Winding Me Up: A discussion about foreshadowing by Kate George

in Art and Writing, Fiction, The Craft of Writing

I spent an anxious day at work this week. You are going to think I’m nuts when you find out why – I’d gotten to a good place in the book I was listening to on the way to work and right before I got out of the car the protagonist said “I should have known better. Within forty-eight hours I would have gladly fed him his own liver.” Or words to that effect.

I was just coming down from the adrenaline rush brought on by the previous scenes. I needed to walk away knowing everything was going to be all right, and then she drops that bomb. Instead of letting me have a rest, letting me leave the story behind so I could concentrate on my work, she foreshadows the upcoming troubles. I was anxious and unsettled for the rest of the freaking day.

Yes, I know it’s just a story. Yes, I know this writer has a history of happy endings. The plotting is superb in all other ways. This writer just never gives me a break. Never lets me rest. Which is, of course, what writers are told to do. Never end at a place where your reader is comfortable. She did everything right and almost lost me as a reader. I very nearly decided not to finish the book.

Here are some other lines like the ones this writer used in this book:

“I walked into the room and my life changed forever.”

“Which made what happened to him later even more horrible.”

Call me naive or faint hearted – call me anything you like, but I like to go into the next scene or situation enjoying the story. I hate knowing that something bad is going to happen, and soon. I prefer to pretend that everything is fine. I mean I’m an author – I KNOW that things are going to go wrong. But I need to believe that this couple I’ve been rooting for is going to be okay before the next disaster happens. I need a freaking break, okay? Of course it ends up happily. And I should know better than to be drawn in. But my heart, I hate this kind of foreshadowing.

I finished the book and ended up getting my “happily for now,” and yet I very nearly didn’t finish the book. I don’t want to spend days of my life anxious over people who don’t really exist. Over fictional situations that aren’t even possible – at least not with our current technology. I want to be able to let the story go while I’m at work. I need to be able to concentrate on the details of my work, I don’t need to be dealing with the physical symptoms of stress while I’m trying to do my job. Tight chest, racing heart, the horrible feeling at the back of my mind that something is terribly wrong. All things I don’t want messing with my concentration while I’m at work.

So what’s the solution? I could stop reading this writer’s books on the way into work. Of course that’s the only time I get to read these days so that would mean not finishing the series. Not my favorite solution. I’ve tried listening before bed, but there’s too much excitement. I end up not falling asleep. I get really cranky when I don’t get enough sleep. I think if I want to keep reading these books I’m going to have to keep in mind one thing: The protagonist of these books is not a reliable narrator. She’s purposefully doomsday about the part of the story we haven’t read yet. I have to remember that in the end, the real end, not just the next scene, everything will be okay. I’ll have to remind myself not to get dragged into the literary devices that the author uses to keep me reading.

Does it annoy me that the author intrudes into the story when she does this? Yes. But it’s not my story. I don’t get to write it the way I’d want it to be written. And I’m entertained enough by these books that I’m willing to put up with the parts that make me crazy. Hopefully I’m intelligent enough not to spend another anxious day worrying about the doom foreshadowed by an unreliable narrator!



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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

BarbN November 12, 2014 at 1:07 pm

I love when you–a writer–talk about your experiences as a reader. Also now I want to know what the series is. 🙂 It is amazing to me, always has been, how strongly we can be moved by what are essentially just marks on a page. I have several times found myself spoiling for a fight with my spouse after reading a scene where the hero is behaving like a jerk. ha.


Kate November 12, 2014 at 1:58 pm

I know! Books can totally make or break my mood. Imagine spending the day with ptsd symptoms over something you read? But we can affect our readers that way. I could argue that we WANT to affect our readers that way. I just don’t happen to like this particular literary device.


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