1. MustWrite
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    MustWrite Member

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    Fantasy Pitfalls of using prophecy as a plot device?

    Discussion in 'By the Genre' started by MustWrite, Mar 31, 2015.

    I am planning to use prophecy as a plot element in my fantasy novel and I want to make it work. What should I avoid, are there any clearly bad ways I can write this prophecy into my novel?

    I am at the stage where i am figuring out how to incorporate the ideas I'm keen on, how they can work in with the developement of my characters. What's important and what I should throw out. The phrophecy is something that will affect my protagonist deeply, whether I decide they try to rebel against this 'force' of the prophecy which is trying to screw up the life they had planned, or whether they try to fulfill the prophecy.

    The story starts with a child- the protag- being taken to a hidden school where she is raised and trained without knowing her parents or where she came from, because she is being hunted by those who will stop at nothing to prevent the prophecy from happening. She finishes her training and learns of her 'fate' then decides whether to accept it or rebel against it, [and end up fulfilling it anyway].

    I suppose I am writing an 'epic' fantasy because it's a big scale world-changing thing, but really it's about the people, the intimate and dynamic stuff of their lives as the world goes upside down.
    Also, is it a bad bad idea to to have the prophesy actually writen at the beginning of the book, as many seem to do, or shall I stick with my plan of hiding it from the protag as well as the reader precisely what the prophecy says untill near the end of the book? [The prophecy was destroyed and any mention of it punished severely as a way to prevent it from being fulfilled, so she is in danger from, and being affected by a prophecy she only partially knows].

    Thanks in advance for feedback :)
     
  2. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    My thoughts:-

    First of all prophecy is quite the cliché, particularly in fantasy. There are generally two responses from the prophesized one, which you mentioned.

    They either whine and stamp their feet like an angst-ridden teenager and irritate the hell out of everyone (think what a dick Luke Skywalker is in the first movie, or Harry Potter when he has a "why me, why me?!" moment).

    Or they happily take up their prophesized role and most of the conflict and character arc is removed.

    The third way, which you also mentioned, is my preference; that they are unaware of the prophecy and played like a puppet on a string by those "in the know".
     
  3. Ivana
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    Ivana Contributing Member

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    Which is pretty much what Harry Potter was until the book 5 (and, partly, 7) :p
     
  4. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    No he wasn't, or if that was the intention the writing failed. The scar on the forehead and Gandalf Kenobi's rather odd and unsubtle behaviour would be somewhat of a giveaway. Then again the plotting of those books is so random and inconsistent I don't think even Rowling had a clue what was going on.
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2015
  5. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think the challenge of prophecy books is making the prophecy vague enough that the MC still has some agency and the reader still has some sense that what the characters do matters, while making the prophecy specific enough to be meaningful. I don't want to read a book where the characters are just caught up in a stream of events and nothing they can do will change the outcome.... actually, I take that back, I totally want to read that book, but as a sort of character study, looking at how people behave when they know nothing matters. Which I suspect isn't the book you're trying to write?
     
  6. Ivana
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    Ivana Contributing Member

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    That sounds like something I wrote. Characters caught up in a series of dreadful events, forced to action, without believing in the prophecy that caused all that until the very end. :whistle:
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2015
  7. archerfenris
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    archerfenris Active Member

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    You have to be careful. Prophecy is a common trope of fantasy and can be outright cliché when done improperly (which us new writers, whatever we do, are always in danger of doing it improperly). I'm not going to tell you never to use prophecy because I'm a believer that fantasy tropes are fantasy tropes for a reason...your readers pick up your book expecting sword fights, magic wielding villains, dragons, and prophecy. As stated a thousand times before on this site, it all matters how you do it. Turn it into your own idea. Make it unique.
     
  8. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Why not a bit of everything? If there was a prophecy that foretold that I would defeat the bad guy, I'd have my moments where I'm either, 'Hell yeah, let's go ice that fishbbrain!' or I'm thinking, 'Cripes, they could've at least asked me for permission before placing the fate of the entire world on my shoulders. Why couldn't they do this themselves?' But mostly it'd be 'Well someone has to do it, but don't think I'm doing this alone. My friends and I will handle this.'

    I think so long as your character isn't acting like a whiny baby 100% of the time, or some noble knight 'I have no questions regarding this fate imposed upon me!' 100% of the time, then you should be fine.

    The other pitfall is that when there's a prophecy, the character that's foretold to save the world now has this nigh-impenetrable plot armor. The readers won't worry about this character because, hey, the thing's got to be fulfilled, right? Make it vague, incomplete. Make it so that the character still has a very real chance of failing to do what the fates foretold he/she would do. Take Avatar: The Last Airbender, for instance. Aang, as the Avatar, was to stop the Fire Nation, but he could still very easily die in the attempt. To add the cherry at the top, if he were killed while in the Avatar State (the god-mode, as it were) then the entire Avatar line would be destroyed. No more Avatar and Ozai could skip, waltz and strut his way to victory unopposed. Hell, even if he were killed when not in the Avatar State, the Fire Nation would still have won because what could a newborn Water Tribe Avatar-to-be do against them?

    Bottom line:

    - Your Chosen One is still a character. Treat the prophecy as just one more thing in your character's 'well-developed' pot.

    - Make the prophecy vague enough so the reader won't automatically stop caring about your Chosen One.

    - Make it possible for your Chosen One to actually fail. He/she could still die, he/she could even join the villains as Anakin Skywalker did in Revenge of the Sith.
     
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2015
    Lemex likes this.

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