How many of you have been to Disneyland? Disney World? Well, if you haven't, don't worry, this is just an example. For those of you who have, you'll probably know that both parks have this sneaky way of hiding little Mickey Mouse head silhouettes all around the place, some being more obvious than others. These, as you may know, are called Hidden Mickeys, a fun kind of scavenger hunt people can play when roaming the parks. There are even Hidden Mickeys in some of the movies!
Anyway, my point is that we, as writers, can use this same kind of method in our writing. Some people call it the art of foreshadowing, or hinting, or even "cool insight". I like to call it the Hidden Mickey Method.
Tip #1: Master the Hiding
Now, I realize this may seem obvious, but trust me, this is always good to remember. Hiding things is an art, especially in writing. We can't give too much away, but we can't make it impossible. The whole point of foreshadowing is to make it surprising when the actual event occurs, yet obvious when looking back at the foreshadow. Think of it this way: Bob is reading your book, he comes across a special little piece you've carefully constructed to hint what's coming up. The suspicion comes to play, the anxiety takes hold. Later, when Bob finally comes to the actual event that had been foreshadowed before, you want Bob to be shocked. You want him to think "Man, didn't see that one coming". But then, when Bob decides to look through the book again, he comes across that little piece of foreshadowing again. This time, you definitely want him to look at that piece and think "What?!?!?! It was here the whole time!" This is the reaction that means you've mastered the art of hiding. If you get that, you have every right to pat yourself on the back.
Tip #2: Suspicion is Good
No question, suspicion is very good. But, like with anything, one must be cautious. When placing Hidden Mickeys, you need to be careful which ones you want people to ignore for the time being and which you want to be reveled over. Suspicion is good, it keeps people interested, but don't give anything away. Sometimes, less is more. But don't dispatch so easily hints that could give things away! People don't typically analyze whilst reading for the first time, but they do analyze after. Let things be confusing without the end. Let things only make sense when the time comes to reveal them. Give readers reasons to suspect something's amiss, but not enough to tell them what exactly that is. Also, sometimes you can give readers little insights to make them proud of themselves. Maybe you allow them to find a Hidden Mickey before you reveal what it means. That's fine! But give them something to be shocked about later. Readers are fun to mess with.
Tip #3: Buried Treasures
Another aspect I've found interesting (and humorous) about Disney is their way of putting in little hints or hidden characters, such as Mrs. Pots in "Tarzan" and Scar in "Hercules". Those are always fun to find. J. K. Rowling does a similar trick in her Harry Potter series, in which she places certain hints inside the story through the meanings behind certain words, names, spells, even characters' lines. See where I'm getting at? What I find fun as a writer is putting in different treasures in my stories, like naming a knight's steed after my grandparents' horse. These little Mickeys are unnecessary to the story as a whole, but are loads of fun to put in or discover, especially when constructing a fairytale rewrite. One reason I believe the Harry Potter franchise is so big is because J. K. Rowling was the master of putting in tons of these little treasures in her books. Now, sometimes these treasures go unnoticed by readers, which is why you could later say the meaning behind them more bluntly (not in the book, but in a blog post or interview or something). I can't wait to reveal some of my buried treasures.
Tip #4: Spoilers
Yep. Spoilers. People underestimate the value of spoilers. They stink really bad if you've never read the book or seen the movie that is being spoiled. I don't like spoilers, to say the least. However, that is essentially what foreshadowing is. Spoilers. Or, baby spoilers. It's like giving the reader a taste of what's coming, a mere glimpse of the upcoming future. Spoilers are good in moderation. Give the readers a bite so sweet they're craving for more. But don't give them all of it! Save the spoilers, horde the spoilers, act like the spoilers are gold and you the dragon. But let the little burglars have a small coin every once in a while, just to keep them coming. Don't give them the whole treasure until the end. But until the then, feel free torch the little hobbits if ever they try to steal more than you wish.
Tip #5: Element of Surprise
I touched on this subject a bit, but this one is worth repeating. As fun as it is to give hints and place Hidden Mickeys all around the story as if you were the Easter Bunny, you must always always always always keep the element of surprise. Embed this in your mind:
Surprise. Your. Readers.
Keep them on their toes. In fact, keep yourself on your toes. What's the point of all of this if there's no surprise in the end? Yes, there may be suspicions. Yes, there may be those who can read between the lines like a hound dog. Yes, there may be some aspects that are a given. But do not, absolutely do NOT give up the end or the journey altogether! Hidden Mickeys are fun, but not if they will completely spoil everything with absolute and utter obviousness. Value surprise above the Hidden Mickeys, but don't value it so much that there isn't even a hint of a whispered riddle.
Well, that's all for now! I hope this helps with understanding the art of foreshadowing.
What's your method to foreshadowing? Any other Disney nerds or Harry Potter fans out there? Suggestions for future writing tips? If you have any questions about the Hidden Mickey Method, feel free to comment below and I'll answer as soon as I can.
Thanks for reading!
Emory R. Frie
"Stories help us remember what we never want to forget" - Neverland (The Realms Series, Book Two)
Emory R. Frie is the award-winning author of debut novel, Heart of a Lion, and the Realms Series. Emory is attending Berry College to further pursue her writing craft. Raised in Oregon, she now lives in Georgia with her family and rambunctious Scottie pup.