Firefly Friday – Keeping Foreshadowing in the Shadows, guest post by Jim Ross

Today we have a guest blogger for Firefly Friday, where we examine a writing tip using the TV Show Firefly to help illustrate. This is my first guest blogger, so am excited! He’s a regular commenter on the Firefly Friday posts and graciously agreed to write a post for me. Thank you Jim Ross!

Jim Ross is a prolific reader who recently decided it was about time he tried his hand at writing. On his blog ( he is slowly working through the world-building for his first novel. He lives in Cambridge, UK and is a big fan of sci fi/fantasy, martial arts and cheesy films – the cringeworthier, the better. He enjoys kayaking, nature programmes, and is currently being distracted by Mass Effect. Again.

You’ve all seen it before. The hero appears to be disarmed but then pulls out a gun from the ankle holster that hasn’t been mentioned until now. The villain grabs the heroine in an attempt to use her as a human shield, only for her to throw him to the floor and put him in a complex arm-lock, despite having shown no previous knowledge of martial arts. Events like this will shake a reader’s immersion in the story, and it’s so easy to avoid. Perhaps earlier on the heroine mentioned that her father was in the military and wanted his girls to be able to take care of themselves? Even James Bond gets a quick run-through of what curiously specific gadgets he has available before they invariably come in useful later in the film. Openly setting things up in advance runs the risk of revealing the plot too early though. Foreshadowing works best when you hide it.

While it has an underlying plot, Firefly’s mainly a show of stand-alone episodes. Consequently, most of the foreshadowing of events happens in the same programme. River muttering “Two by two, hands of blue” in The Train Job sounds like crazy Riverspeak, and only takes on its full significance when we see the two sinister, blue-gloved agents searching for her at the end of the episode. In Shindig, Kaylee admiring the dress in the shop window looks like a bit of world-building and character-building for her and Zoe until she gets to wear the dress to the ball and when, in Safe, Captain Reynolds jokes to Simon “Don’t worry, we won’t leave you behind”, it feels like just the sort of thing he’d normally say – and then events force him to do just that.

Disguising the foreshadowing stops you from giving away the rest of the show.

Unusually though, Firefly also hides some foreshadowing that crosses the episode boundary.  For example, when the port compression coil fails in Out of Gas, on first watching I thought it came from out of the blue.  Certainly they hadn’t mentioned it recently.  When I rewatched the series though, it’s there right in the pilot.  When they land on Persephone, Kaylee asks for a new one, saying “if the compression coil busts, we’re drifting.”  In the next episode, The Train Job, we see her makeshift repair: “Were there monkeys? Some terrifying space monkeys that maybe got loose?” “…someone won’t replace the crappy compression coil!” It gets put away and enough episodes go by for the viewer to forget, and then… BANG!  They’re drifting, just as Kaylee said they would be all that time ago.

Then you have Shepherd Book.  In the first episode he disarms and knocks out a Fed in seconds, yet this clear indication of his fighting ability isn’t mentioned again until War Stories, where he displays impressive knee-capping skills with a rifle. Perhaps he has a reputation in some circles for being skilful – in Objects in Space, Jubal Early makes sure to drop him with the first strike before remarking “That ain’t a Shepherd.” All the other crew Early intimidates or beats up quite easily.  Perhaps he knew that Book would be a more formidable opponent? And just why did Book’s ident card get him preferential treatment on the Alliance cruiser in Safe?

We don’t get answers in the series, but perhaps that’s part of the reason Firefly became such a cult success. There are so many unanswered questions that make you want to know more, and the hidden hints to the future prompt you to speculate about how things might turn out. Why not try hiding your foreshadowing behind world-building or character development and seeing what a difference it makes? A bit of leftover mystery might even sell the sequel for you…

Have you noticed any other foreshadowing in Firefly done well?

7 Replies to “Firefly Friday – Keeping Foreshadowing in the Shadows, guest post by Jim Ross”

  1. I’ve been recently rewatching Firefly on Science channel and just the other day was discussion the port compression coil foreshadowing with my wife.

    Ah, glorious foreshadowing.

  2. Just seen a new one: In Objects in Space, they nicely hide a remark about what would happen if Simon was the one who got shot inside a discussion about why River shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near weapons. One guess as to who Jubal Early shoots later in the episode…

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