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Prophetically speaking

Discussion in 'World Building' started by skip.knox, Apr 9, 2019.

  1. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    The recent post about oracles called up a story idea that I pursued for a while then abandoned because I couldn't work through the logic of it. But I really sort of want to write it, so I'm throwing the raw ideas onto the floor here and inviting the lions in.

    I have the title: Tuck the Unchosen
    I have the concept: someone gets designated the Chosen One, but he's the wrong fellow. Hilarity (or tragedy, or both) ensues.

    The nature of prophecy is what I can't seem to twist into proper story shape. So, the Chosen One appears because of some prophecy of person who is the one to Save The World [tm]. All the circumstances of the prophecy appear to be in place. Tuck bumbles onto the stage and somehow is universally acclaimed as the Chosen One.

    [sidebar: why isn't it ever the Chosen Two or Chosen Five? Might be a potential there....]

    One possibility at this point is that the Wise Ones--you know, the ones who recognize the Chosen One as, well, Chosen (because how else are we to know?)--know that he's not the right guy, or they soon figure it out, but for some reason don't call him out on it. So it's a fraud.

    Another possibility is that it's a gigantic coincidence. This fellow, Tuck, just happens to meet the criteria. He pulls the sword from the stone. He rises from the Kyffhäusergebirge. Whatever is the prophesied event, Tuck appears to fulfill it.

    But every scenario I come up with cheapens the prophecy itself. It would be easy to say, oh it was all just nonsense in the first place. But a prophecy isn't really a prophecy unless it's true; otherwise, it's just a sad or comic mistake.

    That's one problem.

    Another is coming up with a prophecy that sounds legit. Too many prophecies are either vague to the point of nonsensical, or are some (usually rhymed (badly)) bit from some book or other that sounds painfully contrived. At least that's the case with the runs I've made at it.

    It's all very well to say there's a Chosen One and a Prophecy, but coming up with a prophecy turns out to be more than a little difficult. So I sort of gave up on it.

    Finally, a third difficulty is figuring out what to do with Tuck. If he really is the wrong guy, and he makes the prophecy come true anyway, then wasn't actually the right guy after all? In which case the title is just a cheap piece of trickery. But if the prophecy doesn't come true, then it wasn't really a proper sort of prophecy at all. To put it another way, if it's a prophecy, then it's a lock. Success is guaranteed, and there's no suspense about it. It's just a script that everyone unwittingly follows. No free will. And if it's not guaranteed, then it's not a prophecy, it's just a guess.

    I'm not really looking for solutions right now. I've got an entirely different story to write next. But I'd be interested in reactions, responses, etc. Especially the etc.
  2. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    Prophecy or precognitive glimpse?

    I once read a rather lengthy piece on prophecies and apocalyptic cults (title escapes me at the moment). The author claimed the same sequence of events happened fairly consistently: somebody - the cult founder or a close associate has a vision or a glimpse of some future event, relatively minor, and tells a few people about it. Said even, or one close to it does happen. Character has another peek into the future, and more after that. Some happen, some don't, but in each case, the event is fairly trivial, Character does develop a reputation as a prophet. At this point, said prophet starts having visions of calamities that affect large numbers of people. And the result is usually zilch, barring tortured interpretations.

    I also did a fair bit of reading on remote viewing and related abilities. One thing that got stressed over and over again was what might be termed 'observer bias' - the remote viewer imposing his or her own beliefs/biases on whatever was observed, a situation that arguably applies to precognition as well. Essentially, this event 'contaminates' the vision or prophecy, mixing fact and falsehood.

    That said, I do have a minor, somewhat mysterious character with precognitive abilities in the 'Empire' stories who separated a potent object and put the pieces in unusual places, because doing so offered a sort of sideways path to victory.
    skip.knox likes this.
  3. Futhark

    Futhark Sage

    I was actually thinking about this after reading DragonOfTheAerie’s Worst Story thread, which I think was great by the way.
    Here’s how is started. (Shortened)

    The drunken dwarf stumbled into the stable and scowled at the boy. Suddenly his craggy face brightened.
    “It’s you! It’s really you. Do you know how long I’ve been looking.”
    The boy looked up and replied, “Whatcha on about?”
    “You bear the Mark upon your cheek as written in the (insert prophecy here).”
    “That’s horse-shit.”
    “I’m serious boy.”
    “No, it’s literally horse-shit,” said the boy, wiping the mark off his face.
    The dwarves habitual scowl returned as he seemed to chew on a thought.
    “The prophecy says the he shall be recognised by the mark, it doesn’t actually say the mark has to be permanent,” mused the dwarf. “Tell me something boy, are you happy working in a stable for the rest of your life, or do you want to be..The Chosen One?”
    The boy looked around in his usual dull manner. “Sure, okay.”

    The twist; the boy does actually bear the Mark, but it can only be seen when he bares a different cheek.
    skip.knox likes this.
  4. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I think the key here is to stop thinking about Tuck's perspective for a few minutes and instead ask, well, where's the real hero? And how does that real hero connect to Tuck? Here's a few ideas.

    A) Hero and Tuck are childhood friends. They're together on a mountain. Hero draws the sword and discovers that he's the hero. He immediately chickens out, tosses the sword to Tuck, and runs off. Tuck has to act like the hero while trying to convince the real hero to step in at any time.

    B) Tuck's a bit of a jerk. When he realizes that hero draws the sword, Tuck gets jealous, takes the sword in kind of a "No way, how could it be you?" shock, and in the process accidentally knocks Hero off a bridge. Tuck now believes he's killed the Hero, and he has to act like the Hero in front of everyone until the real Hero returns.

    C) Tuck is Hero's older brother or babysitter. Hero is a young kid who pulls out the sword, doesn't realize it's important, and puts it back. Tuck picks it up, doesn't realize Hero loosened it for him, and thinks he's the real hero.

    D) Tuck and Hero are total strangers. Hero has drawn the sword on his own, only to immediately be beset by evil Mooks. Hero drops the sword and falls off a bridge. Tuck picks it up and survives the mooks, only to realize it's the sword of legend and the real hero, he thinks, is dead. He has no choice but to step into the role until the real hero comes for him.

    Any of those sound like decent stories to me. And of course the sword or the bridge or whatever could be swapped with almost anything.
    skip.knox and Firefly like this.
  5. Futhark

    Futhark Sage

    It’s like one of those metal wire puzzle brain teasers. You know there’s a solution, but not reachable by our normal way of thinking.
    "Do not try and bend the spoon, that's impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth...there is no spoon. Then you'll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself."
    ―Spoon Boy to Neo, Matrix.

    Prophecy needs to be true to be a prophecy.
    Tuck is not the prophesied one, to fit the brief.

    Logical conclusions: the prophecy is actually about an entirely different event; Tuck is believed to be a fraud, but is shown to be the real thing at the end; the prophecy is actually really lenient about who the chosen one is as long as the job is done (self fulfilling prophecy)

    Illogical conclusions: the prophecy is prophesying that only someone specifically not chosen can do it, but they thought it was a typo and took it out; Tuck is an ‘outside the box’ thinker, and circumvents the preconditions of the prophecy (example - a man finds a genie and is told he has 3 wishes but can’t wish for more wishes, so he makes 2 wishes, then wishes for a new genie); Tuck has super dumb luck that lets him survive the prophecy’s tests to the point where the prophecy throws up its hands and says “I’m done.”
    skip.knox likes this.
  6. Kalessin

    Kalessin Dreamer

    To me this sounds like a very ripe Terry Pratchett setup. If I were working with this kind of idea I think I would make it really on the nose that prophecies are inherently strange, and make it clear from the get-go that not only is Tuck NOT the chosen one, but that it's a casual and somewhat sick joke of the oracles that they don't reveal this, followed by the eventual revelation (perhaps suspenseful revelation) that time and fate are actually pretty much shrugging their shoulders about the whole thing. There might be a subplot following the actual chosen one, the nebulous joke being that this is a side plot despite the importance. Maybe at the end of the story people just forget that there was supposed to be a prophecy and Tuck is just that hero that happens to be.

    I know you weren't looking for solutions, but I can't help but frame my reaction that way (if it comes across like solutions). Anyways, the lack of suspense thing doesn't really strike me as an issue. I would "just" subvert the very expectation that the meat of the plot is whether the prophecy comes true. And I was never really bothered at all by the script we unwittingly follow in real life. There's room for suspense in countless orbiting details and developments. And then there's the reader's expectation of the inevitable, expectation of the subversion of the inevitable, brief wait-a-minute moment as the reader thinks you're actually about to subvert the prophecy in a clever way, and then a slightly wry, literal execution of the prophecy. Maybe it happens in such a way that RIGHT BEFORE Tuck is supposed to complete the prophecy, someone else just picks it off like a football. At any rate, the actual carrying out of the prophecy that is the apparent impetus of the story doesn't have to be the climax or suspense at all, even if it's literally the climax in the plot. Maybe other character's reactions to it is the meaning-punch at the end. Edit: like if they had a conversation about the weirdness of such a situation, and what it means for "free will."

    That's just how I see that sorta thing.
  7. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Sage

    Originally the prophecy was called Signs of the Chosen Ones and the first line read something like "For those who have understanding here be the signs of one of the Chosen Ones...." However, at some point, the "s" vanished from the title and the introduction sentence was left out. History does not record if it was accidental or deliberate. Other errors also crept in as well.

    Thus, according to the signs in the modern version of the Prophecy, Tuck meets the criteria of the Chosen One. Tuck doesn't believe he's the Chosen One and he's quite happy tending his crops on his farm. However he is thrust into this role and he embarks on a heroic journey.

    Along the way he manages to do some heroic deeds but he doesn't see these things as signs. He sees them as doing the right thing. During the course of performing a minor quest he discovers the original prophecy which confirms he is not one of the Chosen Ones.

    Tuck's mission changes to bringing the original Prophecy to the Greatest Scholar in the Land. The Prophets who originally called him the Chosen One realise that if Tuck returns with the original Prophecy it will prove they don't always get it right. That will undermine their credibility and standing where it matters so they try to get rid of Tuck.

    Tuck ultimately reveals the Prophets were wrong and defeats them in an epic battle. He then returns to his farm. One day, while working in the fields, someone walks over to him to ask for directions. Tuck takes one look at him and says "You're one of the Chosen Ones."

    The stranger laughs. "Don't be absurd! I'm a storyteller. What makes you think I am the Chosen One?"

    "You have the eyes of a cat."
  8. Firefly

    Firefly Troubadour

    My whole WIP looks like this right now. So many prophecies. (My MC is also a seer. Seems that's not as creative as I thought, lol)

    There was actually a thread awhile back on the intricacies of doing the actual WRITING part of the prophecy that I found pretty interesting. How to Write Prophecy. One random, extra thing on that topic I've noticed since then is that a lot of prophecies are actually fairly short. I think that helps keep them fairly mysterious without becoming too vague or pretentious.
  9. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Auror

    I deal with prophecy in a different way... it isn’t a lock. In fact, they contradict each other. In the TV show Person of Interest AI ran scenarios to find probabilities of success. This is basically what the gods do in my world... sort of... they message the faithful with multiple high-likelihood scenarios, trying to influence results. And of course, a several hundred year old prophecy has had a lot of years to go wrong already, heh heh.

    Oh, and if there is a chosen one in Sundering the Gods, it’s the bad guy, heh heh.

    Other than that, all have to say is: FOLLOW THE GOURD!
    Reaver likes this.
  10. Reaver

    Reaver Kwisatz Haderach Moderator

    No, no, no....
    Let us, like Him, hold up one shoe and let the other be upon our foot, for this is His sign, that all who follow Him shall do likewise.
    Demesnedenoir likes this.

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