The plot I’m thinking of goes from very normal, with fleshed out characters, to surreal towards the end. I want to wrap it around to have strange foreshadowing at the very beginning of the book to hook the reader, but I haven’t yet hit the jackpot in having the perfect first paragraph.

I wish to start with the main character waking up from a strange, hellish nightmare. This nightmare will become exponentially more important and make more sense as the story goes on, but I don’t want too much to be exposed so early. Right now, I have it like this:

I can’t see my hands.

I can’t see my feet.

A blinding sheet of white burns into my eyes, and a strong taste burns into my throat. I am a floating orb in an endless tunnel with no top or bottom. Still, I will always search for who I have lost, ad infinitum. The memory of what I was before is fading away, and yet one name remains:

Marco! Marco! I screamed at the top of my lungs into the void. A river of tears flowed down my face, or at least they feel like tears.

“Oh, God! Marco, where are you?”

At this point, Marco punches the main character (Otto) in the face to wake him up from the dream, as he had been screaming out loud and Marco couldn’t take it anymore. Banter ensues, and even the next door neighbor comes by to see what all the ruckus was about.

I wish to keep Otto screaming out where Marco is, as this act becomes more relevant later on. I want the reader to know something will happen between them, and the dream is the first hint. I feel Otto describing where he is and when he starts yelling Marco’s name feels a bit choppy, like there’s something missing in between. Should it be more fleshed out, or does it seem alright for someone picking this story up for the first time?


2 Answers 2


If I understand it right, you've written the first scene that's supposed to foreshadow later events, but not yet the later events themselves.

You're best equiped to write a good foreshadowing if you know exactly, in minuscule detail, what the foreshadowed events or revelations will be and when and how they will be shown to the reader. Which you can only know that well after you've written the corresponding part of the text.

A concept you're likely to find helpful is called editing (some also use the words reviewing or rewriting). At any point in time before you deem the current version of your story final, even after the first draft is complete, you can go back to any part you've already written and make changes - not only to make the text flow smoother, but to match the other parts of the story, including those that come later, as fits best. You can do this any number of times until you've got a version of the story that you're happy with.

(Some authors don't even write their first draft in order but work on any random scene they feel like until they have them all. Since that method has repeatedly proven completely unproductive for me, I'm not recommending it. If you're wired any similarly to how I am, write from beginning to end.)

What I'm suggesting is, leave this aside for now, write your story to the end, and when you've already got everything that comes later, then go back and polish your foreshadowing if needed.

P. S. Regarding the excerpt you're giving, I straightout skipped it, for two reasons: One, this channel is not a beta-read service, and I won't undermine its rules by providing you that (nor would I really be willing to make such commitment). Two, the quality of a foreshadowing scene is hard to gauge without comparison with what's being foreshadowed, which you didn't include anyway.


This is not foreshadowing.

Unfortunately, for American audiences, calling out "Marco" is comical; it is reminiscent of the childhood game "Marco Polo", a call and response game similar to hide and seek. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marco_Polo_(game)

Also, your foreshadowing is too "on the nose", and foreshadowing should not be in a dream. If you want to foreshadow, have your main character lose track of something else important, something they need to find immediately (e.g. for a meeting or court appearance), and look frantically for that thing.

Also, it is very cliché to open anything, anytime, with a dream sequence, it is likely to get you rejected by any agent or publisher immediately.

You can use a metaphor; like Otto looking for his car keys, he is late for something very important to him, and for the life of him he cannot find his car keys. Maybe Marco finds the keys in some unexpected place (e.g. on the garage floor beside Otto's car).

In general, the first half of Act I (the first 1/8th of your story) should not be devoted to this sort of foreshadowing at all.

This is the time to introduce us to Otto, first, in his normal world. Then quickly Otto's immediate contacts; the people most important to him.

A "lost keys" incident is a decent way to do that; a small mystery and problem, it shows us something about Otto under pressure, it quickly involves Marco and perhaps others nearby.

I think you are perhaps too much in a hurry to get to "the exciting part", but this is a common beginner mistake.

You may feel like Otto and Marco are real people, but your readers don't know them at all.

The first half of Act I (in the three Act Structure most stories follow) is there to introduce your protagonist, friends, and completely normal world. This is so readers will like your protagonist, see what they are like under no pressure or mild pressure. In the middle of Act I, we will see the "Inciting Incident", the first hint of of the bigger problem.

But here are a few guidelines. Some already best-selling authors may get away with breaking these rules, but no beginner can:

  1. Never start a story in a dream state.
  2. Never start with a background, or your protagonist contemplating their life or history (one agent I know calls this the "sitting on a bus" opening; any opening where the protagonist is alone and thinking of what led up to now).
  3. Never start with a key incident.
  4. Always have your protagonist interacting with other people in the first two pages (many agents will reject a book in the first two pages if you don't), and this should be a conversation of substance or meaning, not just "Good morning."

You will see this in books and movies and usually episodes of shows; the normal world (typically briefly in screenplays) followed by an inciting incident that quickly forces the protagonist out of their normal world; a problem too big to handle within the confines of their normal world.

As Stephen King says, Get us into the protagonist's normal world, make us like that person, and then put him/her into the cooker.

That's how stories start; nearly all stories that agents/publishers/studios buy and people pay to read/see.

Foreshadowing in particular should never be so "on the nose" (directly stating what is meant), it should always be more metaphorical. The emotions may be similar but the frantic search for the lost keys represent the later frantic search for the lost person.

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