Creating A Prophet Character
Previous parts in this series are indexed at:
The last few weeks we have discussed the use of Prophecy in crafting a world against which to showcase your Characters.
Note, Prophecy, like ESP of any sort, or "Magic" by enslaving a Djinn, speaks to the way the laws of physics (and maybe even math and Chemistry) differ in your world. The reader very often buys a book based on whether it is set in "real reality" or a reality made up by the writer.
The difference in the Laws of Nature between your Romance Novel's reality and the reader's reality is the primary SHOW DON'T TELL element that defines your THEME.
The general rule is to allow only one such difference per novel. That's a corollary of the K.I.S.S. rule.
In other words, you can't insert a Prophecy into a real-world novel without informing the Reader that your world is not "real."
It is the same for the Soul Mate thesis -- if Soul Mates exist, then Souls exist, and that is not part of all your reader's realities.
But if Souls exist, then it is very likely that Prophecy exists in your world.
Souls, by definition, are "immortal" or transcend our physical reality. Neuroscience is busy proving that everything about human life and perception can be explained by brain functions.
Here are a couple of recent articles about how your reader thinks.
They have identified a multitude of cognitive biases, assumptions that cloud our thinking and cause us to misinterpret new data or discard it as unreliable. Robert Heinlein wrote Hero Characters who called this type of thinking "lazy thinking."
Here is the infographic featured in that item:
Here is an article showing how they are still discovering new organs in the human body, changing the scientific view of how our immune system connects to the brain.
Since we are considering the use of Prophecy in Science Fiction Romance, let's explore one way to use the Theme of Prophecy.
In this World where Prophecy is real, but Science still works and exists, (i.e. in a Science Fiction Romance), we need Characters whose internal conflict centers on the Theme. So we need first a thematic statement about Prophecy and Science.
THEME: Science Disproves Prophecy - (astrophysics about how Time works)
THEME: Prophecy Disproves Science - (Spirituality about how Time works)
THEME: Prophecy Can Come True Only If Source is Creator of the Universe.
THEME: Anyone Can Foretell the Future With The right (scientific) Device/Gadget
THEME: Reality is fungible: Prophecy and Science do not conflict.
The cliche plot would work out a conflict between a True Believer and a Scientist. X-Files is an example. There are a few newer shows using this conflict, and a wide variety of themes.
So if you are using your reader's "real" world, and changing only the element that says "Prophecy Is Real," then you can design several sorts of Characters to place in conflict to each other.
Theme is the statement derived from the outcome of that Character vs. Character conflict.
If the Character who accepts Prophecy as real is proven correct, the THEME is PROPHECY DISPROVES SCIENCE.
If the Character who debunks Prophecy is proven correct, the THEME is PROPHECY IS BUNK.
You can save yourself 20 years of rewriting (I am not kidding; I know writers who worked and reworked novels for that long, finally selling it only when the theme was clarified).
If you have to change the theme of a novel on rewrite, you are in for a world of hurt.
There is another theme that goes with using The Unseen as a concrete element in your world:
THEME: I am correct and if you don't believe me, you will be sorry.
Or put another way, a Character whose life revolves around The Cassandra Complex -- remember Apollo gave her Prophecy and cursed her with not being believed. Many science fiction and fantasy novels have been written around this theme: "I know something you don't know."
Would two Characters be able to stay in love, get married, raise children, after one proves to the other that their entire worldview is incorrect?
It has happened in real life via Religious Conversion epiphany type experiences. But can you make it plausible to your target readership?
You can use three major Characters, perhaps a love triangle, where one is the Prophet, one the Scientist, and one the Believer (but not necessarily a True Believer; perhaps a skeptical Believer.)
You can use an Ancient Prophecy and the True Believers who accept it is about to come true. And in that context, you can bring that Ancient Prophet onstage in your novel, via flashback (a very, very difficult technique to master), and show don't tell your reader the Prophecy the contemporary Characters are dealing with was a) made up as a scam, b) was genuinely Received from the Creator of the Universe, c) has already manifested fully and is moot to your modern Characters.
I'm sure you can think of other possibilities.
The most important part of creating a Prophet Character is that the Character's Internal Conflict (and thus his behavior under the impact of Plot Events) has to be about the Message to be delivered.
The Prophet Character can be conflicted over the very Reality of Prophecy, or like Jonah who fled to sea rather than deliver God's message, resisting the Message itself as well as his own Agency in delivering the information. \
In the Biblical story of Jonah, Jonah was not in internal conflict over the existence or dominion of God. He did not want to be the bearer of this message to those people. After being swallowed by an ocean creature and barfed up on land, Jonah went and delivered his message, and many people believed him and took his advice, to their benefit.
One (of many) points of the story is simply that if God tells you to deliver a message, do yourself a favor and just go say what you're told to say.
If a Prophet Character is your skeptical scientist Character, he might well resist saying this nonsensical message or be loath to say it to the target audience. In the film, OH, GOD!, John Denver is non-religious but becomes convinced this is God who is telling him to get the Word out. It only takes a few little miracles. But he can't convey that conviction to his listeners.
And the message is not a Prophecy that will come true, or not, and thus be proven real. It is simply that the world is designed to work, but only if you stop killing each other.
Thus you can make a tight case for either side of the argument.
But that is film. A novel reader, especially in the Romance sub-genres, wants something more substantial and unequivocal.
Once you inject that substantial element into your Prophecy, it can be proved or disproved.
Note that in the study of Philosophy, the hypothesis of God is considered non-falsifiable. There is no way to disprove God's existence, therefore there is no way to prove God is real.
So if your Prophecy can be proven, then its Source is proven real. If that Source is God, you might be able to sell the novel only to the Christian Press -- but they won't go for ad hoc Prophets walking contemporary Earth.
The market for proven Prophecy is the Best Seller Blockbuster Biblical Code market -- like The Davinci Code:
That novel revived an old Genre. Note how Amazon will pull up books about demons in the same search with Davinci Code.
There is room in that market for a whopping, James Michener sized Science Fiction Romance - maybe with more than a touch of Paranormal.
So select your Theme by considering what your target readers want.
Many read novels for the ideas, or a view of far away places with strange sounding names. Many read novels for stimulation or to whet the appetite for aspiration.
Would any in your target readership want to be inspired to become a Prophet?
Is your Prophet Character the Hero, or the poor sucker being used by a relentless paranormal force? Was he/she a good guy turned corrupt by this outside influence?
Does your Prophet Character need rescuing from this Controlling Force? (Cassandra style).
"Who" is your Prophet -- inside, subconsciously, what needs and ambitions beset this individual?
How does either being infected with Prophecy from childhood, or blossoming suddenly into a Prophet affect the priorities of that individual.
Would Love and ultimately Sex relieve the individual of Prophet duties?
Consider what the answers to those questions reveal about your THEME.
A theme is a non-verbal, show-don't-tell, statement about what is "right" in life, and what the price of doing the "right thing" will be because of the nature of your well-built World.
So the answers to those questions define your Theme. The theme is what you have to say on this topic. How you say it depends, as in any conversation, on who your audience is - what they already believe, and how you argue your point until you convince them. Maybe you can't convince them that your theme is correct, but you might plant a doubt about whether their notion of reality is fully formed.
"The Truth Is Out There" - was the theme of X-Files, and it is still a theme that works today. Truth is not fact, information or data. Truth is not "in here" inside your mind. It is external, objective, and often unknowable.
Most Cognitive Bias functions to relieve us of the need to think through the ramifications of what we "know." It is lazy thinking, and feels good because we never have to consider the nature of Truth.
Cognitive Bias often leads us into Royal Pickles and Adamantine Plights, Horns of Dilemmas, and dark miseries.
At the peak turning point of those Situations we often have to break out of our Cognitive Bias and stare Objective Truth in the eye. Those who don't do that do not survive the moment.
The Prophet Character will be, like the hapless Grocery Clerk in OH, GOD!, the one who has penetrated Cognitive Bias and found a new truth.
The film dealt with the Prophet Character from the inside, telling his story of wrestling with the truth of the Impossible. Taking a different point of view for a novel would lend the air of mystery and suspense. Your erstwhile Lovers might well be fighting each other over the genuineness of your Prophet Character.
You might even consider making your Prophet Character a Matchmaker, bringing the two Lovers together for a most improbable match made in Heaven.
Fortune Telling or Foretelling the Future, divination and oracular pronouncements, is an entirely different thing from Prophecy. In Prophecy some Force from outside reality thrusts a message into the Prophet's mind. In the various forms of fortune telling, like the Oracle at Delphi, someone asks a Talented person a question and the person uses that Talent to SEEK the answer -- to find out, to observe reality from a different perspective.
The Fortune Teller is making an assumption, a Cognitive Bias, about the nature of Reality -- that what information they can access will remain unchanged.
That is the Fortune Teller is using the Hellenistic concept of Destiny - rooted in a polytheistic view of reality. The gods decree, and humans suffer.
The Biblical view of the Universe incorporates the (cognitive bias) that humans have Free Will, but that the Creator of the Universe is still Creating it moment by moment, and can (at Will) create a different path for an individual's life.
The Prophet carries a message of the form, "If you keep on doing this, then I will do that." Or, "if you don't stop doing that, I will do this." Prophecy is conditional on free will acceptance of the divine Will.
The film, OH, GOD! hedged that message form down to a plain vanilla message without pointing to what humans are doing wrong (except the generally accepted killing each other) and no defining of the penalty for continuing to do wrong. For an example, read Ezekiel.
So one of the thematic choices you have to make is whether your World incorporates Fortune Telling as efficacious - or if Prophecy is real -- or both. For example, Fortune Telling and Prophecy might both be real, and the Prophet has been sent to issue a cease and desist notice to the Fortune Teller.
STORY: A pagan gypsy Fortune Teller meets a genuine Prophet of the Creator of the Universe who objects to the Fortune Teller's using cognitive bias as a weapon to cripple the Free Will The Creator gave them. .
Prophecy is usually about the shaping of civilizations, nations, and thousand year spans of history. Fortune Telling is usually about an individual's personal fate.
Is "fate" real in your World? Or can an individual "Be Saved" by a Divine Savior, just by believing? Or maybe you have to save yourself by making amends, fixing what you broke, cleaning up your mess, then relaunching your life along the lines of righteous behavior?
In Biblical times, there were thousands of genuine (well vetted by their guild like organization) Prophets who could be consulted by individuals regarding the proper course of action through a dilemma. People did consult them, and the advice consistently proved correct. The Prophets would take the assignment, and then sleep on it overnight, dream the answer, and come back with their best description of what they had "seen."
The Book of Prophets contains the writings of the few great prophets who advised Kings and Princes - whose words moved nations and are still relevant today for the principles revealed.
After you've sketched out the science fiction romance novel you want to write, read the Book of Prophets -- maybe also the first 5 Books of the Bible with the story of the life of Moses. Moses was different among all the Prophets as he spoke with G-d face to face, not in dreams. Nothing was open to interpretation. He repeated what he was told.
Decide if you need to create a Character who moves International Politics, or one who founds a Nation, or one who advises individuals.
Decide what the penalty would be to your Prophet should he speak falsely.