Seeding in Storytelling

The concept of “seeding” is fairly universal in narratives. Seeding is when an author inserts clear hints of something that will be coming. I’m not sure if this exact term is used outside of video games, but the relationship to foreshadowing is clear.

In the game Arknights, for example, five portraits were given for upcoming characters; some of whom weren’t released for months, even a full year after the reveal. In narratives, obviously, seeding isn’t done through announcement. Instead, it’s essentially like foreshadowing. As far as I can tell, the main difference is that seeding is often far in advance, and much more obvious.

Arknights Reveal

It’s similar to the idea that many narratives and even speeches use, where they bring up a topic or start a storyline at the beginning of, say, a talk, and then return to it at the end to give the audience a feeling of closure.

In Crichton’s novel State of Fear, the seeded information is the purchase of thousands of feet of ethernet cable, a type of wire used to transmit internet connection. But this particular type of microfilament ethernet wire was actually designed for guiding rockets.

And then, for a few hundred pages, it’s never mentioned again, until we start to hear about the antagonists and their “500 rockets,” and we the reader go, “Aha! I know about that!” The result is quite satisfying, but it’s not over yet. The rockets are small and not particularly destructive, and so as of the midway point, we still don’t know what they’re for. You’ll have to read the book for yourself, I’ll save you the spoiler.

But this is a terrific example of seeding as obvious and in-your-face, as opposed to the often more subtle foreshadowing. And it was cleverly done too, in a way that would be memorable—which is important for such a long book.  I’ll set the scene. We see a post man who encounters the person who is picking up the cable. They speak about what the cable could possibly be for, and find it that it’s actually rocket wire. The man is confused about this, but shrugs and does his job. He gets the cable from the post man and then helps a woman, the person picking it up in her truck, carry it onboard. Then, after the post man leaves, this woman with the truck hits the guy in the neck and he feels a sharp prick. The woman drives away, and the man heads back down the street. He feels a little odd. Then were returned to the postman’s perspective. He notices is the man who just in his office outside across the street, stumbling. There’s something wrong with him.  And then, to the postman’s horror, he watches the man fall forward off the curb and get hit by a bus.  It’s a tragically memorable scene.

And then later when we hear about 500 rockets again and then see satellite images of networked webs of wires, we the reader are suddenly re-engaged and deeply curious.  Perhaps even hearing about it you’re engauged. Regardless that is the power of seeding, which seems to me to be a very specific form of foreshadowing. An overt but obfuscated “planting” of an event or character that “grows” both in the background of the narrative and also the back of the readers mind. Then, much later, the enormous tree is revealed, spiking up into the sky…and we still don’t know what sort of “fruits” it might end up bearing for the plot.

If you’re a writer, try seeding out for yourself. And if you’re a reader (which must writers are as well), try to recall examples from stories that used this technique. That’s all for now, I hope you enjoyed.

Daniel Triumph.

2 responses to “Seeding in Storytelling”

  1. Great topic! I myself seed backwards, as in I write a bare bones plot during the first draft, then retrospectively seed whatever I need into the earlier chapters, which is naturally devoid of any hints whatsoever. Putting Chekhov’s gun over the bare mantelpiece, so to speak. Thanks for this post!

    • Sometimes while writing the first draft, I seed things that I later change my mind on and have to then edit out after haha. Everyone has their own process. Thanks for reading, it’s much appreciated!

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