I went to see the new James bond film as soon as it was released. If you’ve been living under a rock, then its called ‘Spectre’ and I’ll be honest, I was a little disappointed. Some were heralding it as the best bond yet but, I wasn’t convinced. So I decided to think about why.
I realised it’s because it was predictable. And not in a good cheesy actiony Bond type way. In an, I actually know exactly what’s going to happen kind of way.
For me, it comes down to foreshadowing and the little breadcrumbs storytellers leave for us in order to prep and build us up for the ending they planned, which should… if they have primed well enough, leave us satisfied.
WARNING – if you haven’t seen the film and don’t want any spoilers don’t read on.
ONE – Priming
The whole point of foreshadowing is doing it early. Priming the reader or watcher before they even know what the story is about. That sets them up to accept your ending without them even realising. You’re telling their subconscious what your going to do, whilst keeping their conscious mind in the dark. That’s exactly what Bond does.
The film starts with a phrase up on the screen:
The dead are alive…
A seemingly inoffensive and ambiguous juxtaposed phrase. But actually it’s a clue to the entire film. The ultimate bad guy is someone close to bond who was meant to be dead all along. So this priming makes total sense. It’s a breadcrumb. But the creators go one step further and leave another breadcrumb for you before the film even starts.
The film title – Spectre. Spectres another word for ghost – or a kind of alive, dead person… They get a big tick in the priming box for prepping us nice and early. The lesson I learnt here? It’s never too early to prime. Even the title of a book or film isn’t too early.
TWO – Breadcrumbs
Breadcrumbs for foreshadowing are essential in any story, but even more important in series. It gives weight to the idea of not publishing the first book in a series until you have written the last – or at least are 100% certain what happens. JK Rowling is like the queen of this in the Harry Potter series, examples include:
The locket they found in sirius’s house in book five which ends up being a horcrux in book six.
Sirius Black – Remember the motorbike Hagrid rides in chapter one of the first ever book? Yeah – he tells Dumbledore it’s borrowed from young Mr. Black – a character we dismiss as irrelevant – until we get to book three…. BOOM.
These breadcrumbs are minuscule, but they are purposeful. Expertly laid out to our subconscious and inconspicuous enough that our conscious minds don’t pick up on them as clues the time. Which means when the big reveal happens we get mind blown wondering how we never saw it coming.
THREE – Misdirection
This is essential. Clever clogs who are paying attention to the detail and looking out for clues to the ending will actively pick up on foreshadowing. You need to misdirect them enough that they are put off the scent but not so much they disbelieve your ending.
The example in Spectre, which for me wasn’t quite enough, was the opening scene. The opening phrase ‘the dead are alive…’ rolls into onto screen and then is replaced by a scene of the Mexican festival Dia de Muertos a festival for the dead. Knocking us completely off track making us think thats what they meant by the dead are alive.
In Harry Potter, JK Rowlings biggest method for misdirection is the time lag between her dropping the breadcrumb and then actually revealing its use – usually long enough for us to just forget about it so she can yank it back into the story in the nick of time.
FOUR – Big Reveal
It might sound obvious, but… if you are going to lay down breadcrumbs you actually need to use them. If you don’t the subconscious has an uncanny habit of making your conscious mind feel like strings have been left untied. The result? Readers feel like your story is unfinished.
It’s worth making a note of every breadcrumb you leave as you go, I put them in my editing map.
FIVE – Show, don’t tell the foreshadowing (spoiler alert)
K.M Weiland has an excellent post on this, I urge you to go read it: Did You Know “Show vs. Tell” Matters in Foreshadowing Too?
It wast until I was researching for this post and I read hers that I discovered the other reason why the foreshadowing in Bond didn’t work for me.
The guy that’s the architect for all Bond’s pain (Franz Oberhauser), is the kid of the man who took Bond into his family and effectively adopted him. How do we find this out? Well, aside from the one photo were shown bits and pieces of throughout the film, we’re told, by Franz himself when he admits to killing his own father, and Bond’s adoptive father.
I shrugged and was like, yeah…and? I wasn’t emotionally invested. I found myself asking why this wasn’t set up more in Skyfall? It didn’t need to be much because we learn bits about his childhood in the film, a simple reference to Oberhauser would have been enough – perhaps if I watch the films back to back I might find it. But even so, there wasn’t enough back story in Spectre showing me how Bond felt about his father or Franz for that matter and certainly not enough for me to feel Bond’s pain at the loss of his adoptive father.
Franz was all like ‘oh we were kind of brothers because my dad said we were, and he liked you more than me, so I killed him and tried to ruin your life.’
Um. Really? Not convinced.
SIX – The Spy Method to Foreshadowing
So how do you actually foreshadow? Well, the devil is in the detail of furrowing away and hiding like a spy. Anything you foreshadow needs to be small details and the key is to make it inconspicuous. Here’s a list of suggestions I gathered from my research:
A characters apprehension – that gnarling sensation in the pit of their stomach – they know somethings wrong but they don’t know what.
A characters concern – a mother telling a child to be safe because the boogey monster might get them, and the child waving the mother off with those fateful words ‘I’ll be fine’.
Pre scenes + Prologues –
I read a lot of writing advice that says don’t do a prologue, but actually a purposeful one can be incredibly useful, it also has the same effect as JK uses – its misdirection is in the art of you forgetting the early things you read as its so long till the reveal.
Name that event
Naming a significant event in the stories future is method of drawing attention to it especially if it’s the inciting scene in the book that drives action. A prime example in the Hunger Games is the ‘Reaping’
You could literally show a loaded gun in a draw or on a table – seems insignificant at the time, until later its the gun that kills the villain, or wounds the protagonist. But it doesn’t need to be a gun. It could be drugs, poison, a weapon, or even a character like Sirius in the first chapter – as long as they seem insignificant at the time, they will expertly sneak into your readers subconscious read to give the wow factor.
Loaded guns can also be missing – Maybe you checked a draw and the gun was missing, or your asthma inhaler was missing right before a marathon run.
Character Dialogue and Thought
Characters think. A lot. It’s how we get to know them. Characters also tell themselves lies. Like:
As I approached my childhood home my stomach furled into knots. I told myself if was just hunger because I’d missed breakfast. But as that familiar acrid scent drifted across the street the memories I’d been suppressing for so long began to surface.
Similar to prologues in the sense they usually come early in a book or book series. The word of warning here is not to use them as a tool to just fix your ending this can lead to cheesy cliches Your prophecy needs a purpose and to be integrated as part of the world you have created. It needs to be believable and credible and therefore have a justifiable reason for existing.
Symbolism, Omens and Weather
Pathetic fallacy – i.e. playing with the weather – you know, when it like gets all dark and cold and thundery, and you’re all like shiiiiit summat baaads about to happen?!
Warnings, advice, black cats, metaphors, similes, any literary tool you use to describe one thing but really mean another can be used to symbolise or foreshadow something else.
The white dove that flies past at the end of a battle scene, beauty and the beast’s red rose – red and roses representing love and the falling petals foreshadowing the impending doom of staying as beast forever.
So whilst bond used the right foreshadowing techniques, it failed to impressed me as they were too easy for me to pick up. Or maybe it’s because I know the techniques so was looking for them? What do you think? Do you know these techniques? Does it ruin films for you?
What are your favourite examples of foreshadowing? What tips and techniques can you share for effectively foreshadowing? Let me know in the comments below.
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