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Posted on July 7, 2013

Monsters University got me to thinking about story seeding. Seeding is when story settings and props are introduced in the story so they can be used later. Now I know that sounds a lot like foreshadowing, but I see a difference.

Foreshadowing is where the author hints at future plot developments. With foreshadowing, the author wants you to pick up on these details. With seeding, having the reader be aware is not so much the point. In fact, I would offer that seeding is a more complex beast to pull off because doing it right means the reader doesn't notice the seeding until later when the story circles back to it. With foreshadowing, you know a little of what's coming.

(spoiler alert some elements of Monsters University are about to be discussed)

Monsters University does this well with two props: the scare doors and the scare level control.

I spotted the door seeding, so it became foreshadowing for me. The scare control seeding slipped by me. Nicely done, Pixar plot monkeys!

This got me to thinking of how I steer the plots of my stories and my effort to sprinkle foreshadowing and seeding throughout my work. When these techniques are done well, it's a rewarding fit. I am in the midst of writing Graham 3 and busy layering in the seeding and foreshadowing. The degree with which I emphasize the prop or setting detail will determine if I am successfully seeding or foreshadowing.

With the joint novel I did with Keith Robinson, Fractured, there was seeding happening everywhere. Interestingly enough, I planted seeds in my story that I didn't know would grow into anything. When Keith got ahold of my character's world, he coaxed out those elements and added wonderful nuance and payoff to the story. The reverse happened as well. When I put my character in Keith's world of Apparati, I honed in on plot points he also seeded. It was such a wonderful experience where each of us learned so much more about how we structure our stories. I am happy to say that my book from this point on will have a higher level of storytelling finesse because of our collaboration.

Now, Mr. Robinson, since I planted the seed of sprinkling elements into a story to be used later, what do you say to writing a post talking about your own experiences with seeding and foreshadowing?

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on SUNDAY, JULY 7, 2013...
This is a great idea for a post! And I like the distinction you made between seeding and foreshadowing. It makes sense.

I think FRACTURED has so much seeding because we consciously knew while writing that this book should stand alone as a single novel even though we're likely to write a second part. We don't know how well it will do; if it tanks, I doubt we'll bother with Book 2, so we can't have Book 1 with lots of loose ends and promises we never fulfill... but if it does well, we want to make sure the scene is set for the sequel. So that means sprinkling Book 1 with larger-picture details that we don't need to explore yet but won't seem "made-up-as-we-along" in Book 2.

I love seeding my ISLAND OF FOG novels. And sometimes I'll seed in reverse, which is where I'll re-read an earlier book in the series, spot a seemingly minor detail that I'd forgotten about, and develop that into a major plot device. Then the reader thinks, "Man, how on earth does this author think so far ahead? He's writing about something in Book 7 that he briefly introduced in Book 1. Amazing!"

I often wonder just much deliberate seeding went on with TV's Lost show. Six seasons later they were still going back to things they'd brought up in the first few episodes. Did the writers plan that far ahead, or did they re-watch old episodes scouring for stuff they could reverse-seed and exploit in the later episodes?

So yes, seeding is a very interesting subject. I'll think on this with a view to doing my own post in the future...

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