Literary Devices – Foreshadowing

The writer's desk - the humble beginnings of any literary device… Image Credit: Hash Milhan Photography, 2007.
The writer’s desk – the humble beginnings of any literary device…
Image Credit: Hash Milhan Photography, 2007.

Literary devices is the term used for the techniques and structures writers employ to convey their message and story. When done well, the use of literary devices can alter, manipulate and challenge the way a reader perceives any work. Used masterfully, literary devices influence how a story or essay can be interpreted and analysed, as well as how much the reader enjoys the work.

To find out more about other literary devices, click here.


Foreshadowing is one of many literary devices that adds depth to any work of fiction. This technique, when executed well, gives the reader a hint of what’s to come. The best foreshadowing is subtle and for the most part, goes unnoticed by the reader until the climax of the story occurs. It is generally at the height of the story’s plot, that the reader then recalls the hints that have been cleverly placed throughout the story.

The use of foreshadowing builds anticipation and dramatic tension throughout a narrative. It also has the ability to make strange events seem credible and believable, as the reader has been mentally prepared for them. This technique teases the reader and propels the story forward and can be done in numerous ways. Dialogue, imagery, and even the title of a work can allude to future events within the story, helping to manage and manipulate a reader’s expectations of the narrative.

Red Herring:

One type of foreshadowing is using a ‘Red Herring’. Generally found in crime fiction and mystery novels, a red herring is a misleading clue given to the reader to throw them off track as to the outcome of the story. The Sherlock Holmes stories are the best known example of this literary device.

Chekhov’s Gun:

Another kind of foreshadowing is the concept ‘Chekhov’s Gun’, which is the idea of placing details within the text that allude to, or set up future events. Chekhov said:

One must never place a loaded rifle on stage if it isn’t going to go off…”

This quote touches upon the fact that everything in a story must have a purpose, there is no room in fiction for any detail that does not contribute to the story in one way or another, and foreshadowing is just one example of this.

Writer's Edit

Writer’s Edit is a young online literary magazine created especially for writers and lovers of books. Founded in July 2013, the magazine is home to writing and book-related news, as well as advice and inspiration for emerging authors. Writer's Edit also publishes the anthology Kindling. To find out more, click here.

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