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Author: Lynley (page 1 of 58)

Types Of Literary Shadowing

These literary devices are all ways of displacing the idea of temporal linearity in fiction. In other words: Authors don’t always want readers to assume that in stories time moves forward in a straight/simplistic way, or that everything ties up nicely.



A literary device in which an author drops subtle hints about plot developments to come later in the story.

Compare with ‘telegraphing’, which is basically foreshadowing done in an overly heavy-handed way. In this case, the readers are able to predict what is about to happen, even though the author doesn’t want them to.

We find instances of foreshadowing in literature where we would not suspect it in real life, because nothing in a story lacks a purpose, or it wouldn’t be there. (See Chekov’s Gun.) Events in real life cannot be foreshadowed. This makes foreshadowing a specifically literary construction.

Foreshadowing is visible only to the reader, not the characters.

In picture books, foreshadowing can happen in the illustrations. For example, the drawing of the Wild Thing at the bottom of the stairs in Where The Wild Things Are. Upon second reading, the reader knows that Max has been creating these wild things in his imagination.

max dog


What is foreshadowing used for?

Foreshadowing gives the feeling that everything in a story is ‘tied-together’, and provides a sense of closure and satisfaction at the end of a story or scene. This technique helps avoid the feeling of deus ex machina, which is the feeling that something has suddenly swooped in to save the day (originally God, and in children’s literature, notoriously, an adult).

Foreshadowing provides the re-reader with extra insight.

Foreshadowing can add dramatic tension by building anticipation about future events. It can also help build a creepy/suspenseful atmosphere.

When added up, the details of foreshadowing can help the reader with verisimilitude, which is ironic, since foreshadowing doesn’t really happen in real life.



What is backshadowing?

Backshadowing is the technique of inserting commentary into the present narrative that refers to earlier narrative events. For example, a child living in present-day Germany discovers that she is a descendent of a war criminal. In order for such a story to make sense, the reader has to know something about Germany and the world wars.

Backshadowing is visible to readers as well as to characters — everyone knows what happened, and the story rests upon this shared schema.


What is backshadowing used for?

Many historians and writers of historical fiction employ backshadowing of real-world historical events because the reader already has a schema. For example, the holocaust might be used as a setting in a romance novel to allow the writer to spend time on the characters and plot.  This can be problematic.

In his book Foregone Conclusions: Against Apocalyptic History, author Michael Bernstein criticises authors who use their own and their audience’s knowledge of an apocalyptic event which occurs after the epoch about which they are writing to interpret the actions of their real or imaginary characters. Bernstein’s problem with backshadowing is that it encourages a reader to believe in determinism — that whatever happened in the past lead inevitably to the present we know.


Foregone Conclusions

The term backshadowing was coined by Bernstein

Another use of the term backshadowing: When describing the technique of starting a story with its ending, then shifting back to the beginning with the reader in full knowledge of the outcome but no idea how it all happened. This allows the writer to use a climactic event as a hook, drawing the reader in immediately with the promise that something big and interesting happens. It’s a subcategory of a flashback. In this case, the character is likely to interpret his/her own current (fictional) reality according to whatever happened in the past. In first person narratives where the character is the storyteller, the very act of storytelling becomes the main focus rather than the events themselves — the narrator’s main role is ‘artist’. (See The Role Of Storytellers in Fiction).

Related to ‘backshadowing’ is the bias ‘chronocentrism’, which is the natural human tendency to see one’s own time/era/generation as more special than others.



What is sideshadowing?

A character or narrator posits a series of possible events which never have any consequences in the story.

What is sideshadowing used for?

Sideshadowing draws attention to the possibility that other paths could have been taken. Sideshadowing suggests to a reader that one must grasp what else might have happened in order to fully understand an event. The technique suggests to readers that time is not a line but a shifting set of possibilities. Sideshadowing suggests that nothing can be wrapped up neatly, if at all.

In other words, sideshadowing is used to give a contrasting illumination to the ‘real’ event.

While foreshadowing makes the present and future seem inevitable, sideshadowing emphasises the contingency of the present.

Sideshadowing points outside the narrative, deliberately suggesting to the reader that more things might be going on than what’s expressed in the narrative.

See a longer definition at The Literary Lab.

In children’s literature, an example of sideshadowing can be found in Johnny, My Friend:

Let’s turn the clock back, Johnny! […] We’ll take the Alternative where […] you can have a home, Johnny, not just a bit of a smelly monster’s den, and a name, Johnny, you can have an English mum and a Swedish dad and a French sister, and me as a brother, and regular pocket money […]

This is a character visualising a series of alternative events that never happened in the story. (See Maria Nikolajeva’s From Mythic to Linear: Time in children’s literature.)

Lionel Shriver constructs an entire plot around sideshadowing in several of her novels.

Big Brother Shriver


Post Birthday World cover

Chekov was a fan of sideshadowing in his short stories.

In Russia, Dostoyevsky was no stranger to sideshadowing, either. Might be a Russian thing, because Tolstoy does it too.


Narrative and Freedom

Morson created the term sideshadowing.

Trends in Picturebooks

from Christine VanDeVelde for The Chicago Tribune

I’ve noticed from my feed — due to the publishing professionals I follow —  that editors are on the look out for ‘concept picture books’, and meta picture books are big right now — those such as Herve Tullet’s Press Here. I’ve been looking at those manuscript wish lists (#mswl) and wondering why certain critics are so skeptical of book apps while at the same time embracing the meta.  I don’t have a solid answer for that, but it’s great to see Betsy Bird acknowledging that (even if book apps can’t yet take off and fly), at least developers are having an impact on the wider landscape.

Where are all the female creation myths?

The masculine, heroic adventure story in the tradition of Odysseus has ‘only’ been dominant for the last 3000 years. Before then, myth was often about ‘origin’ — where did we come from? Who made us? Since women are the creators of life, it followed that the heroes of such myths were originally female. But where are all these original creation myths?

The female body follows the lunar cycle, which is closely associated with the idea of death and rebirth (waning and waxing moon). The cardinal function of the female body is reproduction. The female myths, describing female initiation, are aimed at repetition, rebirth, the eternal life cycle. Actually, very few genuine female myths exist in written–male, civilised, “symbolic” (Lacan)–form, due to many reasons. Connected with essential life mysteries such as menstruation and birth (both involving bloody), female myths are more secret and sacred than male myths. They have mostly existed in oral form, as esoteric rituals. In Western civilisation, they have been suppressed and muted by the dominant male culture. We can only discover traces and remnants of them, in the figures of the Progenitrix, the witch, the chthonic goddess.

— Maria Nikolajeva, From Mythic to Linear: Time in children’s literature

Picturebook Study: Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Where The Wild Things Are Book Cover

from Better Book Titles

from Better Book Titles

When I started reading books about picture books the first thing I noticed was how much the books of Maurice Sendak are referenced as primary sources, especially Where The Wild Things Are. Handy hint: If you’re thinking of reading academic literature in a bid to understand children’s books, have the Sendak oeuvre at your side. (Also Rosie’s Walk, the picturebooks of Anthony Browne and Chris van Allsburg.)



I find it ironic that the Book Depository description of Where The Wild Things Are includes the phrase: ‘Supports the Common Core State Standards’. Sendak famously did not write for children, saying, “I write stories, then someone else decides that they are for children.” I wonder what he would have to say about the heavily pedagogical motivations behind adults encouraging children to read his stories. Continue reading

Ebooks are now quite venerable in computing terms, but it is striking how small an impact they have had on narrative structure; for the most part, they are still just ordinary books in a cheap format. An analogy is the early days of cinema, when film-makers did little more than plonk cameras in front of a stage and film a play. It took some time before they realised that by exploiting the new possibilities the technology offered – cutting, editing, closeups, lighting and so on – they could create a new art form that did not replace theatre, but did things theatre could not.

Why You Need An App To Understand My Novel by Iain Pears

Types of Plots In Children’s Literature

John Truby’s expertise is in film, but I’m going to use his diagrams and principles to gain a better understanding of children’s stories instead. The following are screen caps from his excellent book The Anatomy of Story. Nodelman, Reimer and Nikolajeva are experts in children’s literature. I’m going to consider Nikolajeva’s book From Linear To Mythic: Time in children’s literature alongside The Pleasures of Children’s Literature by Nodelman and Reimer to come up with my own sort-of taxonomy of plot children’s stories.



Linear Story


As in film, the majority of children’s stories are basically linear. However, the plot doesn’t necessarily begin where the story begins. Home-away-home adventures stories are generally linear.

Dennis Butts, among others, has pointed out that in their use of formulaic elements and stereotyped characters, adventure stories owe a good deal to the structure of traditional folk- and fairy tales in which similar patterns tend to repeat themselves. Butts refers to the ideas of both Propp and Campbell as possible instruments to examine the structure of adventure stories, and to those of Bettelheim to show the appeal of these stories. He also discusses Treasure Island in terms of folktale.

— Maria Nikolajeva, From Mythic to Linear

  • Tom Sawyer (‘master text’ for adventure story as the Narnia Chronicles are for fantasy)
  • The Epic Of Gilgamesh (the oldest known adventure story — 3rd millennium BC)
  • The Odyssey (by Homer, about 3000 years old)
  • The legend of Saint George and the dragon
  • The Greek tale of Perseus
  • Robinson Crusoe
  • King Solomon’s Mines (1885)
  • Jack and the Beanstalk
  • Treasure Island
  • Kim, Rudyard Kipling (1901)
  • Peter Pan
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings
  • Doctor Who
  • Star Wars
  • James Bond
  • Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  • Starwars, 1977 (a parody of the hero adventure story)

Continue reading

Rodents in Children’s Literature

Mice are widely represented in folktales, both as protagonists and as helpers. Apparently, there is a subconscious identification on the part of children’s writers of a small and helpless child with one of the smallest animals, also know–maybe without reason–for its lack of courage. While rats are in many children’s stories presented as ruthless enemies, mice–in reality similarly harmful–are portrayed as harmless and sympathetic. The emblematic meaning of animals in art and literature deserves special attention there is an enormous diversity between cultures. However, in most ancient mythologies, mice are chthonic animals, worshipped as powerful and benevolent towards humans.

Maria Nikolajeva, From Mythic to Linear: Time in Children’s Literature


Continue reading

Mirrors and Reflections 03: Mirror Moments In Literature

Mirror Moment: a moment in midpoint scene of a novel or screenplay when the character is forced to look within and reflect on who he is and who he must become in order to achieve his goal. If he decides to continue on as he always has, he will surely fail (tragedy).

If the story is not a tragedy, the hero realizes he must either a) become stronger to overcome the odds or b) transform, shedding his biggest flaws and become more open-minded to new ideas and beliefs. One way or the other, he must better himself in some way to step onto the path which will lead to success.

– from Story Midpoint & Mirror Moment: Using Heroes’ Emotions To Transform Them 


When I think of a ‘mirror moment’ I think of a movie, in which a character looks into a mirror, or a reflection in a shop, or perhaps even a father looking at his son or a similar variation. Novels allow for much more interiority, and therefore a mirror moment doesn’t need an actual mirror. The reader can be told just what any character is thinking (depending on the POV choice).

In her book Second Sight, editor Cheryl Klein says this of mirror moments in children’s literature, and I’ve heard it said by a variety of lit experts:

We base our first impressions of people off what we see and what they say — so your descriptions of your character’s appearance can be important to establishing him in the reader’s mind. I say “can” because too much emphasis on appearance can cut both ways. There’s a terrible cliche in fiction where the main character will stop and look in a mirror and catalogue his or her features somewhere in the first chapter in order to establish the person visually in the reader’s mind. But that never really works for me — partly because it’s such a cliche that it annoys me and marks the writer as less interesting than s/he could be, and partly because that description defines the character in the reader’s mind as someone who likely looks different than the reader, which perhaps weakens the reader’s identification with the character. (None of Sarah Dessen’s book covers feature the faces of her protagonists, at her request, because she wants readers to be able to imagine themselves into the lives of her characters.)

On the other hand, there are are certain types of novels — fantasy especially — where you really want to have the characters described so the reader can visualize them, because the point of the book is that the reader falls into this world and experiences it fully. Or, if your novel is written in first person, we want to see what that main character sees when she looks at other people, which will help characterise those other people for us (and characterize your main character by showing us what she notices about others). So it depends on the point you’re going for whether you’ll want to spend time on appearances.


Sarah Dessen Book Covers


I have noticed that readers differ in the amount of description they want for a character. I remember once writing a short story then uploading it to my writing group for critique. In the short story I’d mentioned about halfway through that the main character had a beard. I’ll probably always be amused by one beta reader’s comment: “It’s a bit late to spring a beard on us.” (My emphasis.) Now I look at beards on men and think of how the beard might suddenly ‘spring upon’ me… which has pretty much ruined beards, if they hadn’t sort of ruined themselves… Anyhow, moral of that story is that some readers didn’t mind learning he had a beard whereas others had already constructed a strong visual in their mind and didn’t want it altered. So if you are going to describe a person, do it early. That said, I’ve read plenty of popular work in which description is drip fed to the reader.



There is a term used in reference to literacy: Concretization. It is thought that children are better at ‘concretizing’ than adult readers, who no longer require it in order to follow a story. So it’s possible (hypothetically) that children’s literature might provide more in the way of description than books for adults.



Fairytales are not necessarily ‘children’s literature’, at least not until the Grimm Brothers saw a lucrative hole in the kidlit market, but mirrors and reflections have a long tradition in fairytales around the world:

from The World Of Angela Carter: A critical investigation

from The World Of Angela Carter: A critical investigation


This is my copy, showing Jonah with that classic 90s bowl cut. I prefer the version with the old man.

This is my copy, showing Jonah with that classic 90s bowl cut. I prefer the version with the old man.

Lois Lowry The Giver Book Cover

In The Giver, by Lois Lowry, the absence of mirrors is significant to the story. In this book, individuality comes a far second to the welfare of the group, and this is symbolised by the absence of mirrors:

Mirrors were rare in the community; they weren’t forbidden, but there was no real need of them, and Jonas had simply never bothered to look at himself very often even when he found himself in a location where a mirror existed. Now, seeing the newchild and its expressions, he was reminded that the light eyes were not only a rarity but gave the one who had them a certain look — what was it? Depth, he decided; as if one were looking into the clear water of the river, down to the bottom, where things might lurk which hadn’t been discovered yet. He felt self-conscious, realizing that he, too, had that look.

Even in the absence of mirrors, Lowry  manages to create a ‘mirror moment’ by having the protagonist, Jonas, see himself in another person.

Another interesting thing about visual revelations in The Giver is that [SPOILER ALERT] we don’t know until partway through the book that Jonas’ world is devoid of colour. For readers who don’t like beards sprung upon them, I wonder if this works so well.



Paralepsis in Children’s Literature

Paralepsis*: (Faux) Omission.

Paralepsis refers to the rhetorical device of giving emphasis by professing to say little or nothing about a subject, as in not to mention their unpaid debts of several million, but saying it all the same.

  • I know who farted but I wouldn’t want to embarrass Charles.
  • In the name of anonymity, let’s just call him John. Which is pretty convenient, because his name is actually John.
  • I won’t mention the fact that [X]

As you have probably guessed, paralepsis is a favorite rhetorical device of assholes.

Donald Trump Bette Midler

Paralepsis in Picture Books

In picturebooks, though, a kind of paralepsis can happen when something mentioned in the text is left out of the picture, or vice versa. Negative space might be said to be the picturebook equivalent of paralipsis. For example, a page might be deliberately left blank because the character has disappeared for a time. An empty chair may draw attention to the fact that its usual occupant has died.

Empty Chair In The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers

Empty Chair In The Heart In The Bottle by Oliver Jeffers

Paralepsis In Time-shift Fantasy

The main feature of time fantasy is time distortion. Most often this is expressed narratively by primary time standing still (one kind of paralepsis).


  • The Story of the Amulet
  • The House of Arden
  • A Traveller in Time
  • The Green Knowe series
  • Tom’s Midnight Garden
  • Jessamy
  • Charlotte Sometimes
  • Playing Beatie Bow
  • The Root Cellar

Paralepsis As Secondary Narrative

Paralepsis can also occur in a secondary narrative in which time is independent of the primary story. This was an integral part of archaic thought — during rituals, time was thought to stand still.  And so it remains as part of human storytelling today. The archaic division between ‘sacred’ and ‘profane’ universes can be likened to the separate literary-fantasy universes of ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ worlds.

Time freezes (or seems to) for everyone and everything in the entire universe, except for the main cast of the story. The characters find themselves in an eerie, calm, silent world where the people and objects around them have become motionless statues. In some stories, this phenomenon happens by accident; in others, the heroes can stop time by using magic, a super power or Applied Phlebotinum.

Time Stands Still at TV Tropes




E Nesbit Trilogy

The concept was introduced to children’s literature by Edith Nesbit in her time-travel novels.

Where The Wild Things Are

There’s paralepsis in Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, when Max travels ‘through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year’. This kind of anachrony is common in picturebooks which describe an imaginary journey. For example, all the happenings of Narnia can’t possibly fit into the time the children would’ve spent at the country house.


The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

The Narnia Chronicles are an excellent example of paralepsis. While the Pevensie children are in Narnia, time in the real world stands still. This is convenient as a plot device too, because it means adults don’t wonder where they are, and interrupt their adventures to come looking for them.

If [Lucy] had got into another world, I should not at all be surprised that the other world had a separate time of its own; so that however long you stayed there it would never take up any of our time.

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe



The real, primary time is linear, and the story is firmly fixed at a specific chronological moment: “during the war”. In The Magician’s Nephew, which is the flashback of the suite, primary time is switched back, but is still quite definable: “when your grandfather was a child…Mr. Sherlock Holmes was still living in Baker Street and the Bastables were looking for treasure in the Lewisham Road”. Entering Narnia, the children leave the linear time behind and enter not only another world, but the mythical, cyclical time. In this time, death is reversible: Aslan is killed and resurrected, and he can also bring the enchanted stone figures to life again. One of the evil schemes of the White Witch is to stop the flow of time altogether, imposing the eternal winter (=period of nonbeing, death) in Narnia, Aslan’s death and resurrection–a performance of the ritual of the returning god, with its pagan rather than Christian meaning–restores the cyclical time. Spring comes, as it always has come after winter, as it always will come. The idyllic setting is recovered, Narnia is brought back into its prelapsarian state, as created by Aslan at the dawn of time (described in The Magician’s Nephew).

From Mythic to Linear: Time in children’s literature by Maria Nikolajeva


Momo by Michael Ende

The final showdown between the titular heroine of Michael Ende‘s Momo and the Men in Grey happens after the local God stops time in the whole world, leaving only Momo (because she is carrying a certain MacGuffin), the Men in Grey, and a magical turtle (who is a fully-functional MacGuffin of her own right) able to move.

— TV Tropes


Molly Moon

In Molly Moon Stops The World, Molly is able to stop time thanks to a Call Back from the first book.

Molly Moon Stops The World

Artemis Fowl

The fairies in Artemis Fowl can stop time within an area by surrounding it with a pentagram (and warlocks, originally, though they developed Magitek generators since there is a limit to how long a warlock can hold up his arms). They often use this in combination with a bio-bomb to contain its effect. Escape from a time-stop is possible, but the method is unusual: the time-stop preserves all beings in the state they were in when time stopped – people who are awake stay awake, while people who are asleep go on with the normal flow of the world. When an awake person uses something like sleeping pills to artificially change their state, the stop shunts them into normal time, making them disappear from inside the stop.

— TV Tropes

Artemis Fowl Covers


*Paralepsis is also spelt paralipsis.


I don’t usually revisit early drafts of things that are well and truly finished, but I happened upon my very first scribblings about Hilda Bewildered. I use a Scrivener file for an ‘ideas binder’. I’d completely forgotten that I initially imagined this as a Christmas story.

Scrivener Screenshot of Hilda Bewildered

Scrivener Screenshot of Hilda Bewildered

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