I've been thinking lately about foreshadowing, and how to strike the balance between giving the plot away and coming out of nowhere. The most recent October Daye book just came out, and the latest installment's greatest strength (perhaps) is the groundwork done in earlier books to build up to this point. Also, I was thinking about why a bit of obvious foreshadowing in Fuzzy Nation didn't make the book predictable or boring.
Incidentally, this is why most writing advice includes a strong recommendation to read a lot. Seeing what works or doesn't work lets you pull apart those elements to use them, yourself.
But I digress. Frequently.
I've also been doing a lot of editing. Now that I know how the books I'm typing up end, I keep adding in hints to later events. Or I keep feeling really proud of myself for having already put them there. So, foreshadowing is on my mind a lot these days.
The October Daye series handles foreshadowing in a couple of ways. There are hints sprinkled throughout that the unreliable narrator doesn't dwell on, but that turn out to be essential to the later plot. Or, she misinterpreted these hints. Foreshadowing-as-misdirection can work really well, especially in mysteries. The way foreshadowing is woven into these stories, an astute reader feels rewarded for paying attention to these clues, but there are still plenty of surprises.
In Fuzzy Nation, the narrator also fails to pick up on important hints. But, it turns out that what the narrator misses isn't the key to solving the problem. There's something else going on, too, and the plot hinges on that harder-to-anticipate element. The predictable one does come into play, which made me feel smarter than the narrator for picking up on it, but it didn't spoil the ending.
Are you recognizing a theme yet? In the most satisfying books, readers feel like they were engaged enough to use their brains, but the author didn't give everything away. Also, the more obvious foreshadowing works as its own kind of misdirection. There may well have been hints in the narrative about how the stories would end, but I was too busy examining the more obvious clues.
Good foreshadowing, then, doesn't give an ending away. It doesn't reveal everything until the last page ties it all together. If you've done it well, your reader will pick up on some of it, but not all. So, if you want to deliberately insert clues to your ending, make sure it's only to a contributing factor, not to the ultimate solution.
Now, off to take my own advice. Expect a progress post in a month or so.