Foreshadowing: Tips to Create Mood & Tone

Foreshadowing Post ImageIt’s easier to have discussions about foreshadowing techniques when almost everyone knows the story. Since The Fault in Our Stars (TFIOS) was a runaway YA crossover bestseller and a major motion picture, I’m using it for my examples. Fingers crossed I’m not spoiling this story for too many people.

Foreshadowing is a technique used to hint at events that will take place later in the novel. The most overused method of foreshadowing usually involves the weather. Storm clouds gathering and birds fleeing the treetops are foreshadowing tropes for impending doom. Sunny skies and flowers blooming are used to foreshadow a change for the better.

As a narrative element, it works best for me when used indirectly. I want the plot pieces to fall into place, but I want it to happen slowly. However, other writers, including Green, like to use both direct and indirect in the same story. Going back to the weather example, indirect foreshadowing is having tree branches tapping on the protagonist’s window during a storm.  Making the lights flicker is a more direct method of foreshadowing that something bad is about to happen. A writer can sprinkle several methods of foreshadowing into the same story, and in the case of TFIOS, Green does just that. He builds and layers the foreshadowing from his very first words.

Foreshadowing is often used to:The_Fault_in_Our_Stars

  • Establish a mood
  • Reinforce themes
  • Build anticipation
  • Expand characterization
  • Aid in the suspension of disbelief
  • Prepare the reader for plot twists and/or dramatic finish


Establishes the mood:
Many authors, including Green, use titles to help foreshadow the story’s mood. In this case, the title is fairly obscure and comes from Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar. Cassius uses the line: “The fault, dear Brutus is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” By twisting the original quote Green is saying fate will play a hand in driving this story. From this title no one would expect a carefree romp.

Green also uses another popular mood enhancing technique and opens with a passage. The one in TFIOS comes from the book inside the book, An Imperial Affliction, which Hazel fixates on and shares with Augustus.

As the tide washed in, the Dutch Tulip Man faced the ocean:
“Conjoiner rejoinder prisoner concealer revelator.
Look at it, rising up and rising down, taking everything with it.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Water,” the Dutchman said. “Well, and time.”

– PETER VAN HOUTEN, An Imperial Affliction

Water acts as a major metaphor throughout TFIOS and this passage works as indirect mood foreshadowing in a number of ways, first because Augustus, Hazel’s love interest, is also named Waters. In this quote, water is the destroyer. It washes everything away everything in its path. In the story, Augustus washes away Hazel’s walls, reservations and apathy. Later, water collecting in Hazel’s lungs causes her a medical relapse and distracts her (and the reader’s) focus from the clues about Augustus’ heath concerns.

Funky BonesReinforces themes:
Cancer is deadly, and Hazel, Augustus and many of the secondary characters are battling it. Death is directly foreshadowed a lot! It’s a critical factor in Hazel’s favorite book, An Imperial Affliction, which ends mid-sentence. Hazel tells us this is no doubt because the lead character, Anna, dies and therefore can’t finish the story.

Death is indirectly foreshadowed with the bone sculpture in the park where Hazel and Augustus picnic. It’s by the bones that Augustus tells Hazel about the trip to Amsterdam he has arranged for them. This foreshadowing hints that the trip will result in a negative event and the death of something. In this case the death is two-fold: first, it destroys Hazel’s idolization of Peter Van Houten, the author of her favorite book; second, the bones foreshadow the return of Augustus’ bone cancer and his resulting death.

Builds anticipation:
Augustus has a final wish to use, and this is a huge foreshadowing red flag that his cancer has returned. Hazel understands the trip to Amsterdam is an extravagant wish, and she comments: ‘You had to be pretty sick for the Genies to hook you up with a Wish.’ This creates anticipation about the trip, and about the reasons behind Augustus (or possible Hazel) warranting this last wish trip. Since, we have no way of knowing the outcome of the trip, we start to anticipate the overwhelming effect meeting her author hero will have on Hazel.

During the flight to Amsterdam, Augustus’ inflight movie starts a few seconds before Hazel’s. This is another case of indirect foreshadowing, it’s a very subtle clue that Augustus is hiding something from Hazel. This, and that Augustus is always hanging up the phone before Hazel, are indications he will ultimately leave her behind, i.e. die before she does. I honestly believe even if we don’t pick up on this foreshadowing consciously, we do subconsciously, and that creates anticipation about the relationship ending badly.

Expands characterization:
Augustus is depicted as a person who wants to put others first. We see this with his friend, Isaac, and later with Hazel. It’s also in the way he plays video games, always sacrificing his own game life to save the other players or characters in the game. With this direct characterization foreshadowing in place, it comes as no surprise when we later learn he has taken himself off chemotherapy to take Hazel to Amsterdam.

Augustus shares the story of his last girlfriend’s final days and how he stuck by her side even though he was not in love with her any more. This is indirect foreshadowing for Hazel’s own journey with Augustus. She does a role reversal with him and becomes the stronger, more capable person in the relationship. She uses his foreshadowed example and becomes the perfect girlfriend during his final days.

Aids in the suspension of disbelief:
For the most part, suspension of disbelief foreshadowing is used to make magic systems, or other supernatural elements seem like they belong, that these extraordinary forces could be real in this world. This type of foreshadowing is used a lot in fantasy, magical realism and paranormal novels, and it helps keep the reader believing in the logic of events, even when these events could be perceived as totally illogical.

This type of foreshadowing didn’t really crop up in TFIOS. However, Green could have used this method of foreshadowing to make Van Houten’s behavior in the last third of the book more believable. When Van Houten shows up in America to see Hazel, I don’t buy it. There is no sign in this character’s earlier behavior, or in the foreshadowing to lead me to understand why he arrives back in the story. I feel like he’s just there for plot convenience, and his appearance is not sustained by any of the character’s earlier actions.

On a roller coasterPrepares the reader for the end:
There are clues scattered throughout the book that Augustus is not doing as well as he wants Hazel and the reader to believe, but it’s indirect foreshadowing. What we are told directly is Augustus is strong and athletic. He’s on a roller coaster that only goes up!

We also hear his form of bone cancer is often beaten, however, not always!

When Hazel first meets Augustus she says: “Osteosarcoma sometimes takes a limb to check you out. Then, if it likes you, it takes the rest.” This is very direct foreshadowing, but since it happens early in the book, I’m sure it gets missed by lots of readers.

Green has indicated that he “…always saw Gus as fragile and frail, even at the beginning of the book, when he (for example) misuses big words and is clearly not quite the guy he’s trying to play.” These instances are more foreshadowing that Augustus is not the survivor Hazel first takes him for.

At the end of the book there are more signs Augustus is not well. For example, Hazel leans into Augustus’ good side and he breathes out with a yelp of pain. While at the hotel, the elevator doors trip him up. He winces in pain and loses his grip on the door. Hazel wonders about these situations. Why would strong capable Augustus struggle? But in the end she always accepts his answers, assuming as some readers might assume, he is “just out of shape.”

There are several other indirect foreshadowing clues about Augustus’ ill health, like when Van Houten remarks: “perhaps the cancer has established a beachhead in his brain.’

There is also the fight Hazel overhears between Augustus and his mother before leaving for Amsterdam. Augustus yells out: “Because it is my life, mom. It belongs to me.” At this point in the story we don’t know what event has angered his parents, it could be his relationship with Hazel. In some respects Hazel treats it this way, and feels awkward about what she overheard. We learn later Augustus fought with his parents about taking himself off chemo to go on the trip to Amsterdam with Hazel.

Christmas TreeWhen Augustus finally confides in Hazel about his condition, he directly foreshadows his own death. He says during his cancer scan, he “lit up like a Christmas tree…” This tells us it’s over, he is going to die. We know, Hazel knows it.

Hopefully, this gives some clear examples of how many different types of foreshadowing are used together to convey the ending of the story, even from the first words. And all without explicitly telling the plot of the story in any way.  I’ve read enough reviews of The Fault in Our Stars to know many people did not pick up on the clues that Augustus would predecease Hazel. Yet, all the clues are there in the foreshadowing. There are actually many more instances of foreshadowing in TFIOS, but I feel this collection illustrates my points.

Did anyone else pick up on these foreshadowing clues? Or was Augustus’ death a major surprise?

Author: Robin Rivera

Robin trained as a professional historian and worked as a museum curator, an educator and historical consultant. She writes dark young adult fiction, with diverse characters. She's currently querying a novel, and working on two new manuscripts that started off as NaNoWriMo projects. You can follow her on Facebook(https://www.facebook.com/robin.rivera.90813) or on Twitter @robinrwrites. However, Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/RRWrites/) is where her inner magpie is happiest of all.

5 thoughts on “Foreshadowing: Tips to Create Mood & Tone”

    1. Thanks, Sue! Same good wishes to you and your family. This is one of my favorite times of the year. I’m just about to start all the cooking for tomorrow. My out of town family has already arrived and I may not write a single word until Saturday or Sunday. And I’m loving it! After winning NaNoWriMo this morning I need a writing vacation anyway.

  1. I know it’s most overused to use the weather to foreshadow but my story is an adaptation from a poem I wrote. Also weather plays a huge factor; it’s in Seattle. But hopefully I won’t be so direct. I do one sneaky thing and I don’t know what to call it. The event has happened and there is a flashback. The flashback foreshadows the event that has just been told. But since it’s happened already is it called postshadowing? HAHA.

    1. Hi Seth,
      You have to do what feels right for your story. Looking for sneaky ways to include weather sounds ideal. I’m sure you’ll make it work! Seattle is a great place for it.
      Good luck!

We love comments and questions.