To foreshadow conflict means to indicate or hint at the difficulties that will arise later in the story. Foreshadowing creates suspense and tension; the audience knows something’s going to happen – they just don’t know what or when. A story’s conflict is best foreshadowed in the first act. In the second and third acts, techniques for creating rising conflict are used to drive the story forward.
Here are four ways to foreshadow conflict in your script:
1. FORESHADOW CONFLICT BY CREATING DIFFICULT CIRCUMSTANCES
All scripts are driven by conflict. Setting up a story that is rife for discord and problems, with characters that must engage in struggles with one another or themselves in order to reach a final resolution, is the first step in foreshadowing conflict.
2. FORESHADOW CONFLICT BY SHOWING CHARACTERS’ REACTIONS
When characters react negatively to a situation – showing fear, stress, anxiety – it heightens the tension for the audience.
3. FORESHADOW CONFLICT BY REVEALING THE UPCOMING OBSTACLES
Show the audience the problems, difficulties and troubles that lie ahead for the characters – doing so causes the audience to worry about what will happen to them. This is an especially effective technique when the protagonist is unaware of the obstacles but the audience knows what’s coming up.
4. FORESHADOW CONFLICT WITH THE USE OF PROPS
When you show a dangerous item or an ominous situation – a gun, a knife, a walking trail alongside a steep cliff with no guard rail, a car that continually breaks down, a door that sticks shut – the reader will remember it and anticipate the conflict to come. At the same time, if you use this device you need to pay it off. Paraphrasing playwright Anton Chekov: If you show a gun in Act I, you need to fire it in Act II. Props need to be set up effectively – not just for foreshadowing purposes but also for clarity and flow. If a character suddenly draws a gun to shoot her philandering husband in Act III, and the reader never saw or heard about the weapon until page 110, the reader’s going to be distracted wondering, “Where did that come from?”