Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Depiction Part 34 - Depicting Prophecy

Depiction Part 34
Depicting Prophecy 
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous posts in the Depiction series are listed here:

In the Depiction study we have discussed Proverbs and Psalms



It is assumed the writer who wants to write Romance (with or without sex scenes) would study the Bible (all of it).  A lot of it is erotic poetry, and a lot more is depiction of a world view at odds with your reader's world view, and thus perfect fodder for Science Fiction, and creating Aliens who see the Universe differently than we do.

The appeal of Science Fiction lies in the encounter with the Unknown and the assessment of whether it is knowable (or not).  There were Science Fiction and Paranormal Magazines called, Unknown, Astounding, Amazing, Worlds of If -- and of course STAR TREK "where no man has gone before."

Science is about exploring the world we live in.  Fantasy is about exploring what is propping up the world we live in.  Science Fiction (Romance, Paranormal or Fantasy) is all about EXPLORING.

A good Romance starts with a First Encounter with the to-become Significant Other, and how that Encounter re-configures the couple's notions of "reality" -- of what is possible, of what is preferable, of what it would cost to abandon a career and move where they could live together.

Very often, a Romance may start with an encounter at a Psychic Fair with a Tarot or Astrology reader.  The famous "Tall Dark Stranger" line is famous and enduring for a reason -- Encounter With The Unknown.

The Unknown is sexy.  (Witness: Spock's Ears)

The writer of Science Fiction Romance is at an advantage for structuring a "page turner" because the genre includes both Romance and Science which are "adventures" -- Romance is the adventure into another person's headspace, and Science is an adventure into Reality.

Each is a process of facing the Unknown.  Any book on writing craft will instruct about the necessity of keeping your eye on "so what happens next" -- because readers turn pages to find out "what happens next."

As I have said many times in these entries, to make Romance plausible (and science fiction, or fantasy, too) you need more than "what happens next."  You also need BECAUSE this, THAT happens next.

Characterization is one variable that reveals BECAUSE.

Watching a Character absorb and respond to a Prophecy reveals to the reader vast amounts of information about the Character and the Character's interface with the Reality around him.

The Scientist Character gets curious and starts constructing experiments to test the Prophet and the substance of the Prophecy.

The Gullible Character lets the substance of the prophecy determine future actions, and even emotions (horrible things will happen = paralyzing fear)

So the existence of a Prophet (whose pronouncements materialize in Reality on time, in place) tells the reader about the Nature of your World.

Remember, the Bible is all about Prophets who delivered messages from God, who is deciding what happens next.

The Oracle at Delphi was consulted as a Prophet.

The film Oh, God, staring George Burns as God and John Denver (very young) is about a modern day grocery clerk called by God (the real deal) to deliver a Message to modern mankind.  Like Jonah, he tries to flee this task, but it doesn't work and he has to stand up and proclaim the Prophecy.  If you haven't seen that movie, be sure to look it up.  It is a comedy.


At that link, you will also find a list of similar movies listed below it -- check out the ones you haven't seen.

So like ESP (telepathy, telekinesis, teleportation etc.) Prophecy (prescience, some might term it) reveals lot about the scientific underpinnings of the Reality you are introducing your readers to.

Is this Prophecy the educated guess of an Astrologer or perhaps the psychic impression of a Tarot reader?  Or is this Prophecy a message from the Creator of the Universe (for real).

Today's readerships contain a high proportion of people averse to the notion there is a Creator.  They want fiction set in a world free of such dictatorial restrictions.  Other readers are comforted by seeing Characters doing Good Deeds as specified in the Bible.

So if you inject Prophecy into your Worldbuilding, you (not necessarily the reader, just the writer) need to know how it works, what the existence of it implies, and how the World you are Building differs from your target readership's Reality (both as it really is, and as the reader wishes it to be.)

That is a lot of information -- and it could come as a plot-stopping, expository lump.  We studied Expository Lumps here:


Only put on the page the specific fact the reader needs to know - after you have evoked the reader's need to know it (not before!).  Make the reader curious, then satisfy that curiosity with a tidbit that suggests more questions.

Putting a Prophecy (or a Prophet) or the hint of one in your first Chapter awakens that curiosity -- will the Characters take it seriously?  Will acting on it bring them good or bad results?  Will fleeing it lead them to disaster?

Prophecy may be distinguished from Oracular Pronouncements (by Psychics or Astrologers, or actual Priestesses of Delphi) by noting the way Prophecy of the Old Testament is written, and how it "came true" or seems about to.

A message from the Creator will come true.

In the era of The Prophets there was a vetting method for finding the real Prophets.  There was a lot more going on than the Book of Prophets preserves - so you might want to study up on that.  God spoke to the Prophets in dreams, and they reported what they were told.  Then, when their Prophecy came true many times, they were proclaimed a Prophet (there were hundreds more than those recorded).

They spoke to Kings, (who mostly ignored them), true, but ordinary people consulted many of these long forgotten Prophets who would "sleep on it" and bring a reply that would prove reliable and useful (not like an Oracle, speaking in metaphor and tricky veiled references).

So when you inject a Prophecy and/or a Prophet into your Worldbuilding, you reveal vast amounts of information about that World in a "Show Don't Tell" way that avoids the Expository Lump.

Last week
we looked at two recent novels by Simon R. Green, Dr. DOA and Moonbreaker (two volumes but one single, continuous story and plot).

At this writing, I do not remember which volume the consultation with the Drood's resident oracle/prophet scene happened.  I suspect it was in Moonbreaker.  I read both in one continuous session.

In this episode of The Secret Histories series, Eddie Drood has been poisoned by some alien substance no magician or scientist can cure him of -- he is dying.  He and his Witch sidekick make an offhand, somewhat low priority, casual stop to talk to a Prophet/Oracle known to speak in riddles, but also known to be correct.  It's just that you can never see the "correct" coming, or figure how to use the information to make things come out as you want.

Sure enough, the Oracle tells them that to survive Eddie must die.

And that is exactly what happens, but not the way the reader expects.

The existence of an entity that has access to such previewed information tells you a lot about the Natural Laws governing both Green's "our reality" Universe and his "Fantasy" Universe (called The Nightside.)

Both Eddie Drood and his Witch partner have had their adventures in The Darkside.  Most readers will have read some of the Nightside series novels.  The Prophetic dimension is not a surprise or new for most readers.  How the prophecy works out could be predicted if you understand the rules of the two Universes and how they connect and reflect each other.

And that is how you depict Prophecy.

It must arise from your Universe Premise, and be true in every instance and every bit of science and magic, even the items you do not use or reveal in a particular novel.

It is consistency.  

Consistency is the key to Characterization -- characters must not act "out of character" without a plot-generated "because."

And consistency is the key to Worldbuilding.  Every detail is derived from the basic universe premise -- not chosen as they occur to you as bright ideas, or a real cool thing to do, or something that is marketable.

You build the elements into your world from the Top Down -- and the reader decodes them from the Bottom Up.

God Creates the Universe from the top (nothing) down, and Science decodes what He has Created from the bottom (here) up.  There's a whole lot of "nothing" out there!  We really have to discuss Dark Matter sometime.

The reader sees the tiny details and infers what is behind them.

You decide what is behind all the details, and derive the details from that.

If the writer is consistent, the reader has a grand time decoding, EXPLORING (which is both Science and Romance's driving purpose) and feeling like a meticulous scientist discovering the truth about reality.

You amass the plethora of consistent details all pointing to whatever is behind your premise by establishing that premise in our own mind (not necessarily in your notes).

The relationship between your Character and their Universe, as it works out in the plot, in the problems they are confronted with and the goals they choose, the tools they create to conquer their problems, that relationship is the Master Theme you are working with.

Here is the series on Theme-Worldbuilding Integration:

Here is an entire Fantasy-Kickass Heroine series by Jennifer Roberson (one of my favorite writers) with a searing hot Romance leading to marriage and kids, all based on a generations long Prophecy and now in e-book:


We discussed Jennifer Roberson's series here:

We discussed Jean Johnson's series -

which includes a scientific Time-Travel/Prophecy plot mechanism here:

So you can write hard-science novels with prophecy -- and you can write Fantasy novels based on prophecy.  You can base your Prophecy mechanism on the Paranormal (a ghost or "control" tells me) or on Astrology and psychic vision -- or God whispers in dreams.

You can have prophets who understand what they're saying -- and those who have no clue, just repeat what they "hear."

And you can have both (Moses is an example of both - faithful repeating, then reaching a real understanding of what was said).

You can write novels based on Prophets in a God-Is-Real and Soul Mates are real universe and Prophets where some other forces direct destiny (Greek gods who play at keeping Soul Mates apart.)

You can have cruel gods and merciful or capricious gods that use humans to delivery information not otherwise available to humans.  And as Jennifer Roberson wrote, you can have a single Prophet whose words are cast in poetry and passed down for centuries in expectation they will come true some day.

There is one thing you can not do when depicting Prophecy.

You can not just inject a Prophecy into a story without you, (not necessarily the reader) knowing exactly what mechanism makes it come true (or fail).  Where did the information come from, how did it get into this Prophet's head (or out his mouth), can it be changed, can it be fulfilled symbolically?  You must know the features of your World that you Built that enable Prophecy.

You might not know it consciously, but the reader will stop "buying" it if you let any contradiction enter your story.

Depicting Prophecy requires Worldbuilding consistency.

Readers remember (and believe) what they figure out for themselves - not what you tell them is so.  All your readers are 'scientists' in the sense that they figure your world out, concoct experiments to test their hypotheses, and accept only what they can prove.  So show them, don't tell them.

And if you use Prophecy as a plot element, as Simon R. Green did, then how it works out is your THEME.

Prophecy (or an Oracle) is an "Elephant in the Room" item, not decoration you can ladle on top of your main plot.

You must account for its existence in some way -- if the Prophecy comes true, the theme statement is Foreknowledge Is Possible -- but if avoided, Foreknowledge can be useful -- and if no avoiding maneuver is done, the Prophecy is ignored and nothing comes of it, then the theme is "scammers abound."

Don't believe everything you're told is a great Theme.

Failing to heed good advice leads to disaster - is a great Theme.

Theme is depicted by the Relationship between the Character and the World he is working in.

Don't use Prophecy or an Oracle -- or a seance or uncanny ghost, as a plot device without accounting for it in Character, Plot and Theme.

Remember, much of what the writer "knows" about the World they are Building resides in the writer's subconscious.  So if you don't know that you know, don't panic and make something up.  Go exploring into the world you are building -- be a pantser for a draft or two -- but don't turn out the final draft leaving the Prophecy mechanism, and how "time" works, as a loose end.

You need to know - but you don't have to tell all.  And you can change your mind later.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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