Four Very Basic Tips For Adding Foreshadowing To Detective Comics

Well, at the time of writing, I’m busy making a comedic detective-themed webcomic mini series that will appear here later this month. Here’s a preview of one panel from it:

The full comic update will be posted here on the 21st July. The mini series starts on the 20th.

Although the comic isn’t really a “serious” detective story, I thought that I’d talk about how to add “clues” to your detective comic. After all, one of the basic features of the detective genre is that there should be at least a couple of small hints about who did it before the criminal’s identity is revealed. This technically gives the audience a chance to solve the case before the detective does. But, when done well, these clues are often only really noticed on a second reading.

So, how do you foreshadow the ending of your detective comic? Here are four very basic tips:

1) Plan it first: This is obvious, but be sure to plan out the entire story before you start making the comic. The main reason for this is that, if you know how the story will end, then you can go back and add a few subtle clues to your comic plan before you start making any comics.

For example, after planning out the ending of my upcoming webcomic mini series, I suddenly realised that I could add a clue to an early part of the comic purely by changing one tiny visual detail. This was the sort of thing that probably won’t be noticeable until you know how the comic ends, but it seemed like a cool little detail.

So, yes, if you plan your comic first, then it’s a lot easier to add subtle foreshadowing to your comic.

2) Think procedurally: Simply put, the easiest way to add subtle clues to your detective comic is simply to think about the events of your story in practical terms.

Think about what would have changed about either the criminal or the surrounding area after the crime had been committed, but before the detective discovers the culprit. Then just subtly show this without giving an explanation (until later in the comic).

A good way to learn how to come up with things like this is to read some of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories. Since these stories focus a lot on physical evidence and logical deductions, reading a few of them will make you think about the subtle knock-on effects of any actions that the criminal characters have taken.

3) Red herrings: Red herrings are “clues” that are either totally unrelated to the case or which have some other innocent explanation.

Often, the best way to hide a real clue is amongst several false ones – the real clue is technically still there, but it is up to the reader to work out which clues are real and which ones aren’t. And, since they’re still learning about the events of the story, this reduces the chances of the reader guessing the solution before the story finishes.

So, just add a few subtle visual details which look like they could be clues – but which are actually just random background details, easter eggs etc… This will distract the readers from the actual clues that you’ve also added.

4) Background details: One of the great things about comics being a visual medium is that it’s a lot easier to hide stuff in the background. Because comics tend to be read quickly on a first reading and because your audience’s attention will probably be focused on either the dialogue and/or the events of the story, this means that it’s very easy to hide subtle visual clues in the background that will only be noticed when your comic is re-read slightly more slowly.

In other words, be sure to use misdirection. If something dramatic, funny or interesting is happening in one panel of your comic – then this is the perfect place to hide a subtle clue in the background. After all, your audience will be too busy reading the dialogue, laughing at the joke and/or wanting to know what happens next to really pay attention to small background details.

———–

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Advertisements

What An Old Metal Album Reminded Me About Writing Plot Twists – A Ramble

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 🙂

One Thing I Learnt About Plot Twists From A Horror Movie

2017-artwork-horror-movie-plot-twists-article-sketch

Although I won’t post a full review of it (since I missed five minutes of it due to a scratched/damaged DVD), I recently watched a videogame-inspired horror movie sequel called “Silent Hill: Revelation”. One element of this film made me think about plot twists and how they can be ruined if the writer doesn’t think carefully about the characters.

Needless to say, this article will include some SPOILERS for “Silent Hill: Revelation”, you have been warned.

To summarise the events leading up to the plot twist – the film focuses on an American teenager called Heather Mason who has to keep moving from town to town regularly because she believes that her father is on the run from the police. She has also been suffering strange nightmares about a town called “Silent Hill”, in addition to disturbing hallucinations.

When she starts at a new high school, she ends up reluctantly making friends with another teenager called Vincent who later helps her flee when it turns out that it isn’t the police who are after both her and her father. Instead, it’s a mysterious cult that wants to take Heather to a cursed town called Silent Hill, so that they can use her in a ritual (for reasons that make more sense if you’ve seen the first “Silent Hill” film and/or played the classic “Silent Hill” games).

Of course, it is later revealed that Vincent was born and raised in Silent Hill and has been tasked with luring Heather there (even revealing an occult sigil that had to be carved on his chest in order to allow him to leave the cursed town). This is supposed to be a dramatic plot twist, but it just didn’t quite feel right. It took me a while to work out what was wrong with it, but I learnt an important lesson about plot twists in the process.

The plot twist doesn’t work because Vincent doesn’t seem like he was actually raised in the cursed town of Silent Hill. Even though the film tries to brush over this by having him make a comment along the lines of “oh, this is perfectly normal to me” when both he and Heather encounter monsters and crazed cultists later in the film, it still doesn’t really feel right in dramatic terms.

But, why? Well, Vincent comes across as a perfectly “normal” kind of person earlier in the film. Unlike the psychological torment that Heather clearly goes through at the beginning of the film, Vincent seems fairly laid-back and ordinary. He isn’t shocked and confused by the modern world, and he also seems to display at least a vague understanding of modern technology (despite being raised in a town that is permanently frozen somewhere in the 1930s-50s).

n other words he doesn’t actually seem like he was raised in Silent Hill. Everything about his personality etc… seems to suggest that he was raised somewhere less horrific. So, when it’s revealed that he has lived most of his life in Silent Hill, it just doesn’t make sense!

One of the oldest rules about plot twists is that they have to be foreshadowed. In other words, there have to be some subtle clues that (theoretically) allow the audience to guess the twist before it happens. This is important for dramatic reasons because it shows that the events behind the plot twist have had an effect on other parts of the story. In other words, it shows that the plot twist is actually part of the story – rather than something the writers just pulled out of thin air at the last minute.

The best, and easiest way to foreshadow a plot twist is just to show some of the knock-on effects that it has on the rest of the story, without giving an explanation. To go back to the “Silent Hill: Revelation” example, the fact that Vincent seems more “normal” than Heather completely contradicts the idea that Vincent grew up in a nightmarish monster-filled town run by a bizarre cult.

In other words, his personality should have been used for foreshadowing. Even if the film just showed him jumping when he heard a noise similar to the air-raid sirens from the town, or something like that – then it would clue the audience into the fact that he’d spent some time somewhere dangerous. But, since they wouldn’t have any more information than this, they still wouldn’t guess the plot twist – although it would make considerably more sense in dramatic terms.

So, yes, characters are an important part of any plot twist – and, when writing a character who is involved on a plot twist, you should think about what effect the “hidden” events of the plot twist have had on that particular character.

———

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Using Double Meanings To Foreshadow Plot Twists In Comics, Stories

2017 Artwork Game of thrones plot twist foreshadowing article sketch

Well, although this is a quick article about foreshadowing plot twists in comics, stories etc… I’ll have to start by using a TV show as an example.

As such, this article may contain some mild SPOILERS for the first season of “Game Of Thrones”. Likewise, I’ll also be describing a slightly disturbing scene from the show (albeit one that isn’t quite what it appears to be).

The night before I wrote this article, I started re-watching the first season of “Game Of Thrones” (with a plan to re-watch the first three seasons) and one of the things that really surprised me was the number of subtle clues about future parts of the story that I noticed in the early episodes. Most of these were really cleverly handled and they can probably teach us a lot about foreshadowing.

One of the best examples is in one of the early episodes where Daenerys Targaryen (an exiled princess who has been forced into an arranged marriage for political reasons by her scheming brother) is taking a bath after a particularly terrible day.

Just before she steps into the bath, one of her servants tries to warn her that the water is too hot – but she steps into it anyway, with only a weary expression on her face.

If you see this scene for the first time, then it comes across as a slightly disturbing visual symbol for Daenerys’ weariness and/or psychological pain. Perhaps even a visual metaphor for the fact that she’s in “hot water” due to the forced marriage.

However, when re-watching the episode, you’ll probably notice that Daenerys is completely unharmed by the hot water. This is something that just comes across as artistic licence unless, of course, you’ve seen the next episode where it’s revealed that she cannot be harmed by fire (a fact which becomes more important near the end of the season). It’s actually a very clever example of the show foreshadowing a later plot twist.

This, of course, made me think about how double meanings can be used to foreshadow plot twists in comics, books etc… Since all major plot twists have to be foreshadowed in some way or another, double meanings can be a very good way (out of many) to disguise these mandatory clues from your audience.

So, how do you do this?

Simply put, you need to know what your plot twist will be before you even start your story or comic.

Once you know what your plot twist is, try to think of any small knock-on effects that it might have on other things in your story. After all, the events that lead up to a plot twist don’t magically appear when the plot twist is revealed, they’re lurking in the background of the story for a long time before then.

Once you’ve found what some of these knock-on effects are, try to think of alternative explanations for them that make sense in the context of your story or comic. In subtle ways, try to trick your audience into taking this alternative interpretation instead.

Going back to the example I used earlier, Daenerys probably already knew that she couldn’t be harmed by high temperatures before she stepped into the bath (after all, she probably just considered it a “normal” part of life and has probably done it before). This is, of course, a “mundane” knock-on effect of the fact that she’s immune to fire.

However, the audience doesn’t see any of Daenerys’ thoughts – so, at first glance, it looks like she’s deliberately harming herself. Other than showing that Daenerys is physically unharmed by the water, the show does very little to contradict this interpretation.

So, yes, thinking of alternative explanations for some of the side-effects of your story or comic’s plot twist can be a very clever way to give the audience a few clues, whilst also misleading them at the same time.

————

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Visual Foreshadowing In Webcomics

2016 Artwork Foreshadowing in webcomics

Well, since I’m still making a webcomic mini series that will be posted here in early – mid November (this article will contain some SPOILERS for it), I thought that I’d talk very briefly about one very basic technique that can be useful when making humourous webcomics. I am, of course, talking about visual foreshadowing.

If you don’t know what “foreshadowing” is, it’s a writing technique that is used to make plot twists more believable. This technique involves giving the reader a small clue about the plot twist before it happens. If it is done well, then the reader will probably miss this clue and will only notice it after they’ve read the plot twist.

So, if the readers aren’t supposed to notice or fully understand the clue, then why is it there? It’s there to show that the plot twist is part of a logical progression of events. it’s there to show that the plot twist is an integral part of the story, rather than something that the writer just pulled out of nowhere when they were feeling uninspired.

But, what does any of this have to do with webcomics? Well, if you’re including a joke with some kind of twist in the punchline, then it can sometimes (but not always) be a good idea to include a small amount of foreshadowing in your comic. Although this can be done through dialogue, it’s often best to do it by hiding a small visual clue in the background.

For example, the joke in the final panel one of my upcoming webcomics revolves around one of the characters painting some graffiti on the side of a beach hut. If you know the characters, then this plot twist might not be that surprising. However, I needed some way to hint at this plot twist before it actually happened, so that – to new readers- it wouldn’t seem so random or unusual.

In the end, I did this by including one corner of the beach hut (with a very small part of the graffiti visible) in the background of the first panel. It was also signposted slightly by having one of the other characters look in it’s general direction.

Although this is a fairly blatant example of foreshadowing, it works for the simple reason that although the readers know that there’s a hut on the beach, they don’t know why it’s there or what significance it will have (since the graffiti is mostly obscured by the edge of the panel) until later in the comic.

Of course, this is just one example of visual foreshadowing. But, I hope that it gives you some insight into how to use it in comics. But, the thing to remember here is that it isn’t always needed in every comic that includes a humourous plot twist.

Since comedy is one of those genres where “anything goes”, you can sometimes get away with including unforeshadowed plot twists if they’re just used as a throwaway joke, or if foreshadowing might ruin the pacing of the joke.

However, if the plot twist is fairly large, or it relies on a visual joke (that subverts expectations that you’ve set up earlier in the comic), then adding a small amount of visual foreshadowing can seriously improve your comic.

——————

Sorry for the really short article, but I hope that it was useful 🙂

Four Basic Ways To Add Hidden Depths And Clues To Your Stories Or Comics

2015 Artwork Hidden Depths Article sketch

Although this is an article about writing and storytelling, I’m going to have to start by talking about a TV show called “Babylon 5” for a while. As you may have guessed, there’s a good reason for this which will hopefully become apparent later. But, I should probably point out that this article may contain some SPOILERS for “Babylon 5” though.

Yesterday, I reviewed a “Babylon 5” DVD that I watched recently and I also linked to this site about the series that I discovered recently.

Anyway, one of the interesting things about “The Lurker’s Guide” is – as well as containing lots of interviews with J.Michael Straczynski (the creator of the show) where he reveals fascinating “behind the scenes” details for each episode, it also contains an analysis of each episode – with points out some of the hidden clues and plot foreshadowing that have been hidden in plain sight.

Many of these things completely passed me by when I watched the series for the first time (and I should probably re-watch it again).

To give you an example of what I mean, here’s something from The Lurker’s Guide’s analysis of the seventh’s episode of the show (“The War Prayer”): “Londo’s nicknames for his wives are “Pestilence, Famine, and Death” – three of the four horsemen of the apocalypse from ancient Christian mythos. Who is the fourth horseman War? Perhaps Londo himself.

Anyway, I absolutely love it when writers include these kinds of things in novels, comics, TV shows, movies etc…

Not only is it great when you actually spot one of these hidden things and work it out for yourself, but it also means that there are a lot of good reasons for re-watching or re-reading something which you’ve already looked at once. So, adding hidden clues and hidden foreshadowing can also be a great way to ensure that people don’t just look at your story once.

But, how do you include these kinds of things in your story or comic? Here are a few very basic tips:

1) Common knowledge: Like in the example from “Babylon 5” I showed you earlier, one of the easiest ways to drop hidden clues into your story is to make subtle references to slightly older things that are common knowledge, but not part of everyday life.

For example, most people know what the four horsemen of the apocalypse are. But, not that many people would probably jump to conclusions if you just mentioned three of them and left one out – because the four horsemen aren’t usually something that turn up in everyday conversation.

The four horsemen are a good subject for humour, drama or cynicism and – as such- most people wouldn’t take a reference to them entirely seriously (making it the perfect subject for slipping in a hidden plot clue).

In fact, when I first saw that particular episode of “Babylon 5”, my first reaction to Londo’s comment was probably “Oh, it’s just his cynical sense of humour“. I certainly didn’t notice that it was a cunningly hidden clue about a lot of Londo’s future actions until it was explicitly spelled out for me on that website. Yet, it was right there – hiding in in plain sight the whole time.

So, don’t be afraid to use common knowledge in clever ways if you want to hint at or foreshadow something.

2) Characters: One of the sneakiest ways to include hidden hints in your stories is through your characters. If you show one of your characters reacting to something in a subtly unusual way or doing something that is subtly unusual fairly early in your story, then your audience is likely to write this off as just a personality quirk or as just a part of that particular character.

However, as you may have guessed, this sort of thing is perfect for including hidden clues about a character’s past or future actions – especially if you bury it amongst several other subtly unusual personality quirks that have absolutely nothing to do with the future of the story.

For example, if you show a character who is something of a neat freak, then this could either be a subtle reference to something in their past or it could be a clue about their future actions (eg: if they end up in a position of power, then they’re probably going to be more likely to act in an authoritarian way). Or it could just be a completely random personality quirk that has nothing to do with the rest of the story.

3) Background details: This one works better in visual mediums like comics, but the background is the perfect place for hiding interesting plot clues. Because your readers are distracted by everything that is happening in the foreground, they’re less likely to notice subtle details in the background (especially if they’re buried amongst lots of other subtle details that have little or no relevance to the plot).

This means that a lot of subtle foreshadowing in the background will completely pass your audience by until they read your comic for the second or third time (when they already know the story and are therefore more likely to pay attention to the rest of the comic too).

This sort of thing is a lot harder to do in prose fiction, for the simple reason that your readers will read literally every word on the page. All this means is that you have to be a lot more subtle with your clues, since your readers will see them the first time that they read your story (but whether they actually understand them is a different subject altogether).

4) Humour: There’s an old saying that “many a true word is spoken in jest” and this is because humour is one of the most perfect sources of misdirection known to humanity.

If your readers are laughing at something then, even if they realise that there’s a serious message behind what they’re laughing at – they’re going to be less critical of it.

Stand-up comedians use this fact to say serious things about the world that they might not get away with saying if they weren’t said in such a funny way. But, as you might have guessed, writers can also do this to sneak hidden clues about their stories past their audience. So, don’t be afraid to hide hidden plot clues in the funnier parts of your story or comic.

——————-

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Adding A Plot Twist To Your Story? Foreshadow it!

2013 Artwork Foreshadowing Sketch

As I (very cleverly) hinted in my previous article, foreshadowing is something which every writer should do if they want to include a plot twist in their story.

If you are not sure what foreshadowing is, then it basically means hinting at things which will happen in the future. In other words, if you’re going to add a plot twist to your story, then you need to leave a few subtle clues about it before it happens. Otherwise, it isn’t a plot twist – it’s a rather cheap and melodramatic “Tomato Surprise” which can leave your readers feeling more than a bit cheated.

The reason why foreshadowing is so important is because all stories consist of a logical progression of events. If you look it up in a dictionary, this is probably what you will find under “story”. As such, throwing something completely unexpected and illogical at your readers will probably confuse them and break the suspension of disbelief which is essential for most stories.

Foreshadowing your plot twists avoids this by giving your readers enough subliminal hints that your plot twist could at least possibly be a logical and believable part of the story.

The real trick is to make sure that you foreshadow your plot twist in a way that means that most of your readers won’t guess it before it happens but, when they re-read your story, they will suddenly notice all of the little clues which hinted at the plot twist later in your story. This is, of course, a way of giving your story “added value” to readers who are re-reading it too.

I’d give you a list of examples of stories with very well-written plot twists, but this would inevitably involve ruining the surprise. But, if you want an old and well-known example, then read Ambrose Bierce’s excellent short story “An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge“.

One plot twist you must never use without a lot of foreshadowing is the classic “it was all a dream” plot twist. This is an old plot twist and, more likely than not, your readers will still feel cheated unless it is done in a new and innovative way and there is a ton of very clever foreshadowing.

Ok, how do I do this “foreshadowing” thing?

What you need to do to foreshadow a plot twist is obviously different for every story and every plot twist, but here are some of the more well-known ways of foreshadowing plot twists. Be aware that because they’re so well-known, your readers may be more likely to spot them, so if you can think of a more inventive foreshadowing technique- then use it!

Anyway, without any further ado, here are four common ways to foreshadow a plot twist:

– Double meanings: You have to be careful with this one, since it can reveal your plot twist if it’s done badly, but if you include a few lines of dialogue which have double meanings (one referring to the plot twist and one referring to another subject) then this can be a good way of foreshadowing a plot twist. However, it has been done quite often, so readers might be more aware of it than they might have been a few decades ago.

One cheesy example of this could be if you are writing a horror story where the plot twist is that the man who your protagonist is dating is actually a vampire (and not one of the harmless, sparkly types of vampire either). Then you could add a few lines of dialogue earlier in the story where the vampire says things like “yes, I go out drinking every night” and “I’m not really much of a morning person” etc… These both refer to the fact that he’s a vampire, but they also have perfectly innocent explanations too.

– Mystery: If there is something slightly mysterious about a character or something subtly strange about the setting of your story, then this can be a good way of hinting that there could be something else going on without actually giving your readers any explicit clues.

One well-known example of this in sci-fi fiction is the flawed utopia. Everything in a city/planet/spaceship looks perfect – but very slightly too perfect. Of course, it isn’t long before the main characters learn that there is something far more sinister going on behind the scenes.

– Misdirection: This is where you distract the reader with something else whilst you hint at your plot twist. This technique works best in comics, films etc.. but it can also work well in prose fiction if it is done carefully (eg: burying a subtle clue about a plot twist in a conversation about something far more interesting).

Another clever, but more difficult, technique involving misdirection is to add a few “red herrings(note: this link contains spoilers to ‘The Da Vinci Code’) to your story which lead your reader to expect a plot twist which is very different to what the actual plot twist is (although this must be done in a way that the “clues” could reasonably be applied to either plot twist).

-Hiding it in plain sight: This can be truly spectacular when it’s done well. Basically, you don’t hide the clue itself but you don’t tell your readers that it’s a clue. This one is kind of similar to the previous point on this list, but it has to be handled slightly differently.

In essence, this works best with things which are part of the scenery (for example, a mysterious old statue outside the house where your horror story is being set) or elements of a particular character (for example, a character has a mysterious scar with a seemingly logical explanation to it etc….)

Just remember to either have a character talk about or see something related to the plot twist. Going back to my earlier example about the statue, you could have your protagonist talk to someone else who briefly mentions myths about statues. Or your protagonist briefly read the title of an old book which mentions living statues whilst he or she is looking through a pile of other old books [this is also a good example of misdirection too].

Of course, if the clues are subtle enough, then when the statue suddenly comes to life and starts attacking everyone near the end of the story – then your readers will be shocked, but they won’t feel cheated.

—-

Anyway, I hope that this was useful to you 🙂