Foreshadowing: How Much is Too Much?

Harry Potter Foreshadowing

One of the literary devices I love the most is foreshadowing. Because it’s all in the details. And I just love details.

I’m a detail person. I do a ton of research before beginning my manuscript (not the same as outlining. I don’t really do that) and it makes me giddy to think up new ideas and concepts for the upcoming WIP. I love to dissect a book and put the little pieces together that all give hints as to what’s going to happen in the end.

I’m in the thick of writing the second book in my MG fantasy series, and the foreshadowing is strong in this one. It’s strong in the first one, as well, and during one of the many edits I did on the first book, I underlined or wrote down every bit of foreshadowing that needed to be explained either in the first book or in subsequent books. That was a fairly hefty list.

I had to break it down and make sure that everything that was foreshadowed had a proper ending. Which can interfere with my pantsing preference while I write. I prefer not to outline or plan too much, but with such a weighty fantasy world, it’s impossible not to plan a bit, otherwise I’d be so lost I wouldn’t know to crash through the maze I’d created.

The thing with writing a series is that, if you don’t foreshadow, you’re dead in the water. Except if you write series’ where each book is a standalone, but with the same characters. Then the foreshadowing should be book specific.

But since this series is only going to be a certain length (currently 7 books, but that could change), and the background and world-building that’s required is so immense, if I didn’t foreshadow, everything would take my readers by surprise.

There are things mentioned in the first book that will be whispered about here and there, but that won’t show up again in a large way until the last two books. This is intentional, of course, because how could the MC magically understand something that far into the adventure without having first been introduced to it somewhere along the way?

I’ve read a few chapters from random books on how to write better that delineate why foreshadowing is so important. Here’s a quote:

“Foreshadowing is another of those ways of making your fiction rise above the ordinary. A lot of novel writing beginners do not bother with it – they either don’t know what it is or don’t know how to do it.

If you foreshadow in your own fiction, you will make it a lot more professional and a lot more publishable.” Harvey Chapman.

At first I was a bit offended because I’m a ‘beginner’ writer without any formal publishing credits to my name, but I got over it quickly when I realized how many of my favorite authors foreshadow like nobody’s business.

Readers want foreshadowing. Especially in series books. As a reader, we have an idea of what will happen and we either need to be taken completely by surprise when our assumptions are incorrect, or we need to be gratified that the ending will happen based on all the clues we’ve gathered.

We need the other shoe to drop. The first shoe usually drops somewhere at the beginning of the story. And if the other shoe isn’t chucked down eventually, we’re left dangling like a bad participle.

But just because you threw down a loafer, doesn’t mean it can’t be followed by a rockin’ stiletto.

The thing I worry about most is if I’ve included too much foreshadowing in my books. Although I have to agree with Madeleine L’Engle (one of my fave authors) when she said, “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

Children have an uncanny knack for picking up on tidbits in books that we adults have a tendency to skim right over. But I don’t want to include so much that the puzzle becomes far too difficult to piece together.

My personal preference for foreshadowing is to blithely set down an important piece of information in an otherwise unimportant paragraph or dialogue exchange. Which is why I’ll have a really hard time editing my book once it gets to a publisher. Absolutely nothing that is in there currently is just because. There’s a specific purpose for every line of dialogue, every character nuance, and every short piece of exposition. I’m dreading that day.

So, tell me… how much foreshadowing is too much? Are there books you’ve read that blatantly foreshadow and it makes you roll your eyes? What books do you love that foreshadow the best? And when you foreshadow, how do you do it? Please share!

Happy writing!


“What came next is very hard to tell. Indeed, I have told it but once before, when I needed to, and I will tell it this time only becaude it forms a strand in the fabric of my story, and it wove itself into what came after.”
― Juliet Marillier

“Forewarned is not forearmed, it is foreshadowed.”
― A.P.Sabine


14 thoughts on “Foreshadowing: How Much is Too Much?

    • I don’t even know if I do pull it off. It makes sense to me (because I’m writing it) and my beta readers say that it works. The few foreshadowing bits that were confusing were fixed with edits, but no matter how good your beta readers are, there’s always uncertainty until it comes out in print. And really, I won’t know how well it’s worked until the last book is completed. Then I’m sure people will be screaming at me for things I’ve left out or things unfinished.

      I’m a fairly organized person, despite preferring to “pants” when I write. I guess my bent towards organization keeps me in check.

      • Haha, you just pull it off. 😉

        I see. Ah, there it is again. Uncertainty. You never really know, huh? That’s probably one of the fears I have whenever I try to incorporate foreshadowing into my writing. I always worry that people won’t get it or it won’t make sense. I guess good beta readers come in handy then. Mmm if only I can find some good beta readers.

        Doesn’t that make it harder to foreshadow then? When you write without planning too much in advance?

      • I only plan what will be foreshadowed. Although, to be honest, that is quite a bit of the story. When I “outline,” all I really do is write short paragraphs of what bits of foreshadowing needs to occur and what must happen in the chapter. I’ve done a ton of research long before I ever sit down to “outline” so I don’t need big explanations. I consider my research and my outlining/writing to be somewhat separate. I don’t go into them with the same attitude.

        And I pants my way through the chapters once I know what absolutely HAS to be in them.

        But I pants far better when I’m writing other things. Like, the RomCom I’m writing is completely pantsed with only a few ideas written down on a separate piece of paper.

        I guess it all depends on what I’m writing.
        Jeez. Have I made it confusing enough, yet? 🙂

      • Oh I see. So you plan the foreshadowing before actually writing. I have never done it like that before. Interesting.

        Yeah every story is unique. I go about writing, planning, and outlining differently each time. The type of genre you write will affect how much foreshadowing you include too, I assume.

        No no you are not confusing at all. This has been an enlightening comment. I’ve always enjoyed learning about the writing process of other writers. Now I know a bit more about yours. Thanks for sharing. 😉

  1. I LOVE foreshadowing! I love when you read it then get to what happens and you flip back through the book then see ALL the clues you missed the first time! 😀 Excellent post!

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