A game of Clue...

A story doesn't have to be a mystery/thriller to make use of clues and foreshadowing. Any story can use this trick to build up toward a great moment of understanding -the epiphany you want your readers to experience.

Writing a full-length novel can be challenging enough. However, besides realistic characters (more on that here) and a solid voice, what a story needs is one or more "Eureka"-moments, on which your readers finally grasp at something that has been in front of them all along. These moments don't have to be big. You can easily start off with small moments of understanding -tiny pieces of a puzzle that easily fit together, after one or two pages. But the great thing of working with clues and foreshadowing is that when used correctly, you can build up their size and importance along with the arc of your story. The effect? Readers will pick up your book a second time, because they will want to know what the story feels like when the clues they missed the first time are already simmering in the back of their head.

To work with foreshadowing and clues, one thing is essential for you as a writer. You can't 'Pants' your way through you story. You need to plot: you need to have a solid idea of where the story is going, and what the result of specific events will be. And trust me when I tell you, even then, it doesn't always work out. I'll give you a small example...

Last week I had a conference call with my editor. We were going towards the end of my manuscript, so we were building up toward the grande-finale. I had been building up hints and clues toward the main antagonist, and thought that those hints were so clear... This. Was. It... the moment... the moment my readers would go: "Oh my gosh! Seriously?" Well, guess what. My editor missed it. Which means that somewhere along the line, the timing of my clues, the actual hints themselves, were out of place. Back to the writing desk...

So, you see that working with clues and foreshadowing is difficult. Don't let this discourage you! Here's why: they create a hidden layer in your story that -once discovered- will make your story so much more intense. If done correctly, this is what will make your work turn from a good story, into a well thought-out plot. Readers will understand that things in the book don't just happen, but they are all connected to a larger concept. The world wasn't made up, it was created. This layer, this way of creating the sense that things happen for a reason, is what eventually will push your work into the realm publishing-worthy manuscripts.

Happy writing!