I've been reading a fantasy-novel series where the author cleverly seeds expectation in the reader. This works as a hook to continue reading.

It's an audio-book, so I can't easily riffle through to find an instance. I'll give a rather bland and generic example of my own devising in the hope that you can understand.

John thought to himself, "There must be a way to get out of this awful situation"
"but there isn't", he concluded, "If only ..."

The important factor is that earlier in the story, Mary has been shown to have some knowledge or ability that would help John. We know it but John doesn't.

This builds tension for the reader. Will they meet? Will John's problem be solved? Will they fall in love?

What is the term that fits this? Is it a blanket term, or are there subdivisions of it?


2 Answers 2


This sounds a bit like dramatic irony. Defined as when the audience knows something about the story that the characters are unaware of, it can have a similar effect to what you're referring to, creating tension and anticipation.

  • Yes. I was unaware of the distinction between the irony part and the foreshadowing part of my example. On reflection, this is the answer I was looking for although I am glad to find out about foreshadowing as well. Jul 8, 2020 at 11:22


Mostly divided into four types (although not everyone agrees on this)

  • direct foreshadowing: clear/open direct hints at the outcome (mostly in dialogue or internal monologue)
  • indirect foreshadowing: subtle, indirect hints about the possible plotline
  • prophesy: a crucial event is foretold, usually in an obscure manner and without giving away details
  • omens/symbolism: use of symbolic elements or superstitions e.g., the appearance of a raven (or hadida in some African countries) on a roof is said to predict a death under that roof

Sometimes indirect foreshadowing or omens are difficult to see or interpret, and sometimes they are misinterpreted. Some authors will even tell you a lot of the so-called indirect foreshadowing and or omens in their stories are the invention of the reviewer/critic and not intentional.

You can read more at:

When looking for explanations or definitions, the Literary Terms and Author's Craft sites are good resources, especially for people who are new at writing, as it also has some tips and tricks. Unfortunately, both of them have pretty useless internal search functions, so you would do well to brush up on your google-fu (or bing-fu if you must). Also, as a general tip: don't use Wikipedia as your only or even main source.

  • The question doesn't mention Wikipedia? Jul 3, 2020 at 15:26
  • @Jason Bassford Sorry to waste your time. Seeing as you commented about the same time the original posted, I think it was probably while I was editing the answer. I'm typing this on an old tablet and the stupid android keyboard has the enter and backspace keys almost touching, with no actual delete key, so things keep getting posted (because of my clumsy typing finger and lack of stylus) when I'm still busy writing and cleaning up errors. Then by the time I've re-opened and finished editing, 10 people have already read and at least one commented on the half-done mess. I want my laptop back!
    – Gwyn
    Jul 3, 2020 at 16:50
  • @Gwyn No worries. Jul 3, 2020 at 16:54

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