Foreshadowing is an important element of screenwriting. It’s a fantastic tool you can use to create a layered and intriguing story that will keep your audience captivated and engaged. But how do you use foreshadowing, and how does it work?
In this article, we’re going to define foreshadowing and break down the two different types, while looking at key examples from the films Us and Parasite to show us how master filmmakers use foreshadowing to create great stories.
But before we dive into that, let’s define foreshadowing.
What is foreshadowing?
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which a writer gives an advance hint of what is to come later in the story. Foreshadowing often appears at the beginning of a story and it helps the audience develop expectations about the upcoming events.
How Can Foreshadowing Be Used?
- Foreshadowing can be used in many ways, from dialogue, to imagery, setting, objects, etc.
Two Different Types
The two types of foreshadowing
Before we get into the different ways you can use foreshadowing in a script, it’s important to learn the two different kinds and how they work.
In indirect or covert foreshadowing, the story hints at a future event with subtle clues placed throughout the plot. The viewer most likely won’t understand the meaning of the clues until or after the event actually happens.
In direct or overt foreshadowing, the story openly suggests a future twist, event, or problem. This type of foreshadowing can be done through dialogue, a prologue, or a prophecy.
Now that we’ve established the two types of foreshadowing, let’s move on to a couple of ways to use them in your script.
Show Not Tell
Foreshadowing through imagery
Peele wastes no time when it comes to foreshadowing. In the establishing shot of “Us” the audience is shown a commercial for “Hands Across America”. Wrought with vintage imagery, we see people holding hands, united in their quest for peace.
Towards the end of the commercial, we see an image of red paper figures holding hands, while a voiceover says the line “this year, six million people will tether themselves together”.
While it may not seem to make sense to the audience at first, we later learn that the commercial directly influenced Red, the antagonist of the film. Eventually it would lead to the uprising of the Tethered.
This is also a good example of indirect foreshadowing, as these clues don’t click into place until the Tethered are shown holding hands on the boardwalk.
Another example to note comes from the same establishing scene. When the television screen goes black, we see the reflection of our protagonist, Adelaide. This reflection establishes the idea of duality, a very important theme throughout the film.
In a more literal sense, this reflection foreshadows the twist ending — that the Adelaide we see as a protagonist has actually been her shadow doppelganger all along. Peele plays with shadows and reflections throughout the film, giving the audience subtle clues that the characters may not always appear to be who they say they are.
Foreshadowing through imagery may seem daunting, but can be a highly effective tool for your script. Try to think outside the box and create images in the action lines. Showing can be just as effective as telling.
What They Say
Foreshadowing through dialogue
Another way to use foreshadowing is through dialogue. You can place information that will be useful later into conversation and seemingly offhand commentary.
In Us, Peele uses covert foreshadowing in his dialogue. In the scene where the Wilsons meet up with the Tylers at the beach.
As Kitty and Adelaide are mingling, Adelaide says “I have trouble talking”. In the context of the dialogue, it’s a natural, fitting statement someone might say in a conversation with an acquaintance.
But in regards to the twist ending, it’s just another piece to the foreshadowing puzzle.
Conversely, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite weaves direct foreshadowing into dialogue. A present theme throughout the script is the mention of planning. This theme occurs often and not only drives the plot forward, but also suggests a future problem.The first mention occurs on the second page of the script. Chung-Sook asks Ki-Taek what his plan is when the family’s phones are shut off and the Wi-Fi is locked out. Ki-Taek’s demeanor is lax, unlike the rest of the Kim family. He’s a man who goes with the flow, and thus far, it seems to be working for him.
The audience gets hints of a future issue then and in later dialogue where Ki-Taek praises his children for their planning and resourcefulness, particularly Ki-Woo. The opposite of Ki-Taek, Ki-Woo is always thinking ahead, always seeking a plan.
While Ki-Taek has done little to better the Kims situation, Ki-Woo’s planning is what leads the Kims to their positions with the Park family. Every success leads the audience to believe that everything has been resolved...
...that is until the turning point.
After the Kims sneak out of the Park home after their unexpected and adrenaline-fueled encounter with Moon-Gwang and Geun-Se in the basement, Ki-Woo, the “man with the plan” is at a loss. His plans have failed and he doesn’t have any backup. We get our first real confirmation that things are truly amiss.At this point, Ki-Taek seemingly steps up for the first time in the script, reassuring his children and insisting that he has a plan.
However, when Ki-Woo confronts Ki-Taek later, it results in a heated exchange where Ki-Taek admits his reasoning.
Ki-Taek’s words in this exchange foreshadow the climax of the film. In the dialogue, he states that the lack of a plan means lack of failure. These words come back to bite him when his lack of planning directly results in the escape of Geun-Sae, and the events that lead to the bloody showdown where Ki-Taek kills Mr. Park.At the end of the film, Ki-Woo again finds himself in a defeated position. His father is trapped, locked away in the Park home with no means of escape. But when all seems lost, the theme that had been foreshadowed throughout the film became apparent. Ki-Woo resolves to make a plan to save his father.
Bong Joon-Ho does an excellent job of simultaneously subverting audience expectations and laying down clues that lead to the ending.
While imagery can be impactful, opting for foreshadowing through dialogue can be just as interesting for your audience to discover.
Whether it’s subtle or outright, foreshadowing can lead to a much bigger payoff for the audience at the climax of the story. Try to work unique bits of information into the beginning of your story to create a puzzle for your audience to solve throughout the script. It will help enhance the climax and give a much better payoff.
How to write with subtext
Now that we’ve learned more about foreshadowing, subtext is another device that can be used to add layers to your script. In this article, we will give you better insight on how to use subtext to create a well-rounded story!