I’ve been making an effort to weave in more foreshadowing and callbacks into my portal fantasy manuscript.
Quest narratives, by nature of the beast, come with a lot of location changes and secondary characters who only show up for one scene or chapter, so I’m having trouble making the manuscript feel cohesive. I worry that the individual episodes are too disparate and don’t move the main quest farther along enough. Especially because the protagonist is so doubtful that her quest will lead where she hopes, the middle act has an aimless quality that is both true to the character and potentially frustrating for readers.
Perhaps I’m banking too heavily on foreshadowing to help pull these middle episode into a satisfying whole, but I’ve long been intrigued by how automatically the human brain seems to take foreshadowing in stride. If I mention a character’s green V-neck shirt once on page 20 and bring it back on page 210, readers will instantly remember the first mention of the shirt and begin making connections between the two scenes (provided the shirt has been described in enough detail to make it stand out as significant to the plot, of course). Even the use of an unusual word can remind readers of an earlier moment—again provided that the word hasn’t been overused throughout the manuscript and so lost its specificity.
On a broader level than words or objects, part of the structure of recurrence I’m trying to build into the manuscript revolves around the protagonist’s husband’s backstory. Her husband hasn’t told the protagonist key aspects of his history, but these details are slowly revealed throughout the novel. Readers get the protagonist’s incomplete understanding of her husband’s story in the first few chapters, but then other characters tell alternate, fuller versions of his story. These callbacks (hopefully) help to drive the main quest forward while also building suspense, as crucial information is still missing until the end of the book.
Now that I’m writing this, I wonder how much I’ve unconsciously modeled this aspect of my book on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. My favorite part of Azkaban is Harry slowly unraveling the truth about the Marauder’s Map and who his parents were as teenagers. The different memories of friends and rivals create a complicated and contradictory picture of Lily and James that is only resolved satisfactorily for Harry during the confrontation in the Shrieking Shack.
We’ll see how my theory of foreshadowing works in practice once beta readers who aren’t familiar with every detail of the manuscript start offering me feedback. If the callbacks are too far apart, or not highlighted enough, readers may read right past them without picking up on their significance. Or if I’m too heavy-handed with the foreshadowing, readers may feel less curious about the withheld information and more frustrated that I didn’t have more compelling action to keep the plot going. Like so much in life, I suppose moderation is the key.