Jim was awfully predictable for a head of data security. So when he left for his usual lunchtime run that Friday, it was easy for new guy John Smith to slip quietly into Jim’s office and close the door.
Of all the items available at the hospital’s charity auction, expectant mother Hailey felt compelled to buy the trio of hand-knit preemie caps. Looking back, she never could explain why.
Accountant Eliot Winston tossed his wallet, a package of Fritos and a .38-caliber revolver into his briefcase and ran to catch the morning bus to work.
What do you think is going to happen next in each of these stories? Ah, that’s the question that will keep you reading.
What is Foreshadowing?
These three opening lines all use the literary technique of foreshadowing to convey suspense and intrigue. Foreshadowing teases the reader. It hints at a possible plot outcome or twist without giving too much away. When you skillfully employ foreshadowing, you elevate your storytelling ability and keep readers engaged.
You’ve no doubt encountered foreshadowing hundreds of times in novels, movies and other artistic projects. But this technique should not be limited to strictly fictive endeavors. You can use foreshadowing to hook your content readers and keep them engrossed in your brand story, as well.
How to Use Foreshadowing in Content Writing
Some of the most famous literary examples of foreshadowing rely heavily on metaphor. I don’t recommend you do that in your content writing. If you want to be Hemingway, that’s fine, but do it on your own time.
No, in content your best bet with foreshadowing is to be straightforward. Here’s a three-step process for accomplishing it:
- Identify a surprising story outcome or intermediate development
- Start your story by hinting at this outcome or plot twist
- After you lay some intrigue on the reader in the opening lines, fill in the rest of the story by starting from the beginning
Here’s how that might look in your world. Let’s say you’re assigned to write a newsletter profile of a young woman who delivered a premature baby at your hospital. Mom and baby received excellent care, and everyone is doing great.
That’s a pretty straightforward story. It could be boring, actually. It’s up to you to use your mad interview skilz and writing chops to create something magical – something so cram-packed with drama that it will cause even the most curmudgeonly individual to weep with joy when they read it.
Tall order? Nah! You’ve got this.
You can elicit interview responses that feed into foreshadowing by asking questions like:
- What were your expectations? How did the result differ from this?
- Looking back, what detail stands out as being strange or unexplainable to you?
- What was your motivation for doing X?
- Did you ever imagine this would happen? What did you think would happen instead?
The answers to these questions provide perfect fodder for using foreshadowing to kick off your piece with intrigue.
Foreshadowing: Types of Content
Obviously this is not a technique you want to use on landing pages or other projects that hew more to the copywriting side of content. But I submit you can use foreshadowing to liven up:
- Blog posts
- Feature stories
- Social media posts
- Video scripts
- Case studies
- Email marketing pieces
- Native advertising pieces
Used well, foreshadowing will grab your reader by the lapels and demand they pay attention. Isn’t that the goal?
By the way, WTF is going on in example #3 up there, anyway?
Thanks for reading Contentography: where gorgeous content is made.