Suspense Writing Technique - Foreshadowing

Today, I want to talk about how you can use foreshadowing for suspense writing.

Foreshadowing is when you suggest what's going to happen ahead of time. By hinting at something ominous or dramatic, you can create suspense.

In horror movies, this is often accomplished with mood music. In fiction, it's sometimes done with creepy details. A wolf howls, distant thunder rumbles (these are clichés, but you can find a subtler details to create a sinister atmosphere).

Or the character might have a prickling at the back of her neck, a strange feeling that she's being watched...

A more direct approach is just to tell or show the reader what's going to happen later in the story.

Many suspense novels begin with a prologue that shows an exciting point in the action. The character lies on floor of the basement dungeon, trying desperately to loosen the rope binding her before her captor returns...

Then the author goes back in time and shows the events leading up to that moment. The reader knows what's going to happen. And when the character knocks on the door of that lonely farmhouse, the reader's tension rises...

Another way to set the reader's expectations is to establish a pattern.

For example, a serial killer in your book has been targeting very tall women. If your blond female detective is six feet/1.83 meters tall, the reader is going to worry about her.

Ira Levin's The Stepford Wives is an example of a whole novel constructed to create this kind of suspense.

When his main character, Joanna, moves to the town of Stepford, she notices that something seems wrong with most of the women in the town, who act almost if they've been hypnotized.

She befriends the two other "normal" women in the town, Charmaine and Bobbie, and the three compare notes about how strange the other women there are.

But when one of these friends, Charmaine, returns from a romantic getaway with her husband, she seems transformed, hypnotized like the others.

Then, Bobbie's husband proposes a romantic getaway, and when SHE returns, she also seems hypnotized.

Now the main character, Joanna, makes plans for a romantic weekend alone with her husband. Since Levin has already established a pattern -- the women go away with their husbands and come back transformed -- the reader is extremely curious, and concerned, about what is about to happen.

Here's a story prompt that you can use to try this technique yourself...

Last summer, on a dare, two of your teenaged character's friends spent the night in an abandoned house. They came out traumatized and refuse to say what happened to them. A few days ago, your character's brother decided to investigate the incident in order to write a piece for the school newspaper. After spending the night in the house, he refuses to speak at all and is currently under psychiatric care. Anxious to help her brother, your character decides that the only way to know what really happened is to spend a night in the house herself...

Learn more suspense writing techniques in our online course Irresistible Fiction.

Suspense Writing - Next Steps

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