Including a prophecy into your story can add a feeling of destiny playing around the characters and events. However, many problems might arise, for example, the unbeatable “chosen one”. How do you prevent these problems when writing prophecies?
There are a lot of great examples of prophecies used in fiction. They can be used as set rules about the future, rumors about certain elements, or as hints and puzzles for the readers. While you can really do what you want to in your story, there are some guidelines and other things you might want to consider when writing the prophecy.
Reason for the Prophecy
Before we actually dive into the prophecy-writing, let’s consider the reason you’re including a prophecy in your story at all. Does it need one? Writing a prophecy can add a lot of plot holes and other problems for your story. Plus, it’s kind of overused in fantasy. That is not to say you can’t include a prophecy, but if you do, consider why you’re adding it, and be sure to think about it thoroughly.
Another thing to consider is if the prophecy makes sense in your world. For example, my world, Eledris, doesn’t include many truthful prophecies. This is because my magic system does not allow any manipulation with time, including looking into the future. People still make claims about the future, but no one really knows what is going to happen.
The same goes for your world; do other rules that you’ve set for yourself even allow a true prophecy to exist? If so, great! Consider how it can exist, and work with that information.
If not, you can still include a prophecy, but you have to be careful about it. People are still going to try to predict the future. Just look at our world. There is no concrete evidence of any magic going on on Earth, but prophecies still exist (the first thing that pops into my mind is the end of the world in 2012). Look at some prophecies around history, and take inspiration from those.
Phrasing of the Prophecy
What you generally want to do is write the whole story, using a placeholder instead of the actual prophecy, and then phrasing the prophecy around the events that happen during and at the end of the story. You can then go back and include some hints throughout the story. The prophecy should be more like a puzzling, but a solvable mystery, than just a vague riddle.
Sometimes, it’s nice to phrase the prophecy poetically. However, in that case, be sure to think about why it would be phrased like that. If it’s a well-known prophecy, passed from mouth to mouth, the poetical form would often be lost over time, corrupting the prophecy to a more simple form.
If the prophecy was found in an old, long lost book, the original form would be preserved, as there wasn’t time to corrupt the form.
When it comes to the words itself: try to write out the meaning of the prophecy, and then start replacing words with metaphors, vague explanations, nicknames, etc.
While the prophecy could (and debatably should) be enigmatic, be sure to leave a clue the reader understands from the beginning – it can be discouraging to a reader if a prophecy is just a jumbled mess of random words they do not understand.
You could also make your prophecy as clear as day. For example, “The city of Carran shall be struck with a two-year plague.”.
It all depends on the reason you’re including the prophecy in the first place.
Impact on the story
Now that your prophecy is written, let’s consider what impact it actually has on the world around it. Who knows about it? How is it important? Do the characters of your stories react to it? If so, do they want to stop the prophecy fulfilling, or are they trying to encourage it? Why? Think about how the prophecy is passed on. It is by word of mouth? Maybe it’s depicted in a series of ancient paintings. Or it could be a story etched onto a wall in a temple.
Who created the prophecy? Why and how did they do it? Does the prophecy have to come true, or is it more like a warning, a premonition?
Ask yourself as many questions as you possibly can, and try to figure out everything there is to figure out around your newly-written prophecy.
Overall, writing a prophecy is no easy task. You have to figure out the actual content of the prophecy, thinking about what’s going to happen in the story, you have to stay consistent inside your world. It’s also important to do the phrasing right, lest the reader might lose interest in the importance of the prophecy. Last, but certainly not least, you have to think about the impact your prophecy is going to have on the stories taking place in your world.
It’s no easy task! Do you have any prophecies you’ve created for your stories? Do you have any feedback on this article? Feel free to share it down in the comments!