A few weeks ago I was struggling to write the most important (and my first) prophecy for ‘Rise of the Sparrows’. It’s the one prophecy which summarises the whole book into a few neat, confusing lines, and the name-giver of this book, so I knew it had to be good! I realised very quickly that writing prophecy isn’t an easy feat (who’d have thought?), and have put together a small check-list for myself as I was going through this process (don’t worry, it’s a short list).
Here are the main things I think are important when writing prophecy – this is not meant to be professional advice, so please don’t take it as such.
1) Be indirect.
A good prophecy doesn’t tell you that ‘next week Monday, Jane will murder Richard with that rusty spade they have in their garden shed‘. It will be indirect, and might say that ‘his lover will seek revenge for a betrayal moons past on the night of the first snowfall‘. This will keep the readers guessing at least a little rather than take all the suspense away (my example might not, inexperienced as I am, but it’s better than saying what will happen outright). Who is this lover? Is it his wife, his current girlfriend, or his first partner? When will the first snow fall? This week or maybe not at all this year? ‘Next Monday’ tells you exactly when this murder will happen but ‘the first snow fall’ could be any time, depending on where Richard lives. If he lives where I live he’s probably save until next winter, probably for longer.
2) Make victory seem impossible.
How boring would it be if you already knew from the beginning of the book that the main character succeeds? Until the book has finished, everything should be possible – including failure. Why else would you keep turning those pages? Books don’t always have a perfect ending where everybody lives, so if yours does don’t tell them that on page one.
3) Make it hurt.
Make the reader hurt, that is. Emotionally. Throw in the seemingly unavoidable loss of a favourite character. If, some of the time, our loved characters actually do die it’ll be even better. We need our readers to know that we won’t back down and save Mathilda just because everyone loves her. We want them to know that if we say she might die, she actually might die. Otherwise, where is the suspense? Our words would be hollow!
4) It seems like one thing, but…
Mislead them. Make it sound like one thing is going to happen, but when the time comes it’s something very different. It still has to make sense in the prophecy, of course, it could easily be either event, but the main character misreads it completely because of his/her experience and fears which is consequently also likely to convince the reader.
5) Confuse them.
One thing I love above all else when reading a prophecy in other books is when something obviously important is mentioned but I have no idea what it means. I spent the whole book trying to figure it out before the hero does and keep searching for clues before the answer is revealed. It makes me engage with the book on a whole other level, and ultimately makes me pay more attention to every detail. So, provided it suits your story, include something vital to the plot which the readers can’t figure out until the end – or at least not easily!
These are my five checkpoints for writing prophecy. Have you got a check-list yourself or can you think of any other important points to consider? It doesn’t matter if you’ve written prophecy before or if you’re only used to reading it – either way your opinion matters and I would love to hear what you can add to make this a more thorough list!
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