Foreshadowing Through Character

Reading the pages of the Old Testament Bible about “who begot who” can be tiresome, but they are still important. In fact, I once diagrammed the family tree from Adam to Noah by birth, age, and death year to see who knew who. Here’s what I learned: Methuselah was alive when Adam was alive. As a little boy, he probably sat on great-great-great-grandpa Adam’s lap hearing firsthand accounts of God in the Garden of Eden and the importance of obedience. These stories were not hearsay, but directly from the horses’ mouth. 900+ years later, great-great-great-grandpa Methuselah passes these stories down through the generations to Noah himself; secondhand information, probably mostly accurate, with some embellishments.

Methuselah, who walked with Adam, was the oldest and last to die of Adam’s direct lineage. He died the year of the flood. So everyone from Adam to Noah’s dad were dead before the floodwaters rose. And Noah carried on the legacy of Creation with the stories from Adam to Methuselah.

Remember this the next time you feel like breezing over all those names. They do have a purpose, or they wouldn’t be in the Bible. Sometimes, you just have to dig deeper to find the connection.

So with that, we’re gonna skip over the chapters with all those names (tee-hee) and get into some foreshadowing through the first of many stories of Abram. In verse 2 of Genesis 12, God tells Abram, “I will make of thee a great nation.” Here he is, old as dirt and childless, yet God says he’ll be the father of a great nation, which means millions of people.

In verse three, we read, “and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”

Could this be our foreshadow to the stubbornness of the Israelites and the fulfillment of Messiah? Probably. Even before the nation exists, God knows his chosen people will rebel to the point of denial.

Abram is instructed to leave the land of his father, journey through the land God promises to give him, and into Egypt to escape a great famine, for Egypt was the mightiest nation of the day.

Right before they enter Egypt, Abram tells Sarai to lie and say she’s his sister. Why? Because she is so beautiful, Abram is afraid he will be killed so the Pharaoh can take Sarai, who by the way is over sixty, as his wife. (She was technically his sister by blood, so it was more of the omission of truth than a flat out lie, but you get the gist.) She must have been one hot mama to put such fear in her husband’s heart. And Abram wasn’t being biased because she was taken into the Pharaoh’s house due to her great beauty. (verse 15) Abram is given cattle and oxen and sheep and camels and servants and maids, all on behalf of his “sister.” Until Pharaoh learns the truth. Then they are both sent away for fear of God’s wrath upon Egypt.

Okay, let’s check out the foreshadowing here. First, there’s a famine that is so great people flood Egypt for food. Sounds a lot like the story of Jacob, Abram’s grandson, to come in later chapters. Second, Pharaoh sends them away for fear of God’s wrath, which occurs. “And the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife.” (verse 17) Ever heard of a guy named Moses? Ten plagues? Red Sea parting? Am I ringing any bells?

Finally, this exact event occurs in Abram’s son’s life, Isaac.

Let me explain: Isaac marries Rebekah, who is technically his cousin, and goes to Egypt to escape a famine, where he instructs his wife to say she’s his sister, because she is so beautiful, he fears Pharaoh will kill him for his wife, yada…yada…yada.

I love that third one.

Foreshadowing is such a powerful tool when paralleling story and character. Small changes can draw a huge connection later in the story through plot, character, or both, that layer your story to grow beyond a surface relationship with the reader to something so powerful that it creates a classic.

Holes by Louis Sachar works this brilliantly through the parallel of past and present with Kissing Kate and the “no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather.” Star Wars foreshadows Luke’s flirting with the Dark Side and following in his father’s footsteps, only to break out not only himself but Anakin in the end. “The sins of the father” is a powerful foreshadowing tool. Generational curses or repeating the mistakes of the family create great tension as your character battles between his fate and trying to change it. Redemption tastes that much sweeter when your character manages to break the family curse and create a new path for the next generation.

The Back to the Future trilogy is riddled with the use of foreshadow and the sins of the father. The diner and clock tower and head bumps are staples that draw the parallel universes into common ground.

What similarities can you draw between your character’s journey and plot points throughout your story? How can you accentuate those choices to impact the plot even greater?

In Stephen King’s book On Writing he mentions the thread of blood that appeared in his novel Carrie. He hadn’t intended to, but there was blood present at every major plot point in the book. By editing the accidental coincidences and turning them into purposed foreshadowing, Carrie launched his career and became a story that resonates with readers’ years after they finish reading it.

Utilize what’s already in your story to make connections and foreshadows that will impact your reader. Find those loose threads and tie them together to create layers that deepen your theme, plot, and relationship with your audience.

(This is an excerpt from Writing Your Novel, Using the Bible as Your Guide, published by A Writer For Life, LLC, which you can purchase from Amazon as a paperback or ebook. For assistance with writing, editing, and marketing your book, visit awriterforlife.com.)

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Foreshadowing Through Character

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