When I was finalizing the third draft of Spheria, I engaged three fantastic beta readers who gave me invaluable feedback on what worked and what didn’t. I changed a good deal in the book based on their feedback and recommend this step as a best practice for all writers. For detailed information, please see my Novel Creation Process.
It seems I had a little problem with Diet Coke. Let me elaborate.
I am a huge Diet Coke fan. I consume way more of this substance than is realistically healthy. I have attempted to wean myself off it many times, but the process is futile. Now I accept it as my vice and compared to other possibilities it’s not so bad. I may not be alone. I worked at a company where we stocked free beverages and Diet Coke was the most popular drink by a wide margin.
When I wrote my first draft, I made the assumption that since I love Diet Coke, everyone does. So in about five scenes, with five different characters, they were drinking a Diet Coke. One, in particular, chugged and savored it after a flight (this scene was eventually deleted.)
One of my beta readers, Therese, after completing a read through, made the statement, “I was expecting Diet Coke to have some involvement in the climax since it was mentioned so many times.” I guess what I created here was False Foreshadowing.
Isn’t this just a red herring? I think it's not and for a subtle reason. A red herring is defined as “something, especially a clue, that is intended to be misleading or distracting from the real issue.” The key word in the definition is “intended.” In my Diet Coke example, I did not put that foreshadowing in there intentionally, but it would have left the reader feeling gypped, as it did Therese. It was not misleading; it was just irrelevant.
Fun Fact: the term Red Herring originates with hunting dogs. The salting process that turns a herring red creates such a pungent fish that they were used to throw hunting dogs off a trail.
I googled this term and found only a couple mentions in a different context: to describe foreshadowing that ends up being the opposite of what the reader expected. I think that’s more in line with a red herring, actually. Or if I had to make a term for it, I would call it “Deceptive Foreshadowing.”
So here is my definition of False Foreshadowing:
I think this is analogous to another more common writing mistake: word repetition. It is never good to use the same word over and over in a short span of space. Never do this. It is never fun for your readers.
Once this was pointed out to me, it was simple to fix. I left two scenes in with Diet Coke, changed another to Dr. Pepper, change the fourth to Iced Tea, and removed the fifth altogether.
So there you go – avoid False Foreshadowing!