How to Use Foreshadowing in Film & Literature

Let’s answer the question- what is foreshadowing? And how do we use it? We’ll look at how foreshadowing is used in both film and literature.


Today let’s finally answer the question- what is foreshadowing? We’ll talk about the subtle techniques writers use to keep readers hooked. We’ll discuss what foreshadowing is, the two types of foreshadowing, and look at some foreshadowing examples from literature and film. 

foreshadowing definition

What is foreshadowing? 

Foreshadowing is a way for writers to hook readers early by hinting at future events in the story. This writing technique is common in books, films, and poetry. There are two types of foreshadowing, direct and indirect, and we’ll discuss those further in the article. 

Foreshadowing definition

Foreshadowing is a literary device where an author hints at future events in a story to create dramatic suspense. The writer will drop clues early in the plot to events later in the narrative. These clues keep the reader engaged in the story as they anticipate foreshadowed events. 

Types of foreshadowing

Foreshadowing is categorized into two basic types, direct and indirect. The writer can throw foreshadowing in the reader’s face or try to hide it with misdirection. Let’s go into more detail about each of these types of foreshadowing. 

Direct Foreshadowing

Direct foreshadowing is when the text overtly hints at a plot event. Direct foreshadowing usually happens through dialogue or narration. In a story using direct foreshadowing, the narrator might say, “that was the last time my family was together before dad’s heart attack.” Direct foreshadowing is an effective way for an author to build suspense and create tension. 

Example of Direct Foreshadowing 

There is an excellent example of direct foreshadowing early in the film Jurassic Park. A scientist at the park explains that they control the animal population by breeding only female dinosaurs. Dr. Ian Malcolm scoffs at this, saying, “Life finds a way,” meaning the animals would find a way to reproduce. This dialogue foreshadows Alan Grant finding hatched dinosaur eggs later in the film. 

Indirect Foreshadowing

With indirect foreshadowing, the author will lay subtle clues, throughout the text, about a future event. The reader won’t fully understand this kind of foreshadowing. An audience may recognize that an action or detail foreshadows something to come. Still, they won’t know what that something is. 

Authors will rely on indirect foreshadowing to set up a plot twist or surprise in the narrative. When setting up a twist, readers may not notice foreshadowing until after the twist has happened. In this way, foreshadowing acts like a series of clues an author drops to clue readers in on the twist. When the twist happens, readers don’t feel like it came out of nowhere, but they are still surprised. 

Example of Indirect Foreshadowing 

One of the most well-known twists in cinema comes from M. Night Shyamalan’s Sixth Sense. In the film, a therapist, Dr. Malcolm Crowe, helps a young boy who claims to see ghosts. The end twist is that Malcolm is a ghost and died from a gunshot early in the film. Shyamalan expertly foreshadows this plot reveal. The only character who talks or interacts with Malcolm throughout the film is the boy; however, this is barely noticeable until the final revelation. 

5 Examples of foreshadowing

Foreshadowing is a widespread technique in fiction, and you can find examples of foreshadowing in almost every piece of fiction. However, we will look at some specific examples of foreshadowing from both literature and film. Let’s start by looking at some of the best uses of foreshadowing in literature. 

Foreshadowing in literature

Foreshadowing in The Monkey's Paw

Foreshadowing in George Orwell’s 1984

In George Orwell’s 1984, there are several examples of foreshadowing used to hint at the future events of the novel. Early in the book, we find one example when Winston dreams about being chased by a savage beast. This foreshadows the fact that he will eventually be captured and taken to the Ministry of Love. Similarly, foreshadowing is used when Winston sees a picture of himself on a wanted poster. This picture foreshadows his eventual capture and imprisonment. Lastly, foreshadowing is used when Winston hears a voice saying, “We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness.” This quote foreshadows his meeting with O’Brien in the Ministry of Love, where he is tortured. By using these examples of foreshadowing, Orwell creates an atmosphere of suspense and anticipation that keeps readers engaged with the story.

Foreshadowing in W.W. Jacobs’ The Monkey’s Paw

In The Monkey’s Paw, foreshadowing creates a sense of foreboding and suspense. For example, when Mr. White listens to the eerie sound of the wind howling, the reader feels that something terrible will happen. The wind foreshadows the tragic events that occur later in the story. Similarly, when Mrs. White tells her son that she wishes he had never been born, this predicts the moment when she wishes him back from the dead. The use of foreshadowing in “The Monkey’s Paw” creates a sense of anticipation and excitement that keeps readers engaged until the very end.

Foreshadowing in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

Shakespeare makes prolific use of foreshadowing in his tragedy Romeo and Juliet. Foreboding foreshadows the star-crossed lovers’ untimely demise from the very beginning of the play. The play opens with a fight between the Montague and Capulet families, heralding the bloody end that awaits Romeo and Juliet. 

Later, when Romeo meets Juliet at the masked ball, he says, “my life were better ended by their hate / Than death prorogued, wanting of thy love” (II.iv.108-109). These words foreshadow Romeo’s death, which he believes will occur if he cannot be with Juliet. Shakespeare expertly weaves foreshadowing into the fabric of his play, creating a sense of unease and anticipation in the reader that culminates in the lovers’ tragic deaths.

Foreshadowing in film

Foreshadowing in Casablanca 

In the film Casablanca, there are several examples of foreshadowing that hint at the events that will take place later in the movie. One scene that foreshadows the meeting between Rick and Ilsa takes place at the bar when Rick asks Sam to play “As Time Goes By.” This song will later become significant when Rick and Ilsa meet again and share a touching moment.

Another example of foreshadowing occurs when Captain Renault tells Rick that he is “shocked, shocked” to find gambling going on in his casino. This dialogue foreshadows that Renault is working with the Nazis and is not as surprised by their presence as he pretends to be. By using foreshadowing, director Michael Curtiz creates an air of suspense and anticipation that keeps viewers engaged throughout the film.

Foreshadowing in The Hunger Games

In the movie The Hunger Games, there are several examples of foreshadowing that hint at what is to come. For instance, when Katniss talks to her sister Prim before the Reaping, she says, “I wish I could protect you from all of this.” This conversation foreshadows Katniss’s decision to take her sister’s place in the Hunger Games.

Later, when Katniss and Peeta enter the arena, she says, “Don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll be fine,” foreshadowing their survival. The Hunger Games creates suspense and intrigue by using foreshadowing, leaving audiences eager to see what will happen next.

How to use foreshadowing in your writing 

Foreshadow through Dialogue 

As we said already, authors often use foreshadowing to hint at future events in a story. Authors can foreshadow in many ways, but one of the most effective is through dialogue. By carefully choosing what a character says and how they say it, an author can subtly hint at what is to come without giving too much away. For example, if a character mentions an impending storm, it may foreshadow that something terrible will happen. Or, if a character says something foreboding like “I have a bad feeling about this,” it may indicate that they are about to meet with danger. When used skillfully, foreshadowing through dialogue can add depth and suspense to a story.

Foreshadow through Characterization

Another way to foreshadow events is through characterization. By carefully developing the characters in a story, authors can hint at future events without giving too much away. For example, suppose a character is constantly pushing the boundaries. In that case, likely, this character will eventually cross a line, leading to conflict or other plot developments. By contrast, a gentle and timid character is less likely to cause trouble later on. Thus, authors can add depth and intrigue to their stories by using characterization to foreshadow future events.

Foreshadow through events in the plot

Foreshadowing happens through various plot elements, such as the characters, setting, and events. By carefully choosing which details to include, authors can create a sense of foreboding or anticipation to keep readers hooked. 

One of the most common ways to foreshadow through the plot is to introduce a character who seems suspicious or untrustworthy from the very beginning. This can be done through their dialogue, actions, or appearance. For example, if a character has a shady past or constantly makes secretive phone calls, they’re likely hiding something. As the story progresses, readers will start to put the pieces together and figure out what the character is up to. 

Another way to foreshadow is to hint at future events through the story’s setting. If a character is walking through a dark and foreboding forest, something terrible will likely happen. Alternatively, suppose a character receives an ominous prophecy early on in the story. In that case, readers will be waiting in suspense to see how it plays out. 

Foreshadow through narration

There are several ways to foreshadow through narration, but one of the most common is to use foreboding language. This might involve describing a character’s foreboding dreams or visions or using ominous words and phrases to describe the story’s events. Another way to foreshadow through narration is to hint at future events through flashbacks or flash-forwards. By giving readers a glimpse of what is to come, these devices can heighten the suspense and keep them engaged with the story.

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Wrapping up

As you can see, foreshadowing is an infinitely useful literary device. As a writer, it can help you build tension, create suspense, set up plot twists, and keep your readers engaged. If you want to become a better writer, it is definitely a tool you’ll want to hone and keep in your arsenal. 

Speaking of honing your writing skills, why not check out other content from the Art of Narrative like our Youtube channel, or shop our latest writing templates!

If you’re interested in other articles on the technical aspects of fiction writing, here are two of our most popular: 

How to Write with First Person POV

Direct vs. Indirect Characterization

Keep writing! 

Continued reading on foreshadowing: 

A Guide to Foreshadowing in Film- 

Three Types of Foreshadowing- Kingdom Pen

What is Foreshadowing- Oregon State University

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