Sunday, December 18, 2016

A Study in Foreshadowing: Three Methods for Foreshadowing

This year, I’m concluding my blog posts with the finale to my latest mini-series, A Study in Foreshadowing. I’ve already written about Why Foreshadow? and How NOT to Use Foreshadowing, and today I’m going to sum it all up with Three Methods for 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 Lord of the Rings and Frozen.

I’ve already mentioned before that I’ve read a couple posts on what foreshadowing should do but not how to do it. I’d like to change that. So here are just three of the ways I’ve found that different stories have used and succeeded with foreshadowing. I have arranged them according to their difficulty to write well and their levels of subtlety.

1) The Plant

This technique is more often known as Chekhov’s Gun for the principle that every word in any story should be necessary. In essence, if a gun is mentioned as being in a room it has to go off, or else serve as some key element for the plot. This form of foreshadowing can take place in dialogue or in imagery. We see it all the time, whether or not we notice it. Characters who speak often of death tend to die, and whenever something is hinted at being dangerous or a bad idea, it usually is.

However, useful as this technique can be, it also tends to be more obvious so that most careful audiences can easily pick up on what is going to happen. Without knowing any of the spoilers, my mom predicted the end of Rouge One based off clues from the previous Star Wars episodes just as she does with almost every movie we watch. Most Marvel movies, which I tend to enjoy them immensely, can be predictable in this sense. I remember re-watching Captain America with one of my friends, and even though she hadn’t seen it yet, she managed to predict the scene when certain characters would die. Yikes.

But that doesn’t mean every plant has to be completely obvious. Perhaps the genre that does this method the best is, of course, mystery. Although classics like the Sherlock Holmes books tend to conceal the important clues until the very end, adaptations like BBC’s Sherlock include them so subtly that they’re usually unnoticeable until the end. For example, in A Scandal in Belgravia, the final event on the airplane where the confrontation between Sherlock, Mycroft, and Irene Adler is alluded to at the very beginning and throughout the episode, but the audiences don’t know how it’s important or what it means until the end.

Some tips for using the plant: make sure the readers see it, but don’t let them know what it means; include a hint at what’s to come, and turn it on its head; make every word count, but be subtle. Remember, the plant can take many forms from an item on a desk to something somebody says. Use your imagination, and don’t be afraid to be clever. Great foreshadowing makes for great rereading. That’s when audiences go back and say, “Oh! That’s what that means. How didn’t I see that before?”

2) The Prophecy

Although this is perhaps the most criticized form of foreshadowing, if written well, it can work. Perhaps the main problems readers have with prophecy is the protagonist/supporting character who just happens to fit all of the characteristics of the prophecy. Did the characters act in a certain way because of the prophecy, or did the prophecy allude to the way the characters would act? However, prophecies are not supposed to be built on a bunch of circumstantial “what if’s” that the characters must live up to. Prophecies are supposed to hint at events to come not spell them out completely.

Some of the best examples of prophecies come from The Lord of the Rings. Although the book is full of prophecies and allusions to the future, one of my favorites is the prophecy concerning the death of the Witch King, which says no living man can kill him. It sounds very specific, and in the end, no living man does. He is instead slain by Eowyn (a woman, not a man) with the help of Merry (a hobbit). It’s not that he couldn’t be killed, just that he wouldn’t be by men.

Another great prophecy is found in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Near the beginning of the story (Beginning, ha! It’s somewhere in the first 200 pages…), the street magician Vinculus appears to Mr. Norrell and tells him:

“Two magicians shall appear in England. The name of one shall be Fearfulness, the name of the other, Arrogance. The first shall fear me, the second shall long to behold me. The first shall bury his heart in the dark wood beneath the snow, yet still feel its ache. The second shall see his dearest possession in his enemy’s hand. Both will fail. The nameless slave shall be a king in a strange land. I will return.” (Quote taken from the BBC adaptation for brevity.)

At first, Vinculus’ prophecy seems rather odd and confusing. In the book, it’s twice as long, and it’s not until the end of the story that it’s understood what everything means. But perhaps the part that sticks out the most, at first anyway, is that the magicians will fail. Fail? That’s not very encouraging. But fail at what? That’s another matter entirely, and it’s not answered until the end of the book because they certainly succeed at many other things.

Some tips to remember when writing prophecy: the person your prophecy centers around does not have to be a teenager; prophecies don’t have to rhyme (thank you, Mr. Beaver); and prophecies can be illusive and misinterpreted.

When you write a good prophecy, be sure to turn your reader’s expectations on their heads. Allow your characters a chance for speculation and a chance to fail. Not all prophecies revolve around ultimate success, and the characters aren’t always right. What if the chosen one wasn’t the protagonist all along?

3) The Poem

Perhaps the most undervalued form of foreshadowing, poetry can tend to be the most subtle if not the most illusive, and it comes in many forms. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a poem either, it can be also be in the form of a song, which is a type of poetry. In fact, this is the most common form of poetry for musicals, including Disney movies. The best example I can give at the moment comes from Frozen. (Particularly because I listen to the soundtrack often, not because it’s the only example.)

The songs are riddled with foreshadowing! In “Frozen Heart”, ice is described as being beautiful, powerful, dangerous, and cold, like Elsa. And at the end of the song, the ice-harvesters sing, “Beware the frozen heart”, and after watching the movie, audiences can get the sense, they’re not just talking about ice but Anna’s frozen heart.

Similarly, in “For the First Time in Forever”, there are two particular predictions Anna makes, one of which comes true, and the other does not. First, she sings, “For the first time in forever / I could be noticed by someone.” But it’s not the someone, the romantic interest, that she thinks. Yes, she meets a guy, but she’s also noticed, for the first time in years, by her sister. Secondly, at the end of the song, she concludes with, “Nothing’s in my way!” To which my sister and I would say, “Yeah, except for Hans,” in which he literally stands in her way, foreshadowing the treachery to come. 

Other great examples of poetic foreshadowing include The Lord of the Rings, of course, and The Phantom of the Opera to name a few. Some tips on writing poetic foreshadowing: it doesn’t have to rhyme; be subtle; it’s okay to be obscure; remember to use lots of imagery.

Just remember the three P’s of Foreshadowing, read a lot, write a lot, and you’re one step closer to utilizing great foreshadowing.


Previously in A Study in Foreshadowing: WhyForeshadow? and How NOT to Use Foreshadowing 

Literary References: J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera.

Film References: Star Wars: Rogue One, Captain America: The First Avenger, Sherlock, and Frozen.

Let’s chat! Which of the above methods for foreshadowing is your favorite? Which story have you encountered with the best foreshadowing? 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Controversy in Fiction: Christian Fiction

Welcome back to my mini-series, Controversy in Fiction. I’ve already written on Banned Books, Censorship, Magic, and Feminism, and while there are many, many more controversial topics to be explored, I will be concluding this series with a discussion on Christian Fiction.

Disclaimer: This post may contain controversial opinions that are not necessarily the same as those of readers. While my personal experiences come from a Christian perspective, I have done my best to remain objective and mean no offense.

Perhaps one of the most controversial topics aside from politics, sports, pirates versus ninjas, Sith versus Jedi, or the big end versus the small end of the egg is religion. It seems like everybody has an opinion on it. Personally, I’m a Christian and was practically raised on Christian fiction and the classics. And while I’m still really picky about the kind of books I like to read (you have to be selective, or you’ll never finish the ever-growing TBR list), I don’t read as much Christian fiction as I used to, and not necessarily for all the reasons one might think.

Back when I attended Evangel University, a Christian liberal arts institution, I was shocked to hear that many of my friends didn’t like reading Christian fiction. In fact, they avoided it, mainly because it was too cliché, too preachy, and too restrictive. I thought that was a little harsh, especially considering I wanted to write Christian fiction for a living and wondered if any of my friends would even bother reading it. So after much deliberation and reading book after book after book, it’s time to tackle these questions.

1) Is Christian Fiction too cliché?

I don’t know about you, but often times, Christian fiction seems to follow the same patterns. Yes, I believe there actually is good versus evil, and it’s often well-represented in fiction, but often times stories fall into the same, familiar patterns: the same origin story, the same history, the same imagery between serpents/dragons and heroes, allegorical parallels between real life and the Christian walk.

Don’t get me wrong, I think these can be done, and done well, in moderation, but they’ve already been done. Paradise Lost tells of Satan’s fall, the origin of man, and Satan’s possession of a serpent. The Faerie Queene includes the spiritual journey of the Redcrosse Knight in his quest to slay a dragon and save a kingdom. Pilgrim’s Progress describes Christian in his allegorical journey towards the Celestial City. The problem most people have is that when attempting to tell an allegory, they draw from stories already so familiar, that they’re predictable and boring.

C. S. Lewis, on the other hand, made references to Paradise Lost in The Magician’s Nephew, but they were so subtle and told in a unique way that they aren’t immediately apparent. For example, the creation of the animals is nearly identical—in both stories, the animals come out of the ground, both stags and elephants and others alike. Another similar aspect between Lewis and Milton was that they drew from mythology albeit in different ways, and while I’ve seen a lot of Christian fiction that includes dragons or serpents (usually evil ones), I haven’t seen a lot of mythology mixed in. It’s seen as too pagan.

If Christian fiction today hopes to thrive as a genre, we could use a little more originality. That’s not to say writers should abandon their beliefs, but they don’t need to sacrifice their creativity either. We need more writers who dare to retell a story that’s never been retold before. We need more writers who dare to be creative even if it’s considered odd, like a certain scholar who put Father Christmas and fauns and river gods and a Christ figure all in the same story.

2) Is Christian Fiction too preachy?

Another complaint about Christian fiction is that it often sounds more like a sermon than a story. As the daughter of an army chaplain, I’ve heard countless sermons throughout my lifetime, but if I’ve noticed one thing about good sermons is that they often include stories. Sermons are often meant to share the word of God, and stories often help connect that word to the audience. Unfortunately, many writers get this mixed up.

Fiction should not read like a cookbook. People don’t go to stories looking for a way to live their life, a magical solution, or a fantastic moral. While many great stories include a theme or a moral, they don’t bash people over the head with them. Subtly is the key. Of course, I usually end up on the other end of the spectrum and end up too subtle so that my readers sometimes miss the point.

Not writing preachy fiction while trying to maintain a theme is difficult, but it can be done. Some great examples include The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, The Remnants trilogy, and Skies of Dripping Gold to name a few.

3) Is Christian Fiction too restrictive?

When reading book reviews for many Christian fiction books not labeled as such, one of the main complaints I’d see was something along these lines: “I didn’t know it was Christian fiction! I wouldn’t have picked it up if I’d known.” Many bookstores try to avoid such confusion by categorizing their shelves, and putting all the Christian fiction in its neat little section to be ignored or perused at anybody’s leisure.

The main problem I find with this segregation is that it makes it more difficult for Christian writers to reach a specific audience. It would be more difficult to reach out to nonbelievers if they wouldn’t even go near the shelves.

When Lewis wrote The Chronicles of Narnia, he not only did a good job in disguising the Christian nature of his books so much so that people today don’t always recognize it. While books like Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters are often found in the Christian or religious sections in bookstores and libraries, The Chronicles of Narnia pop up in children’s sections or fantasy isles. Even J. R. R. Tolkien was a Christian writer, although his books are similarly not often categorized as such.

Perhaps I haven’t read enough Christian fiction to be a good representative of the genre, or perhaps I have. Now am I saying that Christian writers shouldn’t write Christian fiction? Not at all. I’ve read many Christian stories, pondered their themes, and benefited from them. But often times, the label Christian has a tendency to alienate readers. Because of some of the faults made throughout the genre, it screams cliché, preachy, and for insiders only.

If anything, a fictional book doesn’t have to be labeled Christian to teach Christian values, moral values, or even a good theme. Les Miserables and A Christmas Carol portray the struggles of ordinary men and their faith despite poverty and hardships. The Harry Potter series, often seen as the antithesis of Christian fiction, still contains a representation of light versus dark. It’s the heart of the story that really counts, especially if it’s just that—a good story.


Previously in Controversy in FictionBanned BooksCensorship, Magic, and Feminism

Literary references: John Milton’s Paradise Lost; Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene; John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity, and The Screwtape Letters; J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings; Lisa T. Bergren’s The Remnants Trilogy; Hannah Heath’s Skies of Dripping Gold; Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables; Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol; and J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

Let’s chat! What’s your take on Christian fiction? What’s your criteria for picking up a book?

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Christmas Market: A Poem

Smell is one of the strongest memory triggers. When I first returned to Germany, having lived there once as a little kid, my parents kept asking me if I remembered things. We visited downtown Stuttgart.

“Do you remember this?”


We visited Reussenstein, an old ruined castle where I wandered off as a toddler and my dad thought I fell off a cliff but I ended up back at the car instead.

“Do you remember this?”


Then we visited Hess Bakery, and the smell hit me, the sweet scent of fresh baked rolls, pretzels, and tarts hit me. Suddenly, I was four years old again, inhaling the familiar smells. For the first time in my life, I experienced a sort of déjà vu. I was home.

Another one of my favorite experiences living in Germany was visiting the Christmas markets downtown every winter. From the booths covered in garland selling sugar coated almonds, carved wooden ornaments, or fur coats to the ice skating rink and the giant Christmas tree, the market is full of wonders.

Although it may not be one of the places I remembered from being a kid, it’s full of wonderful smells, so I decide to connect some of them with memories. Some are real, and some are made up, but it’s an interesting connection—smell and memory. There are still moments when I inhale a random scent and suddenly I remember a summer evening at my grandparents when we caught fireflies or the feeling of rushing through a stuffy airport.

The Christmas Market

An explosion hits your senses before you even see it. Breath it in
because the cold is merely mixed with the warm memories
of a violin, soothing your gentle nerves and singing to your soul,
a pup curled on your lap as late autumn leaves linger then fall,
of a mother’s soft embrace, post-semester, welcome winter,
a warm blanket, plump pillow, and grateful snuggles,
all taken in a breath—of roasted sugar almonds.

Another strike begs you to silences. Shhh, the rush
of water on a sea-shelled shore, shhh, the shameless
grains of sand, how on earth did it get in there, shhh,
the bitter taste of salt stinging your nose, making you grimace,
shhh, the sun kisses your cheeks but don’t let him bite
or burn like the stinging jelly, man should have watched
my step. Shhh, stupid macaroons, can’t say we all like them.

Bam! A dinner table filled with the clatter and chatter
of relatives and distant friends, uncomfortable conversations
and shapes and sizes, heaven forbid you should stick your nose
in a book, travel to a time they ate the same food and made
your troubles look like a walk in the park, round dinner plates
and thin wine glasses, sticky juices and brazen spice,
would you care for a cut of pork?


Let’s chat! Have you ever been to an outdoor Christmas market before? What’s one smell that triggers the strongest memory for you?

Also, I’m sending out my first newsletter this month, featuring one very green literary-related travel destination. So be sure to sign up to receive more book-related news!

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