Foreshadowing: A Key Mystery Writing Tool


Foreshadowing is an important literary technique in all fiction, but it is especially useful in mystery writing. Foreshadowing hints at events to come and piques reader interest. It can create a mood of foreboding and dread, build suspense by aligning details to make the reader anticipate a climax, and advance the plot by linking present to future or past events and by planting clues that will be significant later. Foreshadowing can also be used to deliberately mislead the reader to create a surprise solution or culmination. Here are some foreshadowing examples: 1) the pre-scene anticipating a more spectacular scene (brief turbulence for an airplane flying into big trouble); 2) the unsubtle warning (“The weather was going to be bad, but he didn’t know how bad.”); 3) the irrational concern (Where’s that misplaced letter opener? With the killer, of course.); 4) the unexplained apprehension (Why is he so nervous?); 5) the blunt narrator statement (“It was the last time he would see her.”); 6) the ominous object (or “Chekhov’s gun” after the Russian playwright’s use of a seemingly irrelevant loaded gun to foreshadow events); 7) a character’s opinion (“I think he’s hiding something,” said the detective.);

8) premonition or prophecy (when that creepy fortune-teller sees danger ahead); 9) symbolism (storm clouds on the horizon and a dead bird on the porch); 10) the red herring (a favorite device in Sherlock Holmes stories to misdirect reader suspicion); and 11) the flash-forward or flash-back (a jump in the timeline that builds suspense because the complete context and connection are unclear). For a useful article covering many of the examples above, go to

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