Did You Know “Show vs. Tell” Matters in Foreshadowing Too?

This week’s video offers two examples of how tell vs. show in foreshadowing can weaken the overall effect on your story—and what you can do instead.

For the last five weeks, we’ve been exploring all kinds of important storytelling tricks we can learn from Steven Spielberg’s bravura classic Jurassic Park. We’ve come to the end of that series, but before leaving the dinos behind, we’re first going to take a quick peek at something we can learn to do better than what we find in Joe Johnston’s 2001 sequel Jurassic Park III.

Jurassic Park Jurassic Park 3

Although decidedly lackluster, this is not a bad film. It at least tries to cover all its bases, including some very important moments of foreshadowing.

Crucial developments that happen late in your story must be foreshadowed early on in order to both maintain overall continuity and resonance and also to avoid any whiff of deus ex machina.

In this movie, two of these important developments are:

  • The hang-gliding ability of Dr. Grant’s young assistant Billy—which allows him to save another character from the flying pteranodons.
Billy Hang Gliding Jurassic Park iii Edited

Jurassic Park III (2001), Universal Pictures.

  • Dr. Sattler’s husband’s involvement with the State Department—which allows Ellie to call in the Navy and the Marines to rescue Alan at the end of the movie.
Jurassic Park 3 Navy Marines

Jurassic Park III (2001), Universal Pictures.

So far, pretty good.

The problem is that both of these instances of foreshadowing lacked strength simply because they were not shown in the beginning of the story, but rather just told.

We never see Billy hang gliding; we’re simply told that he’s a daredevil. We never see Ellie’s husband in action on his job; we’re simply told that he works for the State Department—whatever that means.

As a result, these foreshadowing “plants” are easily forgettable and therefore not very effective in their “payoffs.” So as you’re planning your story, remember “show vs. tell” definitely matters in foreshadowing. Try to figure out how you can dramatize your important foreshadowing—rather than just telling readers about it.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! How have you demonstrated “show vs. tell” in your story’s early foreshadowing? Tell me in the comments!


Sign Up Today

hwba sidebar pic

Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland’s e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.

About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. In my story, an educational psychologist recommends that the protagonist move out of the town. But one teacher vehemently objects with all others in agreement. The psychologist doesn’t push it in which I state that it’s a decision he would later regret. After the big climax, we see the same psychologist beating himself up over the tragedy.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Excellent set up. Tragic turns of event almost always need more foreshadowing that happy ones.

  2. thomas h cullen says

    By default, writers have this issue much more easily sorted; because “everything” they create is text, the show vs. tell clash is far less pronounced..

    1979’s Alien does a good job at this. Ash’s being an android is hinted at, but never so as to distract the audience.

    (Good references Katie.. I’ve seen Jurassic park III a fair number of times, yet never picked up on them.)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s true. “Telling” in film almost always comes down to blatantly obvious voiceovers or dialogue exposition.

  3. I have a huge argument between my MC and his father which opens the third act. Back in the first chapter, the MC’s cousin asks why his dad is treating him poorly, followed by a scene of conversation in which she asks “well, why don’t you have a job?” Dad may be a pain, but it doesn’t mean he’s wrong all the time. Then the parents are overheard arguing over the son, which hints at marital problems the MC might not be aware of yet. “He’s always pushed me, but the last year or so he’s been ticked off at everything”

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Good set up! With character development it’s especially important to, not just foreshadow, but evolve it over the course of the story, if we want it to make sense come time for the dramatic moments.

  4. I would dare to say that foreshadowing is one of the most important areas, where showing vs telling should be kept in mind. It helps to “show” when the subtlety that you usually want with foreshadowing is desired.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Definitely. The irony of telling is that it can sometimes be *more* consciously conspicuous than showing.

  5. Sophia Zervas says

    This is precisely what bothered me about Jane and Mr. Bingley’s “breakup” in Pride and Prejudice. When Mr. Darcy explains to Elizabeth that Bingley’s attraction didn’t appear mutual, the only clue Austen provides that authenticates Darcy’s testimony is Charlotte Lucas’ passing comment about Jane being less than demonstrative in her affection. Since readers never see Jane interact with Mr. Bingley, the “telling” felt contrived.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Good point. I always just chalked it up to Bingley being a bit of a ditz, but it *could* definitely have been stronger.

  6. Marissa John says

    Thank you so much for this post & great film to use as an example.

    As hokey as Sharknado 2 is, you just KNEW that she was going to carve her way out of a shark at some point in the movie because of the brief focus on her hand at the start.

    In my current WIP, heroine is going to have to use magic to reel in the villainess in spite of possibly being too inexperienced to face her. My job, then, is to make the opening reflect this. In other words, the seeds for the grand fjnale battle have to be seen at the opening.

  7. On a similar topic, a little reiteration of foreshadowing is important. In the Dutch film Undercover Kitty/Minoes (original title), the film ends on a “joke” of the kid character interrupting a kiss scene by finally blowing a gum bubble — which relates back to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene in the first act that wasn’t visited again before the end.

  8. I am currently working on a spiritual journey of an atheist woman towards embracing religion.
    I am planting an impact character of her aunt as her answer to a lot of questions.
    28 years ago, she ran away from house. Her brother helped her. Having a really strict father, he, my protag’s father left his home as well.
    Now, her father has died and she is really curious to meet her aunt. That aunt of her would be a big reason for my protag to question her beliefs. Along with her colleague with whom I am also planting a romance element.
    So don’t have any idea how will I plant foreshadowing of a character who will come in action after the midpoint. Any suggestions?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      If nothing else, you should be able to at least mention that the character has an aunt–and hasn’t been able to see her for whatever reason.

      As for the romance character, you can always foreshadow that simply by referencing at least a latent desire within the protagonist to *have* a romantic relationship.

  9. Hannah Killian says

    I’m thinking of foreshadowing a character’s death by having him wear a red bandana. . . . .See what I did there?

  10. K.M. , My antagonist in the co-author book Ruben who is also the villain is getting an army for taking hope village and also kidnapping Leilani’s sister twin Kaia. Ruben is an evil sea deity and also a shapeshifter which means he can change into anything a bird, a fly or another human or animal except for his eyes would be amber (orange).

    My protagonists who are Zane and Leilani are teenagers. Zane is a year older than Leilani. Cara who is the priestess and also like a sister to Leilani is two years older.

    Cara also knows when Leilani has her visions about things such as the yellow death/fever which happens in the co-author book.

    Where Leilani is in book 2 the whole village is ill with the sickness. How is there correct way about the ill peoples skin turned yellow before or during they were going to perish?


    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Describing the skin turning yellow and the symptoms arising is a good way to show the progression of the ailment.


  1. […] Did You Know “Show vs. Tell” Matters in Foreshadowing Too? – Helping Writers Become Author…. […]

  2. […] K.M Weiland has an excellent post on this, I urge you to go read it: Did You Know “Show vs. Tell” Matters in Foreshadowing Too? […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.