Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Foreshadowing Vs. Telegraphing

In this modern age of peak tv, plentiful podcasts, fantastic co-op options for computer RPGs, and of course good ol' tabletop RPGs, I don't read novels and short stories at the pace I once did. When I was younger, I read pretty much during every spare moment.

But, I still read. At my slower pace, I have the luxury of picking and choosing novels that others have already read and recommended. Often, those novels are fantastic. Apart from pure enjoyment, these novels usually have something to teach me, too. Like for instance how The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers let me know that a sci-fi novel could take its time to focus on character interactions and still be quite enjoyable. Or how All Systems Red by Martha Wells showed me that a very short novel (technically a novella) can be both enjoyable and successful.

A book I finished not too long ago taught me the difference between foreshadowing and telegraphing.

I've been an avid user of foreshadowing for a long time. Usually, my foreshadowing gets added into my manuscript later, after I've introduced some twist or unexpected path forward for the POV character to take. Then I go back and add a bit a foreshadowing to avoid a sense of deus ex machina later. Generally speaking, foreshadowing should be used lightly, not to bash the reader's face in with a warning of imminent danger.

Unfortunately, that's what telegraphing does. 

Telegraphing is using foreshadowing so much that the reader can't help but notice. For example, the prose "If only I knew then what was in store for me when I walked out the door," is probably just fine if used only once. But if some variation on that is used prior to each and every new scene, it becomes comic. It becomes telegraphing.

Enough other gold lay in the aforementioned book that taught me this lesson that I finished. But the only way I was able to get through the novel was to turn it into a drinking game (as I noted on Twitter). Each "I did not know then that one day," or some variation, DRINK!

Books in my queue I look forward to reading (and maybe learning something from, too): Agency (sequel to William Gibson's Peripheral), Revenger by Alastair Reynolds, Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, and False Value by Ben Aaronovitch.

[This article is cross-posted from my Patreon. Please take a look?]