By Michael Carson, BWW Vice President

A former keyboardist who made his living playing music - no simple feat - Gary McBride understands how the intro affects the rest of a song. It can draw you in, or drive you away. It can set the tone, or make you tune out. It can let you know that you’re in for a good listen - just as the introduction to a book can tell you you’re in for a good read.

Gary hosted the Boulder Writers' Workshop March Literary Salon and read from novel-in-progress, The Wildcat, which was a second-place winner in the 2015 Zebulon Contest hosted by Pikes Peak Writers.  The Literary Salons held by the BWW are patterned after the traditional salons of Paris and feature a member reading from his or her work, followed by a discussion of all things publishing and writing.

In his salon, Gary guided the topic toward “Foreshadowing in the First Person Present,” and used examples from the first chapter of his new novel to highlight some foreshadowing techniques you can use when writing in first person, present tense.

While foreshadowing doesn’t have to be part of your introduction, and in fact can appear in a variety of places in your book, a good writer sets our expectations by skillfully foreshadowing major plot developments in the introduction or first chapter. She whets our appetite keeps us turning the page to see how things will turn out, just as we keep listening to a song after a good intro section makes us want to hear more.

Foreshadowing in any tense sets up expectations, and gets the reader to continue to want more. Here your character says or does something that gives the reader a hint of future action or developments, usually events that are critical to paying off the story hook, or completing a character’s plot or personal growth arc. Foreshadowing:

  1. Creates anticipation – by increasing the reader’s interest.
  2. Drives story forward – creating motivation for the characters.
  3. Makes the fantastical seem believable.

The biggest problem with first person present tense is that the narrator herself has no idea what’s coming next, and can’t tell us with any certainty what’s going to happen down the road. Which makes it impossible to foreshadow in present tense, right? Not necessarily. It is possible to foreshadow, but the author must rely on more subtle techniques, such as omens, Chekhovs Gun, symbolism, and the red herring, to name a few.

Chekhov’s Gun is one of the more famous devices in the foreshadowing repertoire. In the late 1800s, Chekhov wrote: “Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there.” 

See if you can find Chekhov’s Gun in your own work. If you’re writing first person present tense, it would be worthwhile to see if you’ve used any of these techniques, either intentionally or accidentally. Below, Gary gives you some more that are worth putting into your bag of tricks. Even if you think you know what they are, take a few minutes to look them up and it’s almost certain you’ll learn a new tidbit or two:

  • Omens and Prophecies.
  • Symbolism
  • McGuffin
  • Parallel Actions
  • Epigraph
  • Seed narrative with objects
  • Odd behavior: action without explanation
  • Character reactions to objects
  • Changes in mood or weather
  • Changes in story pace.

Despite being under the weather, Gary led an energetic salon. Our thanks go out to him and everyone who attended. The topic was relevant, useful, and presented in an action-oriented format: you can apply these techniques to your own work today. Do so and make your readers drool with anticipation for what happens on page 135.

Gary Alan McBride is a writer and musician from Denver, Colorado, born during the Kennedy administration. He is a good conversationalist and has written a number of essays, plays, musicals, songs, tone poems, and choral works. Gary can be found @garyalanmcbride on Twitter and on the web at www.garyalanmcbride.com, or email admin (at ) garyalanmcbride (dot)com.

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MichaelCarsonMichael Carson is a contributing editor for The Insider, Colorado’s comprehensive writing and publishing industry newsletter and the vice-president of the Boulder Writers' Workshop. He is writing a YA novel.