The Close Relationship Between Foreshadow and Irony

The other day I was working on some rewrites, and found myself giggling at the irony of a character dismissing as irrelevant a piece of information that would later become very important. Then it occurred to me: the only reason I find this ironic is because I know how important it will be. To a brand new reader, this is foreshadow.

For a writer, or someone rereading a story, foreshadow takes on an incredible transformation. We are no longer following clues, we know where this is going. This is officially Dramatic Irony. The character says something, does something, thinks something, and we get this little voice in the backs of our heads singing, “I know something you don’t know!” and we squeal with delight/dread/titillation. At least, that’s what I do.

It’s why we reread our favourite books, isn’t it? That extra pang of sadness when a beloved character we know won’t survive the book puts on a brave face. The feeling of complicity when someone’s true identity is hinted at but not yet revealed. The heart-sore sighs as you watch your favourites dance around their love interests, or else stand oblivious to their friend’s affection. It’s what brings us back time and again.

This is why foreshadow is such an integral part of storytelling. Not only does it give a first time reader clues so they aren’t completely blind-sided by the plot twist, but it adds a layer of irony for those returning to the tale. It’s what brings a story to life.

Have you ever noticed how foreshadow turns into irony? How do you use it in your own work?