A clue or allusion embedded in the narrative that predicts some later event or revelation. It could be a wayward comment or action, an event that doesn't make sense until later, a Meaningful Name, a rare blood type... so many things can warn us of the future. The foreshadowing may be ominous, or mildly suggestive, or it could merely be obvious in hindsight.
Good foreshadowing doesn't spoil the surprise, yet seems an obvious clue in retrospect. Bad foreshadowing either deflates the suspense or is too obfuscated (such as an Ice-Cream Koan) to predict anything, and capable of being overused. Foreshadowing may establish something to avoid an Ass Pull. Or it may put a viewer off as introducing a needless supernatural element to the story.
In literature, foreshadowing is commonly done when a possibility is mentioned, but almost immediately dismissed or disproved. Some readers will dismiss the suggested possibility just as the unsuspecting characters do. More experienced readers will immediately call the author's bluff and know what to expect.
Dreaming of Things to Come often foreshadows. Chekhov's Gun is often used as a foreshadowing tool. If it makes no sense, it may be Strange Minds Think Alike. If this is done in a Prequel (such as in the page image), it's a Call-Forward.
Two specific variants are Futureshadowing, where the shadowing comes after the actual event chronologically but is still seen before it, and Foreseeing My Death, where a character has foreseen, prophesied or predicted his/her own demise.
When there's only a tiny gap between the foreshadowing and the actual foreshadowed event, that's Five-Second Foreshadowing.
Contrast Plot Point. Compare AND contrast "Funny Aneurysm" Moment, Hilarious in Hindsight. Contrast Fauxshadow and Tempting Fate. Production Foreshadowing is this trope's meta version. This Index Will Be Important Later covers foreshadowing tropes. This trope is a good Rewatch Bonus.
See also Trope Telegraphing.
Not to be confused with The Shadow Knows, which the picture to the right uses to do this trope.
Naturally, the examples are full of spoilers. Consider yourself warned.
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- Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Infernoid archetype's existence has been mentioned in Qliphort Monolith's flavor text. They're known as the Fire Flood in the OCG text and as the Scourge in the TCG text.
- Qliphort Scout's flavor text explicit mention of Infernoid Tierra (the Infernoid's boss monster) and mentions "C:\sophia\zefra.exe." "Sophia" refers to Sophia, Goddess of Rebith, a monster that can be summoned when you have Ritual, Fusion, Synchro and Xyz. "Zefra" refers to the Zefra archetype released two sets later, which are a Pendulum-based deck that works on bringing out all the summoning methods in a similar vain to Sophia.
- Magic: The Gathering: The Future Sight set, as the name suggests, featured many cards from potential futures of the game, differentiated by a different frame. Many of these cards have since been printed in other sets.
- Notably, the group of Planeswalkers called the Lorwyn Fivenote were originally meant to debut here, but appeared in the next set, Lorwyn, because WotC wanted to take the time to develop the new card type correctly. The five have nothing to do with the story, the cards are just there as, well, this trope.
- A particular note is Ghostfire. Seemingly a red anti-protection spell, it never has technically seen a reprint. It has, however been a major plot point in that it was the key to the lock sealing away the Eldrazi, and the card itself foretells of Ugin, a major figure revealed later.
- Happens with individual cards in other sets, too. For example, Interpret the Signs from Theros block displays the set symbol for Dragons of Tarkir, which was released about a year later.
- "Barkeep, another beer before the shit starts again!" He gets his beer. Later: "Barkeep, another beer before the shit starts again!" The barkeeper doesn't ask. Still later: "Barkeep, another beer before the shit starts again!" Another beer. Midnight. "We're closing! Here, your bill!" "The shit starts again..."
- Daniel Amos's The Alarma Chronicles was a series of four Concept Albums, with an ongoing story (about an apocalyptic vision) in the liner notes linking them together. The first album, ¡Alarma!, has a scene where a one-eyed giant threatens the narrator; the third album, Vox Humana, reveals the giant is a symbol for the dehumanizing effects of the modern world, which serves as that album's major theme. Alarma also has one song, "Shedding the Mortal Coil", written from the perspective of a dying man; the final album, Fearful Symmetry, reveals that the entire series was the narrator's Dying Dream.
- In "Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun" from A Saucerful of Secrets by Pink Floyd, one line foreshadows The Wall (which came out eleven years after the former album).
"Witness the man who raves at the wall"
- A darkly funny one in Gary Larson's The Far Side: Some Natives are bidding farewell to a group of European explorers, when one of them turns to the man just to his right and asks: "Did you detect something ominous in the way they said 'See you later'?"
- Two 1989 Bloom County strips foreshadowed the ending of the strip later that year, in which Bill the Cat with Donald Trump's brain fires all the characters. In the first, Milo says to Binkley that he has been feeling really secure around here and that around Bloom County, he feels a real sense of...permanence. Binkley responds "Dabbling in a little bit of ironic foreshadowing, are we?". In the second, Opus spots a shooting star, and after wondering what to wish for, he then says "I wish I knew if I'll have meaningful employment after August 6th" (August 6th was the day the strip ended).
- Subverted in For Better or for Worse. Elly, discussing her daughter Elizabeth with a policeman, says "I suspect it will be a few more years before she meets Mr. Right!" A caption points out the Meaningful Name on the policeman's office door: "Constable Paul Wright." Paul and Elizabeth do begin a romance within a few weeks after that — but he doesn't turn out to be Elizabeth's Mr. Right and she winds up marrying someone else.
- Discussed in Foxtrot, when one arc focused on Jason and his excitement at the upcoming The Phantom Menace, including his acquiring a poster with the page image.
- Mata Nui On-Line:
- Numerous hints are made toward the Bohrok Saga, which begins after the game's conclusion:
- One of the prophecies placed under the Great Telescope shows the silhouette of a Bohrok
- A rock in the jungle area has "Wake one and you wake them all", the Bohrok Saga's Tag Line scribbled on it in Bionicle writing.
- Similarly, the message "Beware the swarm" is engraved into one of the rocks in the snowdrifts, which triggers a cutscene about the player having an illusion, during which the text and the Bohrok symbol appear on screen
- When you talk to Turaga Vakama, he says something vague about "expecting the arrival of another...". At the end of the game, he compares the player's (who we then learn is called Takua) adventures to those of the Toa heroes. Takua, two real-life years after the game's story, becomes a Toa himself.
- The Onu-Koro miners talk about hitting an impenetrable rock strata that has organic properties. Seven years later, it's revealed that what they had reached was Mata Nui's face.
- The MNOG II also had a few. When you (this time controlling Hahli) talk to a scholar in Ko-Metru, he says something about her losing her loved one and reuniting the island. These all happen in the Mask of Light movie, which the game was a lead-up to, although Jaller's death was undone by the end.
- Numerous hints are made toward the Bohrok Saga, which begins after the game's conclusion:
- War: 13th Day has this all over the place. That snowfall in summer? That out-of-place background and some of the characters' odd anatomy? The fact that everything hasn't died despite the sun having supposedly vanished? That's all right. You're trapped in a dream. A Dying Dream. You have to play through Multiple Endings to reach the True End. All those routes you just went through? Well, that was her life flashing before her eyes.
- At the beginning of Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, Zero, over loudspeaker, says: "Some of you, I know, are familiar with this game. The Nonary Game". Everyone except Junpei, Seven and Lotus has first-hand experience with the Nonary Game and even Seven and Lotus are closely related to it.
- At the very beginning of Tsukihime, the protagonist Shiki Tohno returns to the mansion where he grew up with his sister after being disinherited and living a normal life for eight years. The first night, he remarks that the house and sibling from eight years ago feel foreign, as if they belong to someone else. This is exactly the case, as it turns out Shiki was only adopted by the Tohno family after they murdered his family (it makes sense in context), and neither the house nor his "sister" are actually his at all. They do belong to someone else, Akiha's real blood brother: SHIKI.
- There are numerous subtle clues that single out Monika as the odd girl out in Doki Doki Literature Club!, such as her slightly different school uniform, the fact that "Monika" isn't an actual Japanese name, and the fact that she's the only girl who's portrait stands straight ahead and looks directly at the player.
- Yuri is the reigning champion of subtle foreshadowing in the game. Her entire spiel about psychological and surreal horror is practically a dead giveaway to the true nature of the VN to anyone paying close enough attention, she makes a passing remark about how "this club will be the death of me", and her comment about how "Stagnant air is often foreshadowing that something bad is going to happen" is used in both the first and second loops, right before a character dies.