Saturday, May 1, 2010

Foreshadowing

Elena Zolotnisky--Dorian Gray series 2008 I’m not the most relaxed traveler in the world. I checked over my lists at least twenty times to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything, rolled my clothes up into my carry-on and finally called myself done. I was ready for the Malice Domestic conference.

I’ve written all kinds of details down for my husband—where I’m going to be, where the kids will be (they were coming and going over the weekend), etc.

My husband suddenly made a face. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I just had this anxious feeling. About you and the plane ride.”

I looked sternly at him. “This is not something you tell a Paranoid Traveler. Besides, everything will be find—it’s a short trip…I’m only going to be in the air for an hour and twenty minutes.”

Everything, for a while, seemed to go well. Oh…except I realized I didn’t have my driver’s license and needed to go back to the house. But I was barely out of the neighborhood.

The security check went well. The plane was on time. I had my laptop and my carry-on luggage with me. I walked over to the bridge to board the plane when the lady at the desk said, “Ma’am, you’re going to have to give that bag to the man at the end of the bridge. It’s oversized and not going to fit in the overhead bin.”

I clutched my bag.

“It’s okay, ma’am,” said the woman in a soothing voice one might use for a fractious toddler. "Just give it to the gentleman there. He’ll take care of it for you.”

The man smiled and nodded and reached out a hand encouragingly. I guess the airline staff is used to taking care of crackpot customers and I must have looked panicky. But this was the reason I’d stuffed everything into my carry-on!

So now I’m feeling really anxious, myself. I’m all twitchy and thinking I’m going to have to wear my black dress for 3 days in DC and won’t that be ridiculous? Or I have to go shopping while I’m at the conference. And my books are in that bag!

Then we’re about to take off and the pilot says there’s a mechanical problem with the plane and a mechanic is coming over to fix it.

Now if this had been a story I’d been writing instead of real life (and this all would have been much nicer if it were fictitious), then I never would have written my husband’s worries in.

The foreshadowing would have been too heavy-handed.

There are different ways to handle simple foreshadowing, and I think—most times—that simple is better with these hints.

We could go with physical descriptions—stomach butterflies, or even my twitchiness at being separated from my bag.

We could even overstate the positive: “This is going to be a great trip,” thought Elizabeth. “I’m leaving so early that the flight is sure to be on time.” This determined embracing of the positive (which I certainly didn’t do) as things start going wrong could help underscore to a reader that maybe everything really isn’t so great.

We could build up a particular mood for the plane ride. Weather would be a pretty easy way to do it,if we’re careful not to be trite. Instead of the clich├ęd ominous clouds, we could go with weather that wasn’t forecasted and threatens to keep the plane grounded for a while. Maybe it’s icy. Or maybe there’s a lot of lightning.

We could even have a fellow passenger who’s really nervous about flying and have the protagonist reassure her. Although reassurances ring hollow because the reader is starting to suspect that there might be a problem with the flight.

A little foreshadowing or premonition of trouble goes a long way. But it can add a touch of suspense to the story. Will the plane get there in one piece? Will it be delayed so long that the protagonist misses out on all her activities at the conference? (Fortunately not!)