A. L. Buehrer What I Write and Why

Friday, August 7, 2015

Avoiding Cliches: Don't Do The Prophesy


And don’t take my titles too literally, either. The prophecy is a very standard device in sci-fi and fantasy, particularly. It’s really not a bad thing in itself, and I used it in the Stardrift Trilogy and am using it in The Art of Lightplay, the fantasy I’m currently writing. Like practically all clichés, the prophecy can go from a predictable bore to a satisfying thrill with a little twisting.
  Authors have different ways of handling prophecies. Some write them, without context, in the beginning of their book, before chapter one. Some don’t bring them up until the plot is already moving. Some show the prophesy being told for the first time in the beginning of their story. The placement makes little difference. Do whatever you want.
  People get particularly lazy when it comes to the actual writing of the thing. Here’s where things get really predictable if you’re not careful. Things to watch out for:

·         Make sure you use natural-sounding language that matches the way people speak in your story. Please don’t use, or attempt to use Elizabethan English if you have no reason to.
·         Unless the prophesy was written by a poet—preferably one who had no idea they were writing a prophesy—please don’t rhyme it. Why would it rhyme?
·         Don’t use the term “Chosen One.” Think of something else.
·         Don’t have an old woman say it.

I could go on, but I would rather move on to talking about ingenious ways to twist it. I wouldn’t advocate throwing the whole prophecy device out of literature. People like prophesy, for some reason. And in a time when people are beginning to think history is just a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, I think it’s inspiring to know that the human spirit still wants there to be a greater destiny.
  So, ideas for manipulating the cliché to surprise people. First of all, let me say that the best model for prophesy in literature comes from the bible. The original “Chosen One” prophesy—the oldest in the world, originated there. If I wasn’t a Christian, the accuracy and detail of biblical prophesies would be one of the things that freaked me out.
  Great ideas inspired by biblical prophesy:

·         One of my favorites—the reoccurring fulfillment. The major prophesies in the bible are rarely fulfilled just once, on just one level. Some of the old testament prophets appeared to be referring to their own lifetimes—and later, Jesus Christ would fulfill them again—and in the future, some will occur yet again.
·         The blind prophet. Like I mentioned above, sometimes prophets may even seem to be referring to their own personal circumstances—but later, something cosmic happens that sheds new light on their words.
·         Occasionally, what people believed to be poetic wording turns out to be quite literal. Other times, what people expect to be literal actually implied something else
·         Sometimes, a prophesy is presented as a story. This happens constantly in the bible. The reader isn’t even told that the event—typically a true story—is going to have significance later on—then it does.

Prophesies are good ways to keep a reader guessing. They serve as foreshadows, and riddles. If the wording is more abstract, or symbolic, the reader really doesn’t get it until they look back on events. That won’t keep them from trying. And just like in real prophesy, the trying is half the fun.
  So, enjoy writing prophesies. But remember, they take mental effort. Writing a story about prophesy being fulfilled is almost as strategic as writing a murder mystery. Give it the time and thought it needs to be epic.

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