hands of a less skilled screenwriter, foreshadowing will absolutely ruin the story being told. That’s why it’s important to know what the term means so that you can use it effectively; hence, the reason for this post.
Screenwriters are gods to their characters, but not to the audience or reader. That simply means a screenwriter can say “sit” to his characters, and they’ll immediately sit, but that command will never be possible for his or her audience because they can walk away if they notice you aren’t capable of telling the story. For a screenwriter to be god over the audience, he or she has to hold a magic wand, which happens to be a technique called foreshadowing. Let’s take a deeper look at the term by first knowing exactly what it is.
WHAT IS IT?
We’ll be looking at some dictionary definitions of the word “foreshadowing,” and at the end of those definitions, we’ll combine all the definitions to get what we need as screenwriters.
1) Oxford Languages defines foreshadowing as “a warning or indication of (a future event).”
2) Wiktionary defines foreshadowing as “a literary device whereby an author drops hints or symbolic representations of plot developments to come later in the story.”
(3) Wikipedia defines foreshadowing as “a narrative device in which a storyteller gives an advance hint of what is to come later in the story.”
Combining the definitions above to get what we need as screenwriters, we can say that foreshadowing is an advance hint a screenwriter gives for a future event in the story.
Every audience wants to go on a step-by-step journey with you, the screenwriter; however, you can hide a series of steps by dropping a hint in a subtle way, and in a later scene, your audience will realise that you replaced those steps with a hint, but they were the ones who failed to pay close attention to the hint you dropped; that’s the whole concept of foreshadowing. To understand better, let’s see an example.
Movie Title: Betty’s Love Triangle
Written by: Tomi Adesina
After Betty’s heartbreak with a man she has been dating for six years, she decides to throw faithfulness to a man out of the window. Betty starts dating Femi, a software guy who has been asking her out for a while, and James, a cab driver and owner of a small chop shop.
After a while of dating Femi, Betty takes her picture to his house and drops it on his TV stand in the living room. When Femi asks why she dropped her picture there, she says, “I’m marking my territory”. Femi knows that Betty loves eating a particular brand of small chops, so one day he places an order for the chops, and James brings them to his house.
Femi asks James to come into his living room and sit so that they can have more discussions about food. James walks in and is about to sit on a couch when he sees Betty’s picture in the living room on the TV stand. James sits and asks Femi if Betty is his sister, but Femi replies “No, she’s not my sister; that’s my wife”. Go and watch the movie on the IROKO TV app, and let me continue with my post.
From the above example, we can see that the hint in the story is the picture. We can also see that James didn’t go to Femi’s house immediately after Betty planted the hint, but he did so in a later scene. Furthermore, did you notice how Betty gave the audience something else to think about whilst she was planting the hint by saying “I’m just marking my territory”?
In this story, the screenwriter hid the step-by-step sequence of events of how Femi and James got to know they were dating the same girl and just replaced those steps with a hint (the picture). The audiences are very smart people, so as a screenwriter, don’t ever think you can outsmart them by just popping something out of nowhere and that’s the end of your story. Using this technique properly will make them know that you gave them an advanced hint, but they were the ones who failed to see it.
As a screenwriter, when all roads seem to lead nowhere in your story, never forget to use your magic wand. Whenever you wish to use the foreshadowing technique, please take note of the following, listed below:
1) Don’t force foreshadowing into your story; let it come organically.
2) Make sure what you’re about to foreshadow makes sense.
3) When you want to foreshadow, find a way to make the audience think of something else whilst you plant the hint. Betty made the audience think she was a jealous lover as she planted the hint.
You must understand your story before foreshadowing can work perfectly. This technique, if used properly, would make your audience happy, but you shouldn’t try to use it the wrong way because if you do, let’s forget that part.