In the past months, I’ve made a post about clichés and eventually a post about my history with one of them. Today, I’m returning to this topic to touch another in detail: prophecies (and, by extension, the chosen ones).
Prophecies, as any cliché, can be dangerous and have a potential to backfire. There are dangers in any stage, starting with the first ideas and ending with reader’s reception of them.
One of the main dangers is that far too specific prophecy can be a spoiler for the ending and thus the whole story will only be about the journey because the destination is known. Again, not necessarily a bad thing, if the journey is interesting and features well-done characters and interesting plot twists. If the journey is lacking, knowing too much about the end might be the fatal blow.
Much of that applies to the ‘chosen one’ – if you know someone is destined to end a conflict, it’s quite obvious they’ll live to that end. Yes, they might die in the final fight as the ultimate sacrifice, but you know they’ll make it to that point, which might diminish reader’s suspension. Even though the main characters survive most of the time, there’s still some value of not being sure of that when they get into a sticky situation.
Even if a prophecy leaves much open, it will be a subject of reader’s interpretation and thus may lead to some disappointment. Likewise, a false prophecy might leave some readers feeling cheated, especially if the implications were something they enjoyed and looked forward.
Another possibility is that the other characters will let the chosen one take care of almost everything and thus the side characters will be mostly background without their own stories. I don’t expect this to happen to someone knowing their writing well but it is a risk that beginners might want to know about.
Even I have my own experience with this cliché – in the very first concepts of the Eternal Defenders story, there were various takes on prophets and the chosen one. I slowly leaned away from prophecies as I could not see an interesting way to make them work and eventually left them behind. All that remains is a single dream scene in the first book that gives some hints for later parts but, compared to the initial ideas, that’s a drop in the ocean.
The chosen one issues are something my first concepts struggled with. While they have a small cast, fact was that the main character was doing everything on his own (thus there was not enough interaction with the world and other characters) and eventually looked like being way too powerful without any explanation for that – or build-up for reaching such power level. Yes, the Eternal Defenders are a group blessed by higher powers but they had some journey to their current level of power and expertise (even if it’s just hinted).
That’s all I wanted to say. As usual, I’ll welcome comments and questions. Whether you are a reader or a writer, feel free to share your opinion on this topic.
Clichés blog posts: Timing of pain – Prophecy – Eternal love – Forbidden fruit – Collapsing cave – Family feuds – Star-crossed lovers – Inept leaders.
Great article. One Of my favourite book series has a prophecy ‘re the main character as a type of chosen one. And while there is the sense that she’d survive, the writer made some interesting choices in what happened to her and gave a good amount of attention to the other characters who would be important to her reaching her goal.
I think you’re right, chosen one and prophecies have to be handled with care and strict attention to detail, rather than a quick fix for a plot (Which I’ve seen happen)
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Thanks for reading and the comment. Yes, it’s a tricky situation to use and ‘a quick fix’ might be too jarring for a reader’s satisfaction.
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