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Here is the latest version of this question, except that I believe that I have identified a key issue. Someone who read Chapters 1-3 of one of my novels (and then stopped), asked me, "why is there a deluge of seemingly unrelated issues." The answer was that I was "foreshadowing." Everything I put into Chapters 1-3 had echoes in the later chapters.

Apparently, I put my readers through "boot camp" in the first third of my works. In my military historical novel, that is literally the case; I take my readers through the soldiers' drills to show how they shoot and march faster than the enemy. The second two thirds is fun, because the soldiers win victory after victory, and the book reads more smoothly because I don't have to explain everything each time.

How can I make this "foreshadowing" more attractive in the early going? For instance, is there such a thing as "foreshadowing of foreshadowing?"

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What you are doing has a pejorative name; It is called an info dump. Or alternatively, your barriers to entry are quite high or your learning curve is too steep to reach the lip of your barrier.

Now, you are not wholly and squarely within the info dump bubble, you're half way out perhaps if you believe this treatment on how to get out of it, but I would argue turning an info dump into "events" simply isn't enough. Before you continue, you need to know who your target audience is. Because if it's not your friend STOP. If your audience actually understands or needs this type of information, then you need to ask yourself a slightly different question and follow the path differently.

1 (See Link) Does It Matter; 2 How Much of It Matters; 3 Use an Existing Scene; 4 Or Create a Scene; 5 Don't Be Lazy

You say it matters because it's an explanation. You seem to think you need 3 new chapters to do the work. You think all of it matters. What you've done here is perhaps failed to execute on steps 1 & 2 & 4. At the very least, if your exception for audience applies, you've failed at step 4.

I find only the most pedantic of audiences care about your reasons for why something happens. They usually care more about the characters and the investment in them. The perceptions they have of those characters and their decisions. The events and reasons only get picked at when they are annoying, boring, or unbelievable. You've hinted that the last section may be unbelievable for your target audience. Which means you have to address the most common complaints with legitimate character foibles, interactions and development; not a treatise on how to correctly train people during boot camp.

This argument says that maybe you don't actually need much of boot camp, you should pick the small character driving elements of it, imply a lot and give an example for why this will work later while letting reader imagination filling in the holes.

Ok, I'm Wrong. You need Boot Camp for a very valid reason.

Well, you still need to make it interesting & your learning curve needs to be shallow enough to allow your target audience into your work and ensare them with the interesting things you are telling them. So, if your work is boring and hard to understand for your target audience you need to do a lot more work to figure out how to make your first three chapters interesting, not for the info they provide, but for the characters that are interacting in those chapters.

You sound like a plot oriented fellow. Hi, me too. I'm sorry you have this problem because plots are interesting to writers, but books aren't interesting without good characters & good character interactions for readers. Plots are not enough when you need to impart information. And people don't come to a pleasure read for learning (or at least, not many of them). You have to trick the reader and immerse the healthy proteins and veggies in something that tastes good.

Go back to the mechanics of good story telling and apply them to the boot camp. Give it a beginning, a middle, and an end. Make sure there is conflict. Make sure the learning curve is not too high. And, make sure that at the end of it all there's a reward: such as your characters having the realization that they are much better off than they thought they would be or some other such reward that clearly directly comes from their training. Along with that reward, you need to have a further complication (they must go to war) that appears to have serious ramifications for them all (that they might very well die).

A final hint for you: You are writing an underdog-sports story, aka air-bud. Your team has to be interesting. How they get together and bond has to be interesting. You make the team sympathetic, the thing they must conquer scary and huge. And then the reader magically cheers for them when everything comes together (of course it will) at the buzzer. You can take all sorts of archetypal events from the sports movie genre to spice this up, and you'll be in good company.

  • Nice link, and shoutout to plotters. +1 – DPT Apr 27 '18 at 16:43
  • I think that part of the problem was that it was a military history novel cast as a romance novel. So my "true" audience was hard core military "re-enacters," not female romance readers. – Tom Au Nov 27 '18 at 21:33
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You are not foreshadowing correctly; they cannot be unrelated to the story currently happening.

For example, you can foreshadow the more experienced Bill getting killed before the novice Charlie with a war video game in which the more experienced Bill is surprised and beaten by the novice Charlie; but this game is in good fun, remembered fondly by both, and fits into the early narrative.

I suspect you are being too heavy-handed, foreshadowing should not be noticeable, it is intended to resonate later, not leave readers wondering. Quitting a job heralds quitting a marriage, cheating on a time sheet heralds cheating on a spouse, losing track of a kid in a mall (but finding them) heralds the kidnapping of the same kid later. Witnessing a fatal heart attack in a restaurant heralds her father's heart attack later.

But if your reader notices "unrelated events" you are not foreshadowing correctly (and it sounds like far too often), your foreshadows should be very limited, to just very important future incidents because you want readers to remember them: And (as studies show) few can remember more than five or six such incidents. Three is more likely. And they must fit and flow with the narrative as told, the reader should not wonder why they are there.

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You can do almost anything if you make it a story. Want to foreshadow something that will happen in chapter 5. That's fine, as long as you do it in the context of a story in chapter 1. A novel is a long story made up of many smaller stories. Each turn, each event, each incident, is a story in its own right.

People will follow what they perceive to be a story. Once you start dumping facts on them that they will need to know for the story you are going to start telling later, you will lose them. That does not mean you can't give them all this information, it just means that you have to do it in the form of a story. If you make it a story, they will follow that story for its own sake. Later they will realize that that earlier story was part of a much larger story, which is want you want. But it has to be a story in its own right at they time they are reading it.

Reader's patience is zero. Reader's appetite for story is endless.

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I've had a similar problem and here's an orthogonal answer to what you probably expect ... :

"I don't know what your main character wants."

^^ Has anyone said this to you? ^^

Some thoughts that may relate to the question:

I believe readers are willing to be told who to root for and why, but it has to be clear from the get go. If the MC is likable (or relatable) and wants X, then the readers buy in to see if they get X.

And then, if this requirement is met, the foreshadowing events can be added as things that the main character is involved in, in some fashion, in pursuit of their goal.

Here's an example from my project:

The reader needs to know about a medical device used late in the book - it is part of the key to outwitting the villain. Originally I had a few throwaway lines about the device in chapter 6 so that the reader would 'know it.' But it didn't register with anyone, and the beginning of my book was a lot of that sort of 'bootcamp' information (great analogy!).

When I figured out my main character's moral struggle, and reworked the arc around it, I was able to introduce an accident ending chapter 4 that keeps him from the thing he wants. Now he needs medical treatment, and this medical device is crucial to his survival. Since I am writing in his PoV, I make the experience of the medical treatment visceral. It's a much stronger scene, the reader is buying in because this accident is the thing keeping him from his goal, (which is what they are hanging their experience of the story on), but my ulterior motive is to get them to remember this medical device.

This new scene/treatment solves three problems - increases tension (visceral, life and death hospital scene), reinforces what he wants and what stands in his way, and allows foreshadowing of the device in a way that is remembered by the reader. It doesn't feel like boot camp, it feels like story. (But this version hasn't been beta tested yet.)

Answer: Examine whether its clear from the beginning that your main character is working toward a goal. Examine whether 'every' incident (used loosely; there are multiple purposes of scenes) serves that goal in one way or another. Hammer the necessary foreshadowing events into those scenes in a well-crafted way.

Mark's advice that every story is at its heart a moral struggle ... That's my answer. :)

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    +1, but I will note your foreshadowing is sparse (as it should be). The readers can remember this incident as you assert, but it is a whole scene to introduce the medical device. You can't have foreshadows on every page, they must be reserved for important things (and, as I suspect in your case, to avoid Deus Ex problems, otherwise it would not be necessary to preview the device). – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Apr 27 '18 at 15:08
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    @Amadeus Indeed. Revision 19 and still learning. :-) But the scene also served other roles, as indicated, and a fourth thing it touches on is world building, as pharmaceuticals are different on this world which will be the topic of a future story (opioid issues.) – DPT Apr 27 '18 at 15:14
  • In my military history novel, what main characters want is fairly obvious: to win the (Revolutionary) war., and second to get a boyfriend/girlfriend. That's why i introduced all the boot camp stuff and thought that people would tolerate it. But maybe my reader wanted the love story to be the priority, and winning the war, second. I was on a romance novelsite. MIne was – Tom Au Apr 27 '18 at 15:40
  • @TomAu I don't know. Good luck. I think my female protagonist's 'want' is obvious (to survive) but even so the readers wanted something more relatable, so I added a second 'want' in as her stated 'want' and left the 'survive' want as understood. Still learning. – DPT Apr 27 '18 at 15:52
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    @TomAu Winning the war is a fine goal and can be the top priority, you probably just do not NEED the bootcamp stuff. Giving readers too much to remember is a writing mistake, you need a major goal to be achieved by struggling through several minor conflicts, things they don't want to do, or fail at doing, or argue about how to do it right, before they succeed and start a conflict on the next thing. Conflict, conflict, conflict, in exposition, in dialogue, in action. People doing what must be done. That is what 'hides' the information dump from the readers; dilution. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Apr 27 '18 at 18:21
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It is good that you have identified a problem that seems to permeate your writing.

If I understand the feedback you are getting correctly, the problem is that your beta readers simply don't care for the first third of your novels.

The reason, as you describe it, seems to be that for some reason you feel that, before you can tell someone's story, you must take about a third of a novel to establish who they are and how they became who they are. I believe that is not necessary.

Readers today are familiar with military bootcamps, and they have seen enough movies about nerds that they have a clear image of what the personal history of a nerd might look like. You don't have to go into all that and can get right to the point.

In most novels today, the exposition does not take longer than half a chapter, and it is done parallel to the inciting incident. Bella in Twilight moves to a new town on the first page, we learn a few sentences about her family background, and on page 20 or so she has already bumped into her vampire classmate. There is no third of the novel that explains how her childhood made her into the reclusive loner she is at the novel's beginning.

The Bildungsroman, as it was written in the 17th and 18th centuries, with its sprawling narrative of the protagonist's whole life, is no longer a bestselling formula for fiction today. You can write it, and I'm sure there are still readers who love to read a few hundred pages of the protagonist going through their military education before the actual plot starts, but most readers today want to begin in medias res.

So either kill your darlings or weave in the backstory in a more natural manner, but begin your narrative where the plot begins.

  • I consider your last sentence "warm." I don't see the need to "kill my darlings" but I do see the need to make them "lose weight" (shorter passages, fewer paragraphs). – Tom Au Apr 29 '18 at 8:15
  • @TomAu Can you explain "warm"? – user29032 Apr 29 '18 at 9:04
  • OK, I forgot you're German, and I was using an (American) English expression. If you are "cold," you're way off the mark. If you are "warm," you're close to the mark. If you are "hot," you "hit the nail on the head." If "kill my darlings" is "hot,""warm" would mean "I need to make them lose weight." Of course, I'm writing from my point of view, so "kill my darlings" would be "warm" relative to "make them lose weight." The analogy is that I think I have the right "sportsmen" but they would perform better if they were thinner. – Tom Au Apr 29 '18 at 14:06
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Bootcamp is a harrowing experience. (Been there, done that.) You can make it interesting simply by having your character struggle through it, mentally and physically. It's usually more interesting to read about some sort of struggle, than about smooth going.

Then, any foreshadowing you need to do, you can incorporate into the bootcamp struggle. Enemy's movement can be discussed, a particular drill that would come up later in battle might be the thing your character can't master straight away, etc.

Issues shouldn't feel unrelated. If something happens, it should mean something to one of your characters. If it's not relevant, you can introduce it later, when it is. You can even flashback later to something that happened during bootcamp, but only really became relevant halfway through the next part.

  • In other words: have you ever seen a military story that starts with the main character going through bootcamp and proceeding to his combat experiences? (If not, try Starship Troopers). Bootcamp did NOT seem irrelevant, because the young soldier is in pain, exhaustion, and under threat of failure and injury at every turn. The fact that it may foreshadow later event is a separate issue. – Shawn V. Wilson May 1 '18 at 18:35

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