Horror's Tight Relationship With Foreshadowing


As a fan of horror movies, there’s nothing better than turning on a scary film and yelling at the girl not to open the closet door. Why am I screaming at this character not to open the door? Why am I cowering in my seat as the man takes one more slow step down the dimly-lit staircase to the basement?


I don’t know what’s lurking in the closet or what’s waiting at the bottom of the stairs. It doesn’t matter what’s there, I’m still scared. It’s possible nothing is there at all. This is the power of foreshadowing. The anticipation, the dread, and the anguish are all emotions that are derived from foreshadowing’s impact within horror.


Now, these examples provided are based within television/film. It’s easy to convey through cinema that a scene is leading to a scary moment. The music grows sinister, the voices quiet, and darkness encapsulates the screen. How do you translate this to a written medium? Well, there’s a multitude of ways.


An important part of establishing foreshadowing within horror is to develop the environment for the scene. It’s much harder for readers to expect a deranged axe murderer in a sunflower field than it is in an abandoned mental hospital. This isn’t entirely due to the setting, but more so the descriptions derived from each environment. Warm weather and green grass is a strong juxtaposition to blood, guts, and cutlery. It’s difficult to expect the same anticipation from the different setups.


So how do you orchestrate an environment to evoke the same emotions achieved by the closet and basement scenes? The answer is the emphasis on specific details. Your descriptions of the sunflower field could revolve around the warm weather and glowing yellow flowers or highlight the silence and isolation. With the latter, the reader is exposed to eerie and negative attributes which establish an ominous setting and prepares them for the expectation that something bad is going to occur.

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The reader is now prepped for the environment a deranged axe murderer is going to arrive in, but how do we take it a step further to create the anticipation? There’s a multitude of ways of achieving this, but an important one to consider is your character. How is your character in this environment? Is their heart racing? Are they looking around to see if someone’s watching? Did they see something but can’t find it again? These are all igniting actions that send a signal to the reader.


A final point I will touch on is the usage of symbolism. Specifically, within the horror genre, there are many commonly known images which give sinister associations. Some examples are the devil, upside-down crosses, and pentagrams. These are very bold images that can be strategically placed to give the reader a hint that something demonic is going on.

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While the examples I offered are bold ones, there are very simple ones that can send strong indications about an environment that doesn't have to rely on religious imagery. A black dress, while simple, can hold lots of subliminal meanings. A black dress can be used to signal a death is coming. This welcomes foreshadowing by creating small messages for the