Foreshadowing and Backshadowing: Making Our Writing Seem Inexorable

I’m not one of those authors who are so overflowing with ideas that they can sit down and just let the words spew out of their fingers onto the page. I have to think of everything, which is why beginning a novel or creating a new character is so hard. I am faced with a universe of choices where all things are possible.

What am I going to write? How am I going to write it? First person or third? Sassy, sarcastic, serious? Who is going to be the main character? What does she most desire? Who or what is stopping her from fulfilling this desire? What does she look and act like? What are her internal traits, both her admirable ones and less admirable ones? Who are her allies? Who are her mentors?

askingAnd those choices lead to other choices. What does the character need? (As opposed to what she wants.) Is she going to get what she wants or is she going to get what she needs? For example, maybe she wants to be a homebody, to marry the boy next door, but what she and the story need are for her to become a senator and possibly leave the boy behind.

And so the choices continue, each choice narrowing the story’s universe a bit more.

One of the best parts of writing for me is when the weight of those choices become so great that the answer to future choices can be found in past ones. It gives the story a sense of inexorability, as if there were always only one way to tell the story.

For example, yesterday I wrote about creating a new character. Although Lydia was not originally my creation, but instead was an offscreen character created by Lazarus Barnhill in the first book of Rubicon Ranch, the serialization I am writing online with other Second Wind authors, I have adopted her as my own. Even if readers don’t remember who Lydia is, she will still pull the first book into the third, connecting them in a seemingly inexorable way, by making the sheriff confront his past. Ideally, it will seem as if this was our intention all along, with the first book foreshadowing the third when it is actually the third book backshadowing the first.

Lydia being a previously mentioned character narrows my choices, since she already has a name and a past, but there is still plenty of scope for choices. And in the end as in the beginning, writing is about the choices we make.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” All Bertram’s books are published by Second Wind Publishing. Connect with Pat on Google+