Monday, February 23, 2009


This weekend Jerry and I watched The Apartment. The last time I saw the movie, I was thirteen years old. Although I remember enjoying the chemistry between Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, the only detail I recalled was Lemmon used a tennis racquet to strain spaghetti.

Billy Wilder's romantic comedy proves movies can teach all writers a thing or two. Good writing is good writing. Aside from sharp dialogue and dead-on timing, Wilder uses foreshadowing to provide satisfying moments later.

One example is when Lemmon's character tells MacLaine's about the time he tried to shoot himself over a lost love. He tells her how he purchased the gun, where he drove to do the act, and how after he changed his mind, the gun went off and shot him in the leg. He says, "I got over the girl in three weeks, but it took a year for my leg to heal."

That's that, right? Nope. Many scenes later, he is packing his apartment and we see him put a gun in a box with other items. There doesn't seem to be any emotion attached to that gun, just a matter of clearing away. But we're reminded of his suicide attempt.

Still, we don't think much of it, until MacLaine is heading to his apartment and hears a loud bang. She is panicked, thinking the worst. I didn't think it was a suicide attempt, but I did think he might have accidentally shot himself or the couch or something. I won't give away the ending, because my point has already been made. Billy Wilder gave us a nice payoff because of his use of foreshadowing.

When I'm writing my first draft, plot points pop up that would seem added on if I left them that way. But I rewrite, dedicating some drafts with just those plot points in mind. I look for opportunities to slip in a detail beforehand that will help the reader later when the important moment happens. The payoff is bigger and hopefully the reader isn't scratching their head saying, "What?"

As writers we juggle a lot of balls in the air to make our stories satisfying. Foreshadowing is one those elements that can help accomplish that goal. We can certainly learn this from other novelists, but it doesn't hurt to examine other storytellers' use of this technique. At the very least, we get popcorn.


  1. This is so funny. We rented that movie just a week ago on Valentines Day. The moment with the gun is definitely the most shocking/memorable.

  2. Kathy,
    Went out and bought The Apartment today. It really is a great little movie. I can't believe I'd never seen it. I loved it! And now that I am working on my first novel I am taking all of your information to heart. Thank you.

  3. Shannon, what can I say? Sometimes its scary how much we think alike. But thank goodness you have a dose of your dad in you, too.

    Hope, I'm so excited that you are writing a novel. I can't wait to read it.

    And I'm glad you liked The Apartment. Another great Shirley McLaine and Jack Lemmon movie is Irma la Duce.

    Happy writing!


  4. wow great post, i completely aggree. I recently watched the apartment and was surprised at how clever the humor was! my fave movie of his is still some like it hot though:)

  5. Amy,

    Jack Lemmon was one of the good ones. I love all his films and it's so fun to see Shirley MacLaine as a younger woman in such a vulnerable role.