Reading a book is like jumping on an exercise bike for the brain. The reason is because every sentence is a piece of information the reader needs to process. Some sentences are easier to absorb than others. For instance, a sentence that speaks about characters, themes, and plots the reader has already gotten to know doesn’t require as much processing as a sentence introducing new characters, sub-themes, or subplots. We want readers to keep pedaling and processing this new information, but as so often happens in books, there comes a point when the reader decides to take a break. It could be because life calls (the kids need a referee, time to finish that thesis, etc.), but it’s often because the book is asking the reader to absorb new information either at too rapid a pace or without adequate incentive to continue doing so. Here are two foreshadowing techniques to ease readers into new information (including but not limited to new characters, sub-themes, and subplots.)
TECHNIQUE 1: THE CARROT A technique you’ll be familiar with is the cliff-hanger chapter ending. Here are two potential formulas:
- CARROT DANGLED AT CHAPTER END + REWARD AT NEW CHAPTER BEGINNING = INCENTIVE TO CONTINUE READING
- CARROT DANGLED AT CHAPTER END + DELAYED REWARD = INCENTIVE TO CONTINUE READING
I’d like to talk about the second formula. What may not be obvious is that there’s an opportunity to load this formula with new information (perhaps the introduction of a new character or subplot) while retaining reader interest, because they’re after that carrot. Now take a look at the formula with this added bit of technique.
CARROT DANGLED AT CHAPTER END + NEW INFORMATION + DELAYED REWARD = INCENTIVE TO CONTINUE READING
But wait, she’s not finished. That’s right, folks, I’m going to alter the formula one last time, because this technique is not limited to chapter or scene endings.
CARROT DANGLED + NEW INFORMATION + DELAYED REWARD = INCENTIVE TO CONTINUE READING.
Now here’s a quick example from my own work in progress. I’ve pared it down so you can see the carrot dangled right before a new character is introduced.
“Don’t even try it,” Louise said. “You know I can’t talk about the case. Besides, there haven’t been any developments since that dog thing yesterday afternoon, so I couldn’t tell you anything if I wanted to.”
“What dog thing?” [CARROT DANGLED]
Louise’s face crinkled in all the places guilt made a face crinkle. “I thought you knew.”
Ally and Louise craned up to the origin of the interruption. A girl was straddling the gabled roof of the house’s dormer, her waving hand a propeller of enthusiasm. [NEW CHARACTER INTRODUCTION]
“Hey!” she said again, and the object balancing before her skidded down the shingles and dropped with a thud on the asphalt.
Ally sidestepped a ripe pile of compost in the middle of the driveway and picked up the fallen textbook, split up the spine, a fleshy representation of the musculoskeletal system on the jacket.
TECHNIQUE 2: THE TASTE Time to switch analogies. Think of these new pieces of information like a dish you’ve never tried. Are you going to heap your spoon and load your mouth, or are you going to taste it before you commit? The pre-taste is kind of like foreshadowing. Before loading up a reader’s spoon with a new subplot, for instance, perhaps you could offer them a little taste, a brief mention a chapter or two ahead, a warning that heads up, this new subplot is about to come into the story. Then by the time you delve into the subplot, they’ve been waiting for it, and they’re ready.
This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. So many great blogs to keep hopping through. Click here to join the hop and to see what other writing tips you can glean from this month’s edition.
Can you think of any other ways to ease readers into new information? In your own writing, have you used either of these techniques before? Chat with me in the comments.