Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal November 6, 2016 - 8:37am

So I was googling "backshadowing" and came across the explanation below. Does anyone think it's correct? Because according to this, backshadowing is the same thing as forshadowing, it just depends on what order the writer came up with the stuff that's in the final draft. 



Foreshadowing is the art of knowing in advance what plot points or mechanics you need, and placing at least three allusions to it earlier in the text. Backshadowing is the opposite: putting things in the text that are awesome or feel right, but have no known purpose—then, later in the manuscript, you find that purpose.
Joss Whedon is known to do this with his writing. He’ll drop random things into early episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for example, without knowing exactly what those things are for. They’re just cool. Then, later, he’ll figure out a way to develop those things into something that actually is cool.
The effect this has is incredible: it results in very strong foreshadowing for the reader/viewer. But the author didn’t have to know in advance what the thing was for! Plus it allows you to go off-outline without having to rewrite the book.
Backshadowing 101

  • Put something interesting or cool into your manuscript that wasn’t in the outline
  • Figure out a way to use that thing later on—preferably several times
  • Don’t be afraid to really develop it—you might even come up with a whole new magic system or plot!

taken from



Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal November 6, 2016 - 8:41am

Oh look here, an explanation that's completely different...


What is backshadowing?

Backshadowing is the technique of inserting commentary into the present narrative that refers to earlier narrative events. For example, a child living in present-day Germany discovers that she is a descendent of a war criminal. In order for such a story to make sense, the reader has to know something about Germany and the world wars.

Backshadowing is visible to readers as well as to characters — everyone knows what happened, and the story rests upon this shared schema.


Another use of the term backshadowing: When describing the technique of starting a story with its ending, then shifting back to the beginning with the reader in full knowledge of the outcome but no idea how it all happened. This allows the writer to use a climactic event as a hook, drawing the reader in immediately with the promise that something big and interesting happens. It’s a subcategory of a flashback.

So, like the oft-spoofed Sunset Boulevard opening scene, or maybe a Tarantino movie.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like November 6, 2016 - 1:25pm

So the point is that without academics officially nailing down terminology, you never know what anything means? If left to our own devices, those devices remain solely our own; no one will ever understand, and we'll have to explain ourselves every time we want to use our cute terminologies.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal November 6, 2016 - 3:07pm

No, nothing so deep. I'm just asking for peoples' take on the concept. 

V.R.Stone's picture
V.R.Stone from London is reading Savages by Don Winslow November 7, 2016 - 9:14am

I like the first one, sort of putting yourself into a corner so you're forced to fight your way out of it. Although, as a pantser, I'm constantly doing that - having stuff happen without knowing exactly where it will lead.

The starting with the ending thing, I'm pretty sure has another name. Hopefully someone will be along soon with the name..

DrWood's picture
DrWood from Milwaukee, WI, living in Louisiana is reading A different book every 2-5 days. Currently Infinite Jest November 11, 2016 - 9:17am

At what point does it become ineffective - - you're describing stuff that will never come back into the story and they're nothing more than red herrings?


Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal November 11, 2016 - 12:53pm

Well, I'd think it becomes ineffective the very first time you describe  an endpoint, then circle back to the beginning, and not reach that endpoint again ... Is that what you're saying?

Starting at an endpoint then doing the "one week earlier" thing is a promise. If you don't again reach that endpoint, you break that promise. It's like a JJ Abrams fail on crack.

Unless, maybe, you make the endpoint not what it seems. Like the dead body floating in the pool turns out to not be the guy you're lead to believe it is, kind of thing. But even then, you've circled back to it, you were just deceptive.

Bottom line: if you make a promise at the beginning of a story, you'd better fullfill that promise by the end of your story.


All that said, I'm still not entirely sure what backshadowing even is.