Sunday, November 20, 2016

A Study In Foreshadowing: How NOT to Use Foreshadowing

Welcome back to my mini-series on foreshadowing! Last month I wrote Why Foreshadow? Today I’ll be sharing with you some of the major downfalls of foreshadowing.

Caution: Because of the nature of foreshadowing, the way that it includes predicting of plot events and its fulfillment, this post includes some spoilers to The False Prince and Inheritance (The Inheritance Cycle, book 4).

Foreshadowing, although one of my favorite writing techniques, can be one of the most difficult to master. But it doesn’t have to be. Below I’ve included some of the most common mistakes made in foreshadowing:

Don’t give away the story in the title or the premise.

While I’m not necessarily an advocate of incredibly vague titles or confusing premises, I don’t like ones that give away all the major plot twists. In fact, with some books I’ve given up reading the back entirely because I don’t want anything to be spoiled for me.

(SPOILER ALERT for The False Prince.)

I picked up The False Prince via recommendation, and while the prose was excellent and witty, the plot was predictable. And it all came from the title. The word false alludes that there is a real prince out there, and 99% of the time, it’s the main character. Go figure.

Then I read part of the premise:

“In a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king’s long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince. Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant boy named Sage.”

“Huh,” I thought. “Wouldn’t it be something is Sage turned out to be the real prince.”

And this was before I had even read a single page. I will admit, the narrator seems unreliable for a while, but in the end, he’s predictable.


The premise and the book titles are supposed to be beautiful teasers, not a self-explanatory synopsis. Please pay attention to the difference. Teasers hook the readers. Synopsis summarize everything. Teasers are exciting. Synopsis are explanatory. Unless you’re writing a cookbook in which readers need to know everything (especially what they’re cooking), a little bit of mystery is a good thing.

Of course, there are exceptions to this point. Many books have used their titles to in order to reveal major plot points, and it’s the how the author tells the story that hooks the readers (eg. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead).

Don’t make unfulfilled promises.

In Christopher Paolini’s The Inheritance Cycle, the . The stakes are high and only grow higher as the series progresses, and as it does, the narrator presents readers with several foreboding promises. They come in different forms, from prophecy to oaths made by characters.

(SPOILER ALERT for Inheritance.)

One of the very first promises readers are given comes in the form of a prophecy that states Eragon will leave Alagaesia and never return. Knowing how much Eragon has given up to protect the people of Alagaesia, which also happens to be his home, nobody wants to see him leave. In this particular prophecy, Paolini follows through, and Eragon and Saphira leave after the defeat of Galbatorix because they suddenly find themselves to be the most powerful beings on the continent.

On the other hand, Paolini fails to follow through with other dreadful promises. For example, in Eldest, Eragon’s cousin Roran helped the people of Palancar Valley (their home) escape the Ra’zac and get to safely. But Roran can’t save everybody, and several men die in the process. One grieving widow blames him and swears she will have a blood price from him. The suspense is built, and the reminders of his debt continue throughout the books as the woman seeks justice. But when her time finally comes, all she does is cut his hand without actually giving any indication of forgiveness.

Similarly, in Brisingr, Eragon made a deal with an ancient Menoa tree that he would give it anything it wanted in exchange for a magical steel beneath its roots so he could make his sword. In Inheritance, he returns to the tree to fulfill his promise, and the tree says maybe four words and tells him to go instead of asking for anything.

In both instances, I got to the end and thought, “Well, that was anticlimactic!” I was disappointed. Not because I wanted Roran to die or Eragon to get hurt, but because it seemed like the high stakes didn’t matter in the end. It felt like a cheap writing to get beloved characters out of a difficult situation.


If you’re going to promise high stakes, follow through with them. Otherwise, readers may not buy into the suspense next time. And a book without suspense is one that’s less likely to be read.

Don’t rely on clichés.

The Lego Movie is a great example of how to use foreshadowing, and how not to do it. It plays on expectations and reality in a humorous way that pokes fun at many, many clichés in plots. For example, in the opening scene, President Business marches in to carry out his plan to end the world. Determined to stop him, Vitruvius says, “Wait… There’s a prophecy.”

“Oh, so now there’s a prophecy?”

You can just hear his voice dripping with sarcasm. Prophecy is one of the most overused forms of foreshadowing today, and not because it should be avoided entirely but because people tend to use the same prophecy over and over again. Recycling is good to save the earth, not your story.

I’m not saying you can’t use prophecy. If written properly, it can serve as a great method for foreshadowing, but more often than not, stories fall into the trap of using the same predictable prophecies over and over again.

Just a few clichés in foreshadowing include: The prophesied teenager from foreign country/dimension saves the world. The deadly bomb that’s going to go off only to be stopped seconds before it does. Basically, any time a boy meets a girl, and they fall in love.

Don’t avoid foreshadowing altogether.

Another one of my favorite kids’ movies that pokes fun at plot holes is The Emperor’s New Groove. Near the climax of the movie, the heroes race the villains all the way back to the capital city, overtake them halfway through the journey, only to have the bad guys show up before them. That’s when the characters stop and say, “No! It can’t be! How did you get here before us?”

“Uh… How did we, Kronk?”                        

“Well, you got me.” He pulls out a flipchart showing their routes and the villains’ random disappearance. “By all accounts, it doesn’t make sense.”

The problem is not the plot twist; the problem is that it’s unexplained. Don’t throw random stuff at your readers thinking, “Hah! They’ll never see this coming!” Because maybe they won’t. It’d be just about as fair as the catcher at a baseball game expects the batter to miss the ball only to have him get hit in the back of the head with a football. It just doesn’t make any sense, and it’s isn’t consistent.

My main point: don’t try to be too obvious with your foreshadowing. It’s as simple as that. Be sneaky. But hint at what’s coming. That’s how writers are seen as clever when readers still don’t see it coming. It may be difficult to master, but countless authors have proved it’s possible. For more on this subject, be sure to check back next month for part 3: Three Methods for Foreshadowing.


Previously in A Study in Foreshadowing: Why Foreshadow?

Literary references: Jennifer A. Neilsen’s The False Prince, Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, and Christopher Paolini’s The Inheritance Cycle.

Movie references: The Lego Movie and Emperor’s New Groove.

Let’s chat! What would you add to the list? What helped you the most? What are some of the worst misuses of foreshadowing you’ve seen?

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Controversy in Fiction: Feminism and Female Authors

Welcome back to Controversy in Fiction, part 4! You can check out my previous posts: Banned Books, Censorship, and Magic by clicking on the links. Today I’m excited to share the controversies concerning feminism. Does it still exist in our society? And is it really necessary?

Disclaimer: This post may contain controversial opinions that are not necessarily the same as those of readers. While I have done my best to avoid stereotypes, some of my points are generalizations and may not apply to every situation and person. I have done my best to write objectively and mean no offense.

My parents have always been super supportive. I’ve always been naturally curious, and as a kid, I remember the time I asked my mom for a book on banana slugs. That’s right. Those slimy creatures that are nature’s garbage disposals were fascinating to me. I might even say adorable. The same was true for frogs, crabs, and even daddy long legs.

I only have one memory of playing with a doll. Back when I was five or so, my brother Gavin and I had this great idea to re-act the story of Moses. This was after Prince of Egypt came out. Naturally, I was the girl so I got stuck with playing the part of one of the mothers while Gavin played one of pharaoh’s soldiers. Long story short, we ripped the arm off the doll “fighting” over it. The poor toy had to go to the dolly hospital and thus ended my brief-lived doll-phase. (Come to think about it, there was another time I got a doll from a creepy Santa Claus, and all the doll’s limbs fell off, but we don’t speak of that.)

Instead of the regular girly toys, I followed my brother and his friends around, playing with sticks and pretending they were swords or lightsabers. In short, I was a tomboy. In many ways I still am, although I wouldn’t say I wish I was a boy. I am proud of being a woman.

It wasn’t until I went away to college that I started to realize some of the controversy surrounding feminism in literature and life overall. I may have been raised in a conservative background, but my mom was raised a feminist, so it was natural some of it should rub off on me. And when I say I’m a feminist, I don’t mean I’m a men-bashing feminist but rather an equal-opportunist.

I used to wonder what the big deal was and why feminism should be such a big issue in fiction. After all, we live in the 21st century where women have the right to vote, opportunity to get whatever jobs they want, and the ability to change the world. Right? 

But even today, bias still exists whether we like to acknowledge it or not. Here’s just a brief look at some current issues concerning feminism in literature:

Pseudonyms still exist.

And I’m not saying they’re wrong. Writers pick pseudonyms for all sorts of reasons. Some want anonymity, preferring to use their name around friends, family, and colleagues whereas some authors names are so well known, they would have a difficult time being associated with another genre (like J. K. Rowling or Stephen King).

Other writers may even use pseudonyms or abbreviations to match the market. For example, you probably wouldn’t see a fantasy book written by a John Doe (maybe a mystery?) or William Shatner (sci-fi), but you will see fantasy written by J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, J. R. Larson, V. E. Schwab, and J. K. Rowling. I’m sensing a pattern here.

That’s not to say that fantasy writers can’t use their whole name, but did you know that the last three writers listed above were women? I certainly didn’t until I read their biographies. And I’m a woman. Why is it my automatic response to believe that a writer is automatically a male if I don’t know his or her first name? Could it be something ingrained in our culture, or am I in some way subconsciously biased against my own gender?

Most classical writers are men.

When I asked people to name the first three classical writers who came to mind, most often they were male writers. The most common authors listed (in order of most mentioned) include William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Charles Dickens. Other mentions include Aristotle, Charlotte Bronte, Lewis Carroll, Geoffrey Chaucer, Emily Dickinson, Waldo Emerson, Euripides, Homer, Victor Hugo, George MacDonald, Plato, Plutarch, Edgar Allan Poe, Edmund Spenser, John Steinbeck, Edith Wharton, and Oscar Wilde. In total, that’s only four women to sixteen men.

Of course, this is in no way an extensive list of all the famous authors. All you have to do is visit your local library or bookstore to see the names of classical writers from Greek to English to American traditions, and more. Yet overall, male writers outnumber women writers. 

Notice how I didn’t say all classical writers are men, though many are. It would be a misconception to assume that all classical writers were men. Women writers in the English tradition date back to the Middle Ages, from Marie de France to Julian of Norwich to Margery Kempe. Although these writers may not be as well-known as writers like Geoffrey Chaucer (The Canterbury Tales) or Sir Thomas Malory (Morte Darthur), women’s writings have been recognized for centuries.

Genders still fall into stereotypes.

Stereotype #1: Women are emotional, and men are logical.
Please. My parents themselves defy this. My mom tends to be more logical when it comes to reading or watching movies, often to the point where she predicts what will happen next, and my dad’s the empath of the two of them. There’s no reason men and women can’t both have emotions. They’re both human. True, they tend to handle them differently, but it always varies from person-to-person.

Stereotype #2: Men are stronger than women.
As for men being stronger than women, sure, it can be true to an extent. I mean, I’ve always been the
slowest of my dad and brother, whether it comes to hiking, biking, or simply walking. But after a year of biking in England, I was finally able to keep up with my dad. On the other hand, my dad’s cousin Rachel makes them both look out of shape. Whoever said that Tolkien didn’t include more female characters because they wouldn’t have been able to keep up with the members of the Fellowship was wrong.

Stereotype #3: All strength is physical.
It’s a misconception that in order for a female character to be strong, it has to be physically. Often times, characters like this are outfitted with some sort of weapon or fighting style that makes them equal if not a rival to men. That’s not to say that women can’t be strong (see above point), but not all strength is physical. Sometimes it can be mental or even spiritual.

While fiction is full of female characters who can beat a man up or lead a revolution (The Hunger Games and Blood Red Road), they’re not always relatable. I want to see more strong female characters who don’t just struggle against deranged governments but against their own negative thoughts, whether it’s a mental ailment like depression or a spiritual one like an existential crisis.

Lisa T. Bergren is a great example of an author whose characters are well-developed. In The Remnants trilogy, the main character, Andriana “Dri” is trained as a warrior, to protect herself and her friends, but she’s also an empath and struggles with opening herself up to the darkness. Bergren’s other YA series, the River of Time series portrays another excellent set of well-developed female characters who feel like actual people and are quite easy to relate to. Other great examples of well-developed female characters include but are not limited to Maerad from The Books of Pellinor, Amani from Rebel of the Sands, and Puck from The Scorpio Races.

In all, the world of fiction has still come a long way over the years. According to one company in England, 48% of employees in publishing throughout the UK are women. And as far as I’ve seen, a lot of YA authors are women, from Lois Lowry (The Giver) and Lisa T. Bergren (River of Time Series) to Maggie Stiefvater (The Scorpio Races) and Rainbow Rowell (Eleanor & Park). In fact, many of my favorite contemporary authors are women. That isn’t to say that men can’t write YA, look at John Green, Rick Riordan, and Lemony Snicket.


Previously in Controversy in Fiction: Banned Books, Censorship, and Magic

Literary references: Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte Darthur, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, Moira Young’s Blood Red Road, Lisa T. Bergren’s The Remnants trilogy and River of Time series, Alison Croggon’s The Books of Pellinor, Alwyn Hamilton’s Rebel of the Sands, Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races, Lois Lowry’s The Giver, and Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park.

Let’s chat! Who’s your favorite female writer? Your favorite female character? Do you think gender discrimination is a problem that still needs to be addressed in the publishing industry and the world of fiction?

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Shadows: A Poem

I get inspiration from the strangest places, and my writing never comes out exactly like I initially thought it would. Not that it’s a bad thing. When I first started classes at the University of Nottingham, my aunt remarked that the place was so beautiful I’d surely find inspiration to write. And I did. But my writing wasn’t the poems or the stories I expected.

In my time there, I wrote maybe two poems about Nottingham itself, and my poem “Puddle” was inspired off one of the first times I rode my bike past a puddle. Not that the poem has anything to do with biking. And the setting could be anywhere.

The same could be said for the following poem. I wrote it based of an observation I made while watching a seagull glide above the morning shade I was standing in. The setting I’ll leave up to you. Just as the words take off on their own the minute I put my fingers to the keyboard, may your imagination take flight.


I’m in over my head in darkness,
standing in shadows of the box-shaped buildings,
like I’m in a deep, gray ravine beneath the waters
with the seagulls gliding overhead,
their underbellies alight against the blue,
like they’re gliding on light.

I’m up to my shoulders in shadows,
the shade spilling like a waterfall,
filling my lungs with a cold breath
and sprinkling my face with a chill
that I wipe off with my scarf.

I’m up to my knees in shadows,
the sunlight taunting me now,
for my toes are still cold within my boots,
but I’ve had to peel my sweater off
as I wade across darkened cobblestones.

I’m standing in shadows,
the darkness melted at my feet, never fully gone.
Standing in a bath of sunshine isn’t quick,
like jumping into freshwater.
It’s slow, gradual, like friendship, like love,
but one shard of a cloud, then goosebumps will crawl up my arms.


Let’s chat! Where is the poem set in your mind? What sort of things or places inspiration you?