How much foreshadowing should I give to the endgame?

So, I have completed (but not yet posted) two arcs of my serial. I have been doing some in-detail editing, and I've realized two things 1) I actually kind of hate the second arc and 2) I have only two or three tracks in the first two arcs hinting towards the end. While NIU will probably run until at least late 2016, I feel like I should add more of it. How much time does everyone else spend foreshadowing the ends of their serials?


I can't say there's a specific amount of time. It's all different according to the story. Sherlock Holmes needs many hints along the way because it's such a complicated solution, where as Goosebumps sort of only has to say, "It's a ghost this time, guys!"




Foreshadow from the first chapter, but the trick is structuring your foreshadowing in a way that the reader isn't aware that it's foreshadowing until much later in the book, or even on a re-read.


I may get a little long winded here, but that's in part because I think it's a good question. Short answer, I think include as much as makes sense to ensure continued reader curiosity.


You don't necessarily need to foreshadow major future drama, since it may come out of the characters, or a sequence of minor events. (For example, wars and things make sense in hindsight, but one hopes weren't intentionally set up on the part of the participants. Though intent is possible too.) But going that route will require the characters or minor events themselves to grip the reader somehow, otherwise they may not stick it out to see the final drama that results. Conversely, as Tartra said, if you've got a mystery or fugitive plot, the curiosity should take care of itself, but since now there's a definite end game in mind for the reader (an arrest or the like), you will need some hints/clues along the way... the future reveal needs to tie things together in a consistent way, rather than emerge organically from the situation.


Then again, in a perfect "do as I say, not as I do", my current serial, "Time & Tied" is about a future war that is starting to spill back into the present. (Like "Star Trek: Enterprise" but less silly. More like "Interstellar" or "Tomorrowland".) How much of that war has been seen so far? Zip. Zilch. Nada. Well, okay, one hint of it, but the context for that hint won't come until Part 34 (posting Nov 20th). That's why I market it as "teenagers with secrets" not "future war". And only 3 readers have stuck with the dozen or so characters and other complicating incidents to this point. (Most who began tuned out by Part 2, a few made it to Part 6.) So, maybe I should have done that differently... at this point I'm gambling on a restart with Part 47, leading into Book 3. Yeah, this was all written in advance.


The other thing to account for in terms of foreshadowing is whether you actually KNOW the ending. I gather you do; I rarely do. I tend to write myself into a bit of a corner, relying on my problem solving skills to see a way out. Heck, when I was doing my "reader voting" serials, there was no way I really COULD know. But what I did do was leave "loose threads" lying around that I could come back to. Someone's parents... who may or may not be important. A character with a throwaway line... that MIGHT be a prediction. It's not foreshadowing per se - sometimes a cigar is just a cigar - but once I see where things are going, I can pull the relevant threads back in. That's when the cigar store blows up, leaving people nodding and going OH, he set that up, whereas I'm simply shrugging, having decided to use the cigar store rather than the parents' ancestral home.


What I'm saying is, it didn't need to be planned in advance - I like to think of that as being brilliant in retrospect. It DOES require keeping a file of "loose threads" kicking around, or alternatively re-reading what you're doing, so that you don't accidentally leave a thread dangling. To reach for a "Star Trek: TNG" analogy, you want to have "Elementary, Dear Data" (a perfectly good stand-alone with Moriarty on the holodeck, yet which allowed for a full arc follow-up with "Ship in a Bottle") and not "Conspiracy" (which hints at much more than stand-alone and never went anywhere) or "Sub Rosa" (which doesn't fit the continuity of what came before). This in contrast to something like Trek: DS9, which HAD to be intentionally plotted, the way they were pulling threads together left right and centre in their last season.


In summary... my suspicion, based on how you "kind of hate the second arc" is that you fear you won't have enough to keep readers around until the more dramatic stuff later on. So, yes, more foreshadowing might keep the curiosity up. Alternatively, more character work, or "side quests" might accomplish the same thing (maybe pick popular people based on your first arc). Or I could be completely off my rocker! Your choice.


Because of my lazy outlining habits, I didn't actually know what my endgame was going to be until about a month ago. Luckily I'm only 2/8 done my serial, so I plan to start foreshadowing ASAP! Up until now I've been using Chapters One and Two to foreshadow events in forthcoming chapters that I know have to happen for the plot to progress, which has worked out, since my serial is largely episodic with a bigger myth arc that hasn't quite come into play yet (but will very soon). I think it's best to just ease readers into that stuff.


I have a tendency of addressing easiest/shortest phrased comments first, so Marn: I actually knew from before I started writing where this serial would go. There have been a few changes, but the big thing everything is building up to has stayed the same.


Tartra: NIU is less about solving the mystery for yourself like Sherlock Holmes, and more about building up to a huge battle like Harry Potter... except you don't know Voldemort exists until the last two books. You want the audience to sort of see it coming. The difference is that Sherlock Holmes is a mystery where the audience wants to solve it before the main character, and Harry Potter (which is what mine is more like) figuring out the ending is not as important.


Mathtans: Some of your points I've already addressed. However, you mention that the plot may come from the characters or minor events. Mine stem from a prophecy. And no, before you ask, my character is not "the chosen one." He has met two of the three people who have been chosen, and met a person who is almost single-handedly responsible for creating the third.


As to why I hate my second arc, it is sloooooowwww. So very slooowww.


I don't have a lot of foreshadowing of the very end of the series right now because I expect the Solstice War to run an unreasonably long amount of time. Foreshadowing of the end right now probably wouldn't hold up across the length of the story, both in chapters and in human years.


But I try to drop clues in every arc about some of the greater mysteries in the setting right now, as well as hints at where characters might go from where they are, geographically, emotionally, mentally, etc. So while there's no clues to the overall ending right now, there is foreshadowing of the near future of the characters and the war situation. I try to have every arc set up for the next one, and for some things a little farther ahead. But not anything for the endgame of the series as a whole, right now.


I think this is just something that depends greatly on your own judgment and taste. Do you want to add more clues? Do you think it'd spice up what is happening right now? Would people pick it up? I don't think it'd hurt to do it, but you'd know best. For me personally I love leaving a breadcrumb trail, but like I said, my trails are shorter and I intend to resolve them comparatively faster because I'm not shooting for the end yet.


I'm with Tartra on this one.

If you need foreshadowing to satisfy your audience because otherwise it looks like a senseless twist...put it in and copious amounts of it. Readers like to feel smart.

The rest is entirely up to you.

I personally like foreshadowing very much, especially in slow works. I tend to write very slow moving works with lots of talking and narrating and such - so I try to put in lots of hints. That keeps readers going, I think. At least that's what kept me going for most of the tedious parts in some books. That at the end there might lie a dark and terrible secret, an epic battle or the satisfaction of seeing all the hated idiots die in misery.

It doesn't even need to be your endgame, as Dennis said. The next high point in the story is totally worthwhile. Show the reader that yes, this might be a bit slow, but it's necessary for the next awesome thing. Which will be so awesome it will melt the protagonists head. You don't want to miss that, do you?


Could also go with retroactive foreshadowing. If your work is long there are bound to be loose ends here and there.


When you re-read your own stuff you'll be able to pick up the 'did I really write that?' opportunities that present themselves. Comes with the added benefit that it looks like you planned the story exceedingly well in advance :D


On my current project, I'm writing open-ended and don't know exactly how things end, so I'm going mostly with the "loose ends" approach mentioned by mathtans and Sten. If I do see an opportunity to point forward at something I know is going to come up later, then I'll grab it. (Or, alternatively, wave my hands in misdirection, if I'm afraid I'm being too obvious.) On more traditional projects, I've often gone back to weave in some additional foreshadowing if I feel the story needs it, though, so if you feel like going back and sprinkling in some curiosity-inducing bits will spice up that second arc, then go for it. I tend to follow writer's intuition over writer's rules, so I'm not sure there's any quantitative way to decide what's enough. (Sadly, the intuition approach hampers my ability to offer constructive advice, very often, because "Write it until it FEELS right" isn't terribly helpful, I know.) Maybe just a read-through with an eye out for places where foreshadowing can be added and/or shored up? Or, if you're worried that the second arc is too slow, maybe look for places to adjust the pacing? I have a tendency to write lots of "talking heads" scenes, and I have to make a concerted effort sometimes to turn them into action scenes or weave in some character banter or something to liven them up a bit.


Best of luck on figuring it out. :)


~Lori


Aha! Prophecies. Good times. Just briefly though, while a MAIN plot might come from a Prophecy, that doesn't mean there aren't lots of other little plots running around. The series "Angel" (the "Buffy" spinoff) was mostly structured around a prophecy, that "the vampire with a soul, once he fulfills his destiny, will shanshu". Yet every season had it's own arc and villains, new people joining the team, other meanings of the words, etc.


So defining an arc as "slow"... it may feel that way if it's not as directly connected to the Prophecy, but that doesn't necessarily mean more foreshadowing needs to be put in. Okay, if the characters are hijacking the main plot, then maybe tell them to back off, or have a prophecy element mess with their romance or who knows what... but if the characters are simply doing their own mini-arc within the broader narrative, maybe that's okay. Maybe it's happening for a reason, and extra foreshadowing would take away from that. Consider if some of the stuff could be thrown "off screen", happening in a time jump... if not, maybe you have an arc within an arc? Again, just thoughts.


I have no additional constructive or on-topic remarks, but I had to do a gleeful finger-jab and "I loved that show!" at math for using "Angel" as his explanation example.


~Lori