Use foreshadowing like John Steinbeck to deepen your writing
I like to think that excellent literature has an after effect. The meaning sinks in and the story resonates even after you finish reading it.
One of the ways to create this effect in your writing is by foreshadowing — through the use of hints — the theme of the story or action that will occur later.
I experienced this “after effect” after reading “Of Mice and Men” a novel by John Steinbeck about two migrant workers — George and his developmentally disabled friend Lennie. The two friends, who dream of owning their own farm someday, take jobs at a ranch where a tragic accident destroys their hopes.
Early in the story, another worker named Candy is pressured to end the life of his sick, old dog. Another character, Carlson convinces Candy to let Carlson put the dog down.
Carlson demonstrates how he would do it:
“The way I’d shoot him, he wouldn’t feel nothing. I’d put the gun right there.” He pointed with his toe. “Right back of the head. He wouldn’t even quiver.”
Later Candy tells George:
“I ought to of shot that dog myself, George. I shouldn’t ought to of let no stranger shoot my dog.”
At the end of the book, Lennie gets in trouble and is being pursued by men from the ranch. It’s clear Lennie is going to die and his friend George puts himself in a position to end Lennie’s life.
“And George raised the gun and steadied it, and he brought the muzzle of it close to the back of Lennie’s head. The hand shook violently, but his face set and his hand steadied. He pulled the trigger. The crash of the shot rolled up the hills and rolled down again. Lennie jarred, and then settled slowly forward to the sand, and he lay without quivering.”
This scene echoes Candy’s earlier statement and foreshadows Lennie’s death at the hand of his friend.
Steinbeck used foreshadowing in other ways in “Of Mice and Men.” But this scene stayed with me long after I closed the last page of the book.