How do you write a Prophecy?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Misusscarlet, Sep 10, 2011.

  1. Misusscarlet

    Misusscarlet Master

    My story has a prophecy. Well my other stories will also have prophecies. Exactly what is the best way to write or form one? Tons of good selling books have prophecies. Harry Potter, Cirque de Freak, Gregor the Overlander, Warriors, Septimus Heap, etc. (I read a lot of young, young adult books.) The prophecy I wrote works for the time being, but it needs more oomph.
  2. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

    Prophecy can be done a lot of ways. Poetry is one way which is used frequently. Maybe you could look up realworld historical examples of prophecies being made - like those made my the Pythia at Delphi.
  3. sashamerideth

    sashamerideth Scribal Lord

    i dont do prophecy, but poetic and somewhat undefined statements are what I would use.
  4. BeigePalladin

    BeigePalladin Mystagogue

    so, did you say you're doing a prophey because most cliche'd 'best-seller' bumf has one? weak... :p

    still, it really depends. a prophecy is a prediction, so the formait is up to you. most things use some form of rhyme or poerty, because that makes it easier to remeber, others will just have it written down. going off actual events, the really old prophecies would be more likely to be in verse/song format because that was a way to pass it on without risking writing it down.

    a more modern version (and one you don't see very often) is just a statement made by someone, because if it's an accurate view of the future it's still a prophecy (and if that's too mundane, you can have it done in a spooky double voice or something).

    something I'd like to see (and now I need to write something with a *shudder* prohecy in it) is an oracle who's a regular at the local pub, doling out rather rediculous predictions and then giving a rather flat "told you so" when they come true
  5. Lord Darkstorm

    Lord Darkstorm Mystagogue

    The Harry Potter prophecy was a clever one. It wasn't complete, and could have been completely ignored and would never have come true. In fact, there were thousands of prophecies stuck away that doubtlessly never came to be. So in the instance of HP, the prophecy had to be acted upon to be completed. The Wheel of Time has prophecies too...lots of them, and in several languages, and some from other groups of people that are different than the others. Further the fact no one really knows if they are literal or figurative. The whole thing is a mess and the characters interpretations, and lack of confidence in which ones have happened and which ones are still to come make the story better.

    If you need the prophecy to drive the plot, I would suggest thinking about what else could be that plot driver. One of my all time favorite games is bard's tale. Not the original ones, but the one they put out for the consoles (xbox and ps2). There were a prophecy or two, and the bard is told he is the chosen one (and he isn't the only chosen one by the way) and he must go get something so he can get something else so he can do something else to save the princess. At which point the bard aptly asks....why? Why can't I just go directly to the people holding the princess and save her now? I survived the rolling laughter that brought forth from me, but it is such a valid point I think is well worth considering when we write. Why would the characters believe and blindly follow something they have little real reason to follow?

    If you want a prophecy that has real meaning, then it will have to have real meaning in the story. If it is the only driving factor of the story, I'll stick to my suggestion of rethinking it, if not, what is doing for your story? The HP prophecy served as a motivating factor for the antagonist, voldemort. Wheel of Time, a source of confusion, possible guidance, and occasional chuckle. It doesn't drive the story. I've read others, but it is a very hard sell to a reader that someone would drop what they are doing and run off because some prophecy told them too.

    So, to help you with your prophecy, you have to explain what it's intended purpose is, and what it might be able to be as well.
  6. Misusscarlet

    Misusscarlet Master

    All good points Darkstorm and Paladin. Mainly my character is immortal and she has been prophesied as the one in many of my books cultures. ( I know cliche, The One? I'll come up with something better). And I don't think my prophecy pushes my character on or tells her what to do, mainly of a storyline, blah can't think of the word. it's not perfect but I'll post it.

    Heart of winter
    Poison will spread
    A life will be saved
    Purpose and trust

    Pain and agony
    Fire and ashes
    New friends
    Against an evil foe

    Perseverance and endurance
    Knowledge of loss
    Brink of madness
    Pushed to the edge
    The one will come

    Peace and prosperity
    Growth and rebirth
    Tragedy and death
    The one will leave
  7. Lord Darkstorm

    Lord Darkstorm Mystagogue

    How about a fortune? Not sure whether or not your world contains fortune tellers (if you have a prophecy it is a good sign there might be), but what if it were only some gifted fortune teller that happens to tell her? Then it becomes more of a mystery, not prophecy, and the character doesn't have to act on it, but wonder at it.

    Just a thought.
  8. Immortal

    Immortal New Member

    "So it shall come to pass that the Ancient Soul shall once again weigh with a golden scale. When the pillars of the earth waver beware the tale it will tell. He who will be reborn will be but two half's of any coin and one yet many. His arrival will be marked with the blood of an ancient line, weakening the Havens upons which the darkness will infest the shadows and will eat of the sun."

    This is the apocalyptic prophecy I wrote in my first book, IMMORTAL. I could only do this after the entire book was written. It is always easier once there is a history. Good Luck.
  9. Argentum

    Argentum Lore Master

    Rhyming prophesy is most popular. I actually tried using one like that, but I just couldn't get over just how cheesy it looked. I tried over and over again to reshape it to something more dignified, but I couldn't do it. It's so common it's almost embarrassing to read, frankly. So I took another approach.

    I don't know how many of you have read the Bible, but the Old Testament is full of prophesies. Basically they sound like this: God knows what they are up to/doing/thinking, perhaps the nation/person is over confident or arrogant, perhaps the nation is cruel to its own people, but God knows and this is what he intends to do to them (Or sometimes not what he's going to do to them so much as what the consequences of actions will be, simple cause and effect). The prophesy obviously doesn't have to be from God, but the one I ended up crafting was more "(so-and-so's name), here is the list of your evils/why you must die, this is what will happen to you/how it will happen, and this is the list/description of people who will do the deed." And end with closing comments on whether or not everyone will forget so-and-so ever existed, etc. Simple, to the point, non-rhyming, no-nonsense.

    I chose this way because it seemed more serious, more realistic. The AABB poetic prophesy that I grew up reading in books had awful rhymes because certain authors couldn't think of good words to rhyme with the line above it. Some can pull it off, I'm sure, but some just really can't pull off that type of prophesy. *coughMEcough*
  10. Laughing_Seraphim

    Laughing_Seraphim Journeyman

    This is one place I am prone to use dialogue, dissent, then skip the exposition.
  11. Terra Arkay

    Terra Arkay Master

    A lot of holy books are full of prophecies. Prophecies tend to be very specific, a bit like a description.
  12. Benjamin Clayborne

    Benjamin Clayborne Dark Lord

    I kinda sorta hate prophecies in fiction, for the main reason that they're always used to deliberately fool and confuse the characters. (And the readers. Maybe I just hate being fooled.) Characters never seem smart enough to say, "You know, all these prophecies have done us no good and just confused the hell out of everyone; they're just a bunch of errant gibberish. Next time we come across an old crone making prophecies, let's ignore her, or preferably throw her into a chasm."

    There's an inherent paradox to prophecies, because either there's a guiding intelligence behind them who you cannot thwart, or there isn't, in which case what good is a prophecy that can be thwarted? In that case, it's just "Here's what will probably happen, if things continue as they are." That's not a prophecy, that's just a prediction.

    How does the universe enforce prophecies? If a prophecy is made that says "Person X will do thing Y at time Z," it should be possible to hunt down that person and kill them well before time Z, thus thwarting the prophecy. If it isn't possible, then that means someone (a deity of some kind) is watching over the world to make sure that the prophecy comes true. If that's the case, why are they telling people the future? If I was manipulating the world to achieve some end, I sure as hell wouldn't be sending visions to old crones so that they could warn plucky adventurers. (Unless the only way to make the prophecy come true is to tell someone it will, and then they through hubris or error cause it to become true... but there's gotta be an easier way than that.)

    EDIT: Er, the below is a spoiler, but apparently spoiler tags aren't working?

    One thing I really liked about A Song of Ice and Fire was that (at least for the first two and a half books) there's no prophecies. Just people doing stuff, and succeeding, or failing. Even Melisandre's visions of the future aren't reliable; she's just really good at seeing someone's intentions and then thwarting them, and because nobody else knows how she does it, she's (so far) managed to keep ahead of the game. But then there's that old crone that Arya and the outlaws run into, who starts predicting actual things that she would not have any plausible way to know were going to happen, and then they start coming true. I still love the series, but that element pissed me off.

    Anyway, that's my rant. I guess it's not helpful to say that I don't really ever intend to put prophecies in my writing, for the reasons outlined above, unless it's to demonstrate that someone's a gullible fool, or that my characters live in a world of superstition and ignorance.
  13. Dreamhand

    Dreamhand Lore Master

    I concur with Darkstorm and Immortal emphatically... a prophesy needs to woven into the story and that's easier to do once you've written the story. You can have a rough idea of the prophesy's key points, but until you understand the character's and the crisis points they encounter in the story, it's almost like putting the cart before the horse.

    I don't think anyone has really addressed the origin of the prophesy in question. Who wrote it down in the first place? Were they "possessed of a spirit" and had words tumble out of their mouth? Or did they have a vision of such terrible scope and portent that they HAD to write it down? Did a religion or myth spring up around it? Have storytellers been warping and altering it for generations? Each of these origins invite you as the author to discover and weave in some wonderful twists into your story.

    It's been my experience that prophesies are NEVER specific, mostly because no one (not even the Gods) knows what's going to happen. Visions arrive in symbols and portents, not with names and addresses (and poetry is an affectation that literary-minded sooth-sayers contrived that let them speak in riddles without completely pissing off the people they were delivering the prophesy to). At the source of every prophesy is a glimpse of a possible (or even probable) future... images, archetypes, symbols that are often defined by the person who is receiving the vision, NOT the subject of the prophesy itself. These aren't messages sent to your characters from the Gods... they are a jumbled maelstrom of horrifying and confusing imagery that someone generations or centuries ago was compelled to try and make sense of.

    I kind of like prophesies in my fiction. It's rather like a murder mystery and gives the reader another layer of engagement as they try to identify the elements of the prophesy before the characters do. But just throwing in a prophesy because "it's cool" or because it's a standard set-piece of the genre is a grave mistake in my opinion. If there isn't a damned specific reason for the thing, then I'd recommend giving it the axe.
  14. lawrence

    lawrence Lore Master

    Nice points Dreamhand.

    In terms of style and for drama, if I were to incorporate a prophecy I would take inspiration from the masters. You will struggle to find anything as good as those in the Bible, and Isaiah is among the very best. Thousands of passages in there. Beautifully cryptic yet - in words they might have used - sharp as a polished arrow ;)

    Here is a prophecy from Isaiah concerning coming peace. Its got the tone of a news release almost ! Its a past tense, yet it is concerning the distant future. Its a promise of things not yet, but in the language of an announcement of an event that has taken place;

    The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

    You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder.

    For as in the day of Midian's defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.

    Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.

    For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.

    And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2011
    Sparkie likes this.
  15. Karoly

    Karoly Acolyte

    Honestly, the best way is not to have a prophesy. They are probably the most contrived of all plot devices and are the lazy man's version of foreshadowing.

    But if you must have a prophesy, you'd need to consider who made it. Was it found on an ancient tablet? It should sound vaguely poetic and non-rhyming (because the ancient language wouldn't flow well into the modern language). Is it a fortune teller? Well you know how they sound "I see an image.... oh no... now I see a bad image..." etc. Just think of who wrote it and it'll be easier to put it into words.
  16. Lucas Delrose

    Lucas Delrose Acolyte

    Hey Guys,

    I'm also wanted to put a prophecy in my book I'm working on.
    I just wanted to say you have all raised some valid points and the information has been very helpful.
    Has made me rethink the way of doing it and making it more meaningful.

  17. Sparkie

    Sparkie Dark Lord

    I concur with you Lawrence, the bible has the best. One thing that gets overlooked sometimes, however, is the bible's use of symbolism in prophecy. Look no further than Daniel chapters seven and eight. Chapter eight in particular is good to read, in large part because the prophecy is explained in detail within the chapter.

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