How to Foreshadow with Scrivener

At the end of this post, you’ll grasp a technique for writing page-turners. That lead-in sentence was the setup, an example of direct foreshadowing, and now you’re waiting for the payoff: how to foreshadow with Scrivener.

Table of Contents

What Is Foreshadowing with Scrivener?

I’ve hinted that something will take place, but you don’t know how it will happen. A well-structured foreshadow flips open a switch in readers’ minds, and they seek closure by turning pages.

That’s foreshadowing—hinting of an event or outcome. Readers keep reading until they close the switch with the expected payoff—the actual event or outcome.

Foreshadowing with Scrivener has two parts:

  • The Setup: A sign of a future event or outcome.
  • The Payoff: The actual event or outcome.

Recall how I started with an example of direct foreshadowing:

At the end of this post, you’ll grasp a technique for writing page-turners.

But I could have used indirect foreshadowing, hinting at the expected outcome with an innocuous statement:

Why do I get the feeling, you’ll want to know more.

If I had used that line, it wouldn’t seem like a direct invitation to explore, but later, you’d probably wonder what else there was to learn in prior posts.  

Direct and indirect foreshadowing are powerful literary devices to entice readers to keep turning pages.

How to Foreshadow with Scrivener

Foreshadowing is the one-two punch for knocking out page turners.

First you setup a foreshadow and then payoff expectation with an event or outcome. That requires authors to track where the hint took place and where it’s paid off.

Within Scrivener, you can mark the setup or payoff in a scene with inline annotations. The benefits accrue as you add meaningful notes to identify and explain the setup and the payoff. Note: Inline notifications do not show in published digital and print books.

Writers of mystery, thrillers, and romance will appreciate Scrivener’s ability to show where the setup and payoff take place within arbitrary collections of scenes.

In the setup and payoff examples below, I grouped the scenes containing the foreshadow symbol of ill-gotten gain (i.e., a gold brooch) into a single collection named “Foreshadow – Gold Symbol,” simplifying the tracking of setup and payoff.

Setup Example

Shows an Arbitrary Collection and Inline Annotations of Foreshadow Setups.

Click to Enlarge

Note: The Setup Example also shows other Foreshadow Setups, creating additional open switches for payoffs.

Payoff Foreshadow with Scrivener Example

Shows an Arbitrary Collection and an Inline Annotation of a Foreshadow Payoff.

Click to Enlarge

Note: The Payoff Example also shows a new Foreshadow Setup, creating another open switch in readers’ minds.

How to Create Inline Annotations

To create an inline note:

  1. Select where within the text you wish to insert an annotation.
  2. Go to Insert > Inline Annotation in the menu.

Now type your inline annotation. You can change the color of an annotation by clicking into it and using the Format > Color… panel or the format bar color button.

When you export your work, you can turn ranges of text defined as annotations into comments or omit them altogether.

How to Create an Arbitrary Collection

An arbitrary collection allows you to add any documents. Then, you can drag and drop those documents to have them appear in the desired order.

Use the toolbar

  1. Click on the “View” button on the upper left toolbar.
  2. Select “Show Collections,” and an area will appear at the top of the binder containing two rows (tabs), “Binder” and “Search Results.”
  3. Click on the “Search Results” row.

The last search you ran gets run again, and its results appear where the binder was. If you ran no prior search, nothing will appear under Search Results.

Click on the “Binder” tab to return to the binder before continuing.

Create an Arbitrary Collection

  1. Ctrl-click on the header view to bring up the header bar menu.
  2. Select “Lock in Place:”
Lock in Place Menu

The header bar will turn a different shade of gray, showing that the editor is now “locked.” When you lock an editor, clicks in the binder will have no effect. If you click on other documents in the binder, they no longer load into the editor when selected. This will leave whatever document you have in the editor while you set up your first arbitrary collection.

Try this Exercise

  1. Hold down the Command key on the keyboard and select several documents in the binder.
  2. Once you have selected five or six (it doesn’t matter which), click on “+” button in the “Collections” bar at the very top of the binder:

A list showing only the documents you selected will replace the binder. You haven’t moved those documents—they are all still in their rightful places within the binder. After clicking the Collections “+” button, you’ve just created an arbitrary collection. When created, it automatically added the selected documents.

Show Documents in Binder

Click on one document in the collection list and in Scrivener’s main menu, go to Navigate > Reveal in Binder. This shows you where the document is in the binder.

Additional Features

Click back on the collection tab that was created once you’ve tried this, to return to the collection.

  • You can drag and drop the collection rows into any order you want.
  • Drag and drop documents inside the collection list to reorder them. Note: This has no effect on the order in the binder.
  • You can rename the collection to anything you want, and you can change its color by clicking on the little chevron next to the collection name:

Change Colors

Try changing the title and color of the collection you created.

Add Documents

Let’s add more documents to the collection:

  • Click back on the “Binder” tab and select additional documents in the binder.
  • Once you’ve selected some documents, drag and drop them onto the collection tab.
  • Click the collection tab again to return to the collection. The documents you dragged onto the tab are now in the collection too. (Note: If you hold the mouse over the tab for a moment before you drop, the collection will open automatically, allowing you to drop the documents in a particular place in the collection list.)

Note: If you hold the Option key down while dragging a folder onto a collection, then all its subdocuments will get added to the collection too.

Deleting a Collection

To delete a collection, simply select its tab and then click on the “-” button in the “Collections” header bar and confirm. Deleting a collection has no effect on its documents in the binder.

Closing a Collection

To close a collection and return to the binder, click the “X” button to the left of the collection header bar:

Unlock the editor by Ctrl-clicking in the editor header bar again and deselect by clicking the check mark next to “Lock in Place.” If you prefer, hide the collections pane by choosing “Hide Collections” from the “View” toolbar button menu.

Put Foreshadowing to Work

Now that you’ve seen how to foreshadow with Scrivener, if you give it a go, the investment in time and effort can increase the opportunities to surprise and delight your readers.

For instance, if you’re a visual person, check out this John Fogerty music video on YouTube—an example of how foreshadowing maintains interest until the end, and sets up an unexpected twist.

Potential Plot Twists

Foreshadow and give your readers a surprise turn of events and change in behaviors. For example, what if:

  • A historical event shifted the plot?
  • Two characters are secretly related?
  • The hero or heroine is secretly the villain?
  • A fake-ally is secretly the villain?
  • The hero has a personality disorder?
  • The events were all an illusion?
  • The victim never died?
  • The setting is not what it seems?
  • Time: The timeline is not as it first appears?
  • The villain turns out to be the good one?
  • Villain’s goal differs what hero thought?
  • What if some horrific event changed the rules for what’s going on in the story?


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