Although this is a rambling article about foreshadowing plot twists in fiction, I’m going to have to start by talking about music (or, rather, my reactions to music) for a while. As usual, there’s (sort of) a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.
A while before I wrote this article, I was looking through my CD collection for an Offspring album I bought in 2008, but which continues to elude me. However, in the course of searching for it, I dug up my old copy of Nightwish’s “Century Child” album. This was an album that I bought when I was about sixteen because I really liked three songs from it (“Feel For You”, “Dead To The World” and “The End Of All Hope”).
Looking at it again, I happened to notice that one of the songs on it that my sixteen-year-old self had ignored was none other than “Ever Dream”. This has been one of my favourite songs ever since my early-mid twenties, when I first discovered it on Nightwish’s “End Of An Era” DVD/CD boxset.
Although I already knew that a studio version of “Ever Dream” existed, I didn’t think that it could compare to the transcendentally brilliant live version on “End Of An Era” (or even the more modern live versions and cover versions that can be found on Youtube). Still, out of curiosity, I decided to listen to it. It was a surprisingly emotional moment.
It took me a while to realise why I’d had such a strong reaction to hearing this version of the song. It was because had been there and ready for me, silent and unnoticed, for many years before I actually needed it.
It was also very possible that my younger self had listened to this song and either failed to remember it or failed to grasp the significance it would later come to have for me. Suddenly, it almost felt like fate. Like, somehow, it was meant to be. Like there was some kind of hidden order or structure to the story of my life.
In other words, it felt like a real-life plot twist. Or, more accurately, it felt like a real-life example of a plot twist being foreshadowed.
One of the easiest and most emotionally-powerful ways to foreshadow a plot twist in fiction is simply to hide it in plain sight. To show the audience something that just seems like an ordinary background detail, but which takes on a much greater level of significance later part of the story.
This can either be something that has some historical significance to one of the characters (where the plot twist is about why it is so significant) or it can be something that isn’t important in the earlier parts of the story, but which becomes incredibly useful or significant to the characters later in the story.
So, why are these types of plot twists so emotionally significant?
Simply put, it’s because they create a sense of fate. They show the audience that the writer has carefully planned the events of the story (eg: the whole idea of “Chekhov’s Gun“). They also tap into the fascinating idea of astonishingly brilliant things hiding in plain sight, which is something that some of your audience might be able to relate too.
For example, unknowingly owning a copy of my favourite song 5-6 years before it became my favourite song is hardly the first time that something like this has happened to me. I saw copies of my favourite novel (“Lost Souls” By Poppy Z. Brite) semi-regularly in the horror section of bookshops for about 6-7 years before I actually read it. Likewise, my first encounter with the cyberpunk genre (eg: reading “Tom Clancy’s Net Force Explorers”) happened, and was forgotten about, quite a few years before cyberpunk became one of my favourite genres.
So, yes, hiding essential parts of your plot twists in plain sight can pack a real emotional punch if done well.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂