I’ve been surprised by the number of novels I’ve read lately that have been the kitchen sink omitted variety. You know the ones–mysterious things pop up in the middle of the book, usually of a paranormal nature.
It isn’t that I object to paranormal things. I love paranormal things. But as a reader, I feel cheated if these paranormal aren’t foreshadowed. What’s worse, is that as I writer, I see these surprises as attempts to prop up a sagging middle instead of crafting a story that can last the entire book.
Just like a good writer provides motivation for her characters actions, whether they are normal actions or odd actions, a good writer must foreshadow the events to come. If an ogre is going to pop out of the woods, the kids traipsing through it can either know stories of an ogre and dismiss them or the writer can describe the woods in such as way as to hint that something is there–a rustle of leaves, the fall of footsteps, the silence of animals, etc.
The description could create tension and suspense and the actions of the characters as they react to the woods/stories reveal bits about them. A kid that doesn’t believe in ogres wouldn’t react to the stories, but fear is contagious and most of our primitive instincts would be roused by the feel of the woods. A city kid would react differently than one used to camping. And a studious kid would react differently than the others, perhaps even noticing things the others missed.
Some people might think that foreshadowing gives too much of the story away, leaving out the surprises. Not necessarily. Many writers give red herrings and we’re all familiar with them. We hear the footsteps and the silence of the woodland animals but what steps out of the forest is an injured person, not an ogre. Or the writer infuses enough reasonable doubt into the character’s thoughts and actions that the reader believes it too–think about how many times we saw the mangled body of the slasher in a horror story only to have the corpse disappear later. Or the preconceived notions are turned on their head such as in The Sixth Sense and The Others. Both these movies use deep character POV to develop a world based on those character’s perceptions and the watcher/reader buys into it until the end.
Such is the power of characterization. In the hands of talented writers it can seamlessly carry a story through to the end, no matter how many paranormal characters pop on and off the page.