There was a review in one of the major newspapers a few months ago of The Beggar’s Opera that mentioned something about “foreshadowing” at the end of the story about Inspector Ramirez coming to Ottawa. I remember at the time thinking the comment was a bit odd, but it didn’t occur to me until last night why that was so.
The Beggar’s Opera ends with Inspector Ramirez being invited to come to Canada to assist in an investigation. The invitation is pretty clear: he gets a call from the Rideau Regional Police Force asking for his help and discusses it with the Minister of the Interior. Is this really foreshadowing?
I don’t think so.
Foreshadowing is intended to be subtle. A grandmother piecing together parts of a family quilt; the threads break, foreshadowing a rift in the family. In the wonderful collection of short stories by Margaret Laurence, A Bird in the House, the unexpected entry of a wild bird presages bad luck, even death.
Foreshadowing is supposed to create dramatic tension; it hints at what’s coming. It can be a useful literary device, particularly in mysteries, although I think you want to avoid using too much of it (you don’t want to give away the whole plot, after all!).
There are clues and hints sprinkled through The Beggar’s Opera about what’s ahead; in fact, if you read carefully, there are hints as to how and why the victim died in the first ten or so pages.
But there was nothing in the shadows about Ramirez’s pending trip to Canada, anymore than it would be foreshadowing the birth of a baby to tell readers that a female character is pregnant.
Instead, what I had used was a literary device called telegraphing.
Telegraphing tells readers directly what is coming — in this case, a sequel set in Canada. Most often, that technique should be used sparingly, since it removes suspense altogether.