A novel’s opening scene is the most important chapter in the book because it functions on so many levels. The first line must hook the reader. The main character needs to be introduced. The inciting incident must be set up, and it’s essential the story-worthy problem entices the reader to turn the page. There is one more element. The beginning must also connect to the events that occur at the end, making the story come full circle. T.S. Elliot said, “In my beginning is my end.” A good example to study is Stephanie Kuehn’s novel Complicit. She plants three seeds in the opening that foreshadows the end of the book. She does this in such a subtle way that the reader at first doesn’t even notice them, until she mirrors them again at the end. Then the reader has an “aha” moment, and the beginning and the end come full circle.
Kuehn’s opening begins with an excellent hook. “My phone is ringing. It’s 3.29. In the morning.” This first line catches the reader’s interest and sparks curiosity because a phone call at that time is typically perceived as bad news. Then Kuehn follows this with a symbolic act that is reversed at the end of the story. The early morning call comes through Jamie’s (protagonist) cell phone. “The phone line remains open…but I don’t move. Instead I close my eyes…” Kuehn uses this as a symbolic act and reverses the action to make it profound.
In the last chapter of Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn, Jamie opens his eyes and “emerges from the cool depths of the most serene mountain lake.” Reading the story we learn that Jamie is in a physiological state of denial. The closed eyes signify the darkness he lives in; he chooses to remain unconscious to the reality of his situation and the destruction he causes in his life. At the end of the book, Kuehn opens his eyes to symbolize how he emerges from his darkness. He becomes conscious on some level of the horrendous crimes he has committed.
Kuehn also uses music as a device of foreshadowing. In the opening, the early morning call activates a tune on Jamie’s cell phone, a Monk song called Evidence, “…sort of sad, sort of mournful.” Using this melancholy song, the author is able to create empathy for the protagonist, the young brother of a deranged, delinquent girl who has just been released from prison. Then, in the last chapter, Kuehn s introduces a different Monk song, “Misterioso.” She also uses a subtle change in how Jamie relates to the music. In the beginning Jamie listens to the music, a passive act. At the end, Jamie is in control of the music, a dissonant, off beat melody and rhythm that reflects his off-kilter emotions and unstable mind. The author manipulates the element of music through the literary device of foreshadowing. She chooses Monk ‘s music in both the beginning and at the end, but because she makes Jamie engage with the music in two different ways, she is able to show the reader that Jamie has moved from a passive victim to an active antagonist. He comes full circle, as does the story.
In addition, Kuehn uses Jamie’s hands and fingers throughout the book, foreshadowing the changes to his psyche to come. In the opening, when Jamie learns his sister is out of prison, his hands go “ice-cold.” The fingers become “numb, useless.” This phenomenon and its repetition create curiosity. Foreshadowing, when used skillfully, will create suspense, and Stehanie Kuehn is successful in employing this detail.
In the end, Kuehn contrasts the numb hands with the image of Jamie playing the piano. He stretches his fingers, pounding out the melody, the chords. His hands feel strong. By foreshadowing Jamie’s numb hands in the beginning, Kuehn is able to highlight the strength in his hands at the end, when the reader knows those hands committed crimes and heinous acts. Her use of foreshadowing Jamie’s hands has a powerful effect on the story and the reader’s understanding of the character’s psyche.
Stephanie Kuehn has written a great thriller with the skillful use of foreshadowing in three way. The first, mirroring the beginning in the end. Second she repeats elements such as the music, the symbolism of his hands, and actions like the opening and closing of Jamie’s eyes. By doing this, she completes the circle of the story about a boy who moves from numbness and denial to a state of madness so great he is able to deceive everyone, even himself.
Foreshadowing when used overtly can fall flat. The readers can readily identify the element and its purpose. But when foreshadowing is executed in subtle and nuanced ways, the writer can lead the reader to wondrous “aha” moments, making them want to reread the book simply to review all the seeds that they missed, which the author skillfully planted through foreshadowing.
What are a few of your favourite books that used foreshadowing to create the “aha” moment?