Creating A Prophecy
The index to Theme-Worldbuilding Posts is here:
Last week we looked at Depicting Prophecy
Next week, we'll look at Creating A Prophet Character.
Now let's consider how to craft a fictional Prophecy.
Before you decide your story needs a Prophecy, you need to look at the Characters and Plot to determine if you need a Prophecy that the Characters will (or will not) believe, and that the target audience will (or will not) believe or accept.
Are your Characters going to believe the Prophecy, and then find out it is a sham, a scam, grifter's trick, or a "false religion?"
Why do you need a Prophecy to tell this particular story?
If your story absolutely requires a Prophecy to "work," then you have to create one, or lift one from Earth's rich history.
Do you want to borrow a real Prophecy (one that has, or has not, already been considered to have materialized?) or do you need a completely fresh and original Prophecy?
As noted last week, depicting a Prophecy in a Science Fiction Romance or any fictional work, requires two main things:
1. If you include a Prophecy - the story and plot become about Prophecy, and the non-material (mystical) dimensions behind your built world.
2. Once included, everything else in your built world, every detail, must be consistent with the mechanism by which Prophecy works in your World.
If you use Prophecy, (or foretelling, or divination, or ESP or any form of foreknowing) you don't have to let the Characters or the Reader know how it works, but you must know how it works.
This is a general rule in writing Fantasy of any sub-genre -- you have to know more than your reader, and you should let the reader know everything you know. Just tell your Character's story -- the Characters do this, and that happens, and then the Characters do that. Just telll the story.
But to get to where you can tell the story without thinking about the details, you must know how the world works so you will invent or pick details that depict the same "world."
If you skip across World Boundaries (as Simon R. Green and Jean Johnson do), the rules by which things work may change. Sometimes cross-dimension contact changing the physics underlying a World, so how and why things happen can change.
can get very complicated -- but if you pull it off, as Gini Koch
has done with her Alien series -- you can build a huge readership that feels they live in your world.
Consistency is the key to all this love of your Universe.
Our real world is stable and consistent while our understanding of our world changes (often as abruptly and radically as taking the Red Pill ). In our reality, only the Creator of the Universe really knows how things work -- and for all we know He might be changing the rules behind the scenes. But we see the world as stable, reliable (drop stuff on Earth, it falls - drop stuff in orbit, it floats).
Part of the enchantment of Romance is the "adventure" -- as discussed in the last few weeks -- which is what makes Romance so easily blended with Science Fiction.
Romance is all about The Unknown Tall Dark Stranger, and what's going on inside that dark head -- Science Fiction is all about The Uknown laws of physics, math, chemistry, dimensional geometry, or Alien Species out in the Galaxy.
Meeting a new person (or kind of person) and meeting a new Law of Reality or kind of Reality is Adventure.
Adventure is the action (plot) of going OUT of your comfort zone, or having your comfort zone invaded by something unknowable.
In our modern science (which is changing daily on the topic of "what is Time?" ) it is not possible to predict The Future, but it is possible to extrapolate from data known about the past and present.
Take hurricane forecasting, for example. Given modern data collection methodology, wedded to modern computational power, and massive advances in mathematics, we have a large handful of "models" for where a hurricane will go and how strong it will become (and when and where it will end).
A hundred years ago, that kind of predication would have been Prophecy -- or Divination.
So what tools are available in your built world? What can they know? What can't they know? And a totally different question: What do they actually know, believe, accept, act on?
Will your Character act (plot) on the information provided that (as far as he knows) can't be known?
If predictions from one specific source keep proving out, when will your Character begin to accept the next prediction and act on it?
Then you must answer the core question, "Is correct prediction due to random chance, a trick, a scam, a Talent, a Message From God, or simply an illusion -- or perhaps the old, "self-fulfilling Prophecy."
Which mechanism you choose to be "real" to you, the writer, does not have to be known to the Character or the Reader. Over a series of novels, the Reader should be able to figure it out, and in a good Mystery-Adventure, the Character should figure it out after the Reader has a prime suspicion.
After the Character figures out how the Prophecy happens, then the Character must TEST (as in Science) if that hypothesis is true. The Character devises some sort of test and executes it (plot) (that can take a whole novel), gets results and comes to rely upon the new Theory of Reality.
In a long series of Science Fiction Romance novels, the main Character(s) may concoct and disprove a long list of theories about this onerous and obscure Prophecy that seems to be determining or directing their lives.
Since the reader knows that on Earth, among humans, prophecies of doom are promulgated by cults, usually gathered around someone who is a bit unbalanced, and so far doom hasn't happened as predicted, the Reader is not going to believe the plot-Prophecy you introduce is really Prophecy.
You have to argue and convince the Reader that, in this World you have Built, Prophecy is "real" and this prophecy is actually true (or not-true). Characters you have led the Reader to respect have to lean toward whichever answer your plot requires. Characters you do not want the Reader to respect should be leaning away from the answer.
To craft those Characters and make them plausible, you have to know the answer.
If you change your mind as you write -- and that often happens! -- then you will have to rewrite, and the novel or series will become boring to you after many detail adjustments. In fact, this error (deciding things about your World in an unproductive order) often leads to dropped manuscripts, discarded Ideas after years of investment in them, and even Writer's Block.
If you, the writer, know too much about your world, your characters, your theme and plot, before you start writing, you will get bored or hit a wall where you can't write any more.
If you don't know enough, what you write will develop inconsistency -- Characters will behave "out of Character" and choices and plot events will seem "implausible" -- when you, the writer, lose the thread of the narrative (the because-line), then your Reader wanders off the line, gets bored, and tosses the book aside. Your byline gets tagged in their minds as "not worth the price."
But how much is "enough?"
That amount varies from writer to writer, and from project to project.
The old, general advice is to become a professional writer, you must do a million words for the garbage can. In other words, practice gets you to Carnegie Hall. Practice is professional work, too.
With practice, if you do it the way a musician learns an instrument or a particular piece, with a goal of mastery in mind, you will be able to know before you start writing, how long this story will be. And you will know just when you know enough about the story to tell it.
Playing a musicial piece on stage is the same skill as writing a story.
Writing is a Performing Art.
In music, you have Waltzes, Symphonies, Jigs, etc -- each type of musical piece has a structure which defines it.
When you write an Alien Romance, you write within the structure of Alien Romances -- yes, the genre has matured to a point where it does have a structure. These structures are invented via a collaboration between writer and reader, and publishers eventually choose to publish those novels which conform to the structure that sells best. Structures sell.
If you want to dance a Waltz with your partner, and the band plays a Jig, it just isn't going to be much fun to watch or to do.
The moves (the plot of the novel) have to match the structure and rhythm of the genre, so everyone has a good time.
So when you are about to start writing your story, you know when you know "enough" to start writing because you've practiced this "piece" on this "instrument" until you are master of telling the Alien Romance story.
A musician on the stage is not thinking about what note comes next, but rather about the grand effect the sound has on the audience.
Likewise, when you are starting to write, you start the music with an introduction, a crash of symbols, or a tinkling sparkle of sound -- you choose the tenor of the opening sentence knowing what "key" you are writing in.
You "play" the piece for your Readers.
Only with practice do you learn how to tell when you (specifically, you the writer, the individual who is different from all other writers) know enough, but not too much, about the world you are building.
How much do you need to know before you "reveal" this world to people who have never heard it before.
So, one of the things you need to know about your World before you start to write (or face the daunting task of a major rewrite) is whether the Laws of Reality in your world allow for the existence of Prophecy, disallow it, or make it the object of scam artists.
Since we are discussing Science Fiction Romance, romance between human and Alien, we can consider how on Earth (so far) Prophecy has been traditionally vague, misleading, and open to interpretation whether it has come true, or not.
Suppose you write on our Contemporary Earth, but inject newly arrived Aliens. Your reader knows all about Earth -- discovering all about the Aliens is the adventure.
Suppose the Aliens have actual, for real, always comes true in a literal and obvious way, Prophecy.
Where are they getting Foreknowledge?
Are they time-traveling? Being informed by God? Scamming Earth by cheating somehow?
Suppose the Aliens are sent by the Creator of the Universe to scold and correct human behavior, and they deliver Biblical Style Prophecy -- "if you don't change your ways, this awful disaster will befall you."
Your Aliens (one of whom falls head over heels for your Human Character) have a direct pipeline to God (or some force or entity that may as well be God.
God has rejected humans for all our scurious behaviors. God favors these Aliens. Are they Angels? Are they flawed? Did they used to be as misbehaved as humans?
Your human Lover has to search for (and find) an answer to that question that satisfies your reader -- but not necessarily in Book I.
Prophecy Is Real = A Theme.
Prophecy Is Not Real = A Theme.
Choose the theme, build the world around it.
Soul Mates as a concept depends on the existence of a Soul. Do Souls have a destiny they can not avoid? Or is Destiny Negotiable?
Is a Prophecy proven valid if actions avoid the prophesied consequence?
What price would your Soul Mates Across Species Lines be willing to pay to save humanity from some prophecied fate?
What if the Alien's Mission On Earth is ostensibly to save Earth by changing Human Nature -- but actually, what is really going on (known only to you, the writer, for several novels into the series) is to save the Alien Species from extinction by cross-breeding?
What sort of Aliens would be assigned by the Creator of Fates to save Humanity? Are they willing or unwilling participants in this Mission?
Was seducing a human Lover part of the job, or a violation of the work contract rules?
What do these Lovers start out believing about this Prophecy? What do they discover and learn along the way? Where do they end up (parting ways, or married, or married-and-parting-ways?)
Is there offspring from this Union? What role does such an offspring have in the Fate of Humanity?
Does your world have other Dimensions, and are these Aliens from Across the Dimension Divide? On the other side, God is Real -- but on this side, not-so-much? Can you create a truly God-Foresaken Reality adjacent to our own?
The story you can tell depends on the Universe Parameters you establish on Page 1.
Ordinarily, when you present an element like Prophecy -- saying "here is the cardinal rule of reality in this story" -- the reader expects that rule to be violated, disproven and replaced during the story.
That artistically huge element you wave in the reader's face before they get to know the Characters is placed first to signal the reader that THIS is the obstacle or adversary. THIS is what the Characters fight against, and the conflict This vs. Characters is what the reader expects to see resolved.
So where and when you introduce the Worldbuilding Element of Prophecy or Foreknowledge of any kind tells the Reader if it is Obstacle or Tool.
And in a long series of novels, you can turn many Obstacles into Tools the Hero can use to solve the real, underlying, problem the reader learns is there during the course of the story.
To qualify as Science Fiction Romance, you must bring your Lovers to a Happily Ever After state.
But since it is Science Fiction, you can redefine Happiness, and even redefine the parameter "Time" so that "ever after" takes on a meaning unique to your World.
Is Prophecy = Reality a happy thing? Or a disaster?
Is Prophecy = Scam a happy thing? Or a disaster?
If you don't decide which Theme to use as the Master Theme before you start to tell the story, you will very likely end up in multiple rewrites, striving to bring everything into logical agreement with one or the other.
For a very long series of novels, you can postulate that THIS Prophecy turns out to be a Scam, but Prophecy can be Real. Or vice-versa -- that THIS Prophecy is actually real, but in general all known Prophecies were scams.
That is complex and very hard to do. It can be done, though, if you are meticulously consistent about building your world around the major Theme that will infuse every Character's story.
Here are a few posts discussing Theme and how to use it.