One of the best movies I’ve seen was The Sixth Sense starring Bruce Willis as child psychologist Dr Malcolm Crowe and Haley Joel Osment as his troubled young patient who says “I see dead people”.
Why? Besides the obvious answer of having the hunky Bruce Willis to drool over, the movie is a masterpiece of story telling. The first time I saw it, I sat glued to my seat: every scene, every action, kept me engrossed. Why is the boy so scared of Crowe when the psychologist is there to help him? How sad that Crowe’s wife won’t even speak to him when he’s trying so hard to mend the obvious break in their relationship! These, and other clues, were a natural part of the story and all of them inexorably pointed to the shocking denouement: Crowe, too, was a dead person.
When I watched the movie for the second (and third and fourth) time, the hints and clues were clearly there…once one knew what to look for. Crowe asks Cole how often he sees dead people. Cole answers “All the time”. When Cole says “I see dead people” the camera pans in closely on Crowe’s face. Crowe’s wife never talks to him because she can’t see him; Crowe always wears warm clothing. Not only are these items, which include his overcoat, his blue sweater and the different layers of his suit, only those he wore or touched the evening before his death they clue us in to his state of being because every time a dead spirit appears to Cole, the temperature in the room drops.
There are other, less obvious, clues. The names of the two main characters: Cole Sear and Malcolm Crowe. “Sear” has the same phonetic sound as “seer”, and a seer is a visionary, augur or prophet. “Crowe”, on the other hand, carries the symbolism of death: in ancient Hebraic symbolism, a crow represents a corpse.
This technique is called FORESHADOWING . Does that sound daunting? It isn’t. If you know how to drop a hint, you know how to foreshadow.
Foreshadowing is the art of providing clues to your reader (or moviegoer) of what may happen later in the story. This is not simply allowing the narrator or some other character to summarise what will happen before it happens in order to let your reader follow the plot more easily. It’s more subtle than that because, as a writer, you want to tempt your reader by building up suspense, not puncturing it.
In that great love story, Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte uses superb foreshadowing. The names of the places Jane stays in hint at her emotional experiences (Gateshead, Lowood, Thornfield). And who can ever forget the moment when the chestnut tree under which Rochester proposes to Jane “writhes and groans” and then, that very night, splits in two, presaging the difficulties their love will soon face.
Like Goldilocks and her porridge, foreshadowing has to be just right. Never explain too much or be too obvious with your clues but, equally, the hints you weave into your story must be clear enough to raise the reader’s interest and a feeling of suspense. Entice your reader into turning the page out of an urgent need to discover what will happen next. As with any device or technique, foreshadowing should be so seamlessly entwined in your story that the reader isn’t consciously aware of just why they can’t put the book down. Good foreshadowing creates momentum and adds depth to a novel’s meaning.
You can foreshadow your plot twists or the changes your characters undergo by incorporating foreshadowing into your work in one of several ways:
Whether you anticipate, persuade or tantalise, foreshadowing is an important tool for a writer. It’s true that we can’t all see dead people but, as writers, we do need to cultivate a seer-like quality in determining when and how to use foreshadowing correctly. Once we have mastered this technique, enticing the reader to stay involved in our story becomes as easy as, well, as easy as dropping a hint.
An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols by J.C. Cooper
The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms by J A Cuddon
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foreshadowing http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-foreshadowing.htm http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/20425/foreshadowing_creating_suspense_using.html?cat=38