Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Using Prophecy As A Plot Device

  Though I am a writer who likes to dabble in multiple genres, the one I always find myself falling back on is fantasy. My favorite genre is fantasy and my favorite books are fantasy (The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, A Song of Ice and Fire, etc). I find the themes of life most strongly and beautifully reflected in fantasy stories, whether in epics like LotR or in more fairy-tale-ish novels like George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin. There is just something about painting a different world where good and evil wage war on a surface level reflecting what is inside that really appeals to me.

   One of the most popular plot devices in fantasy novels is the use of prophecy.

  Today I'm going to talk a little bit about using prophecy in your fantasy novel, how to make it unique, how to thread it through your story, and how to go about penning something that seems really cheesy when you start.

 So first things first, what does prophecy look like in a novel? Well, there is an example I can give for that...

  The above is an example of prophecy from The Lord of the Rings. It concerns the return of the rightful king of Gondor and Arnor and the restoration of the Numenorian line that had fallen into shadow. Basically, it is an oft-quoted poem that tells of how Aragorn, a member of the Fellowship of the Ring, will take up the empty kingship of Gondor.

  There is always a lot of symbolism in prophecy, skewing it so that it is harder for the characters and thereby the audience to discern what it is really getting at. It's like a cleverly concealed spoiler. :P The great thing is that even if your audience has a pretty good idea what it means, they cannot know for sure until you tell them. And the more symbolism you use the harder it will be to figure out. Yay for being difficult!

  If we were to take apart this poem however, we can see how it applies to Aragorn pretty clearly. It also helps if you're a LotR nerd like me and know a little bit of Middle-Earth history...

  "All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost."

  This first part refers to Aragorn's less than perfect appearance when we first come across him at the Inn of the Prancing Pony through Frodo's POV. Frodo is unsure of this stranger, who is dirty from travel, weather-beaten and dangerous looking. It does not help that all those in the inn are suspicious of Aragorn (whom they call Strider - for his long legs, no joke) and all those who they refer to as Rangers, wanderers in the wild. However, as Frodo talks to and gets to know Strider he realizes the truth of not judging a book by it's cover and soon learns that Aragorn is likely the most noble man he's yet met.

  "The old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost."

  Here the prophecy refers to Aragorn's ancient ancestral line that is, at the moment, on the brink of extinction. Yet, has managed to hang on all this time.

  "From the ashes a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadows shall spring."

  This speaks specifically to Aragorn as the heir of Gondor and Arnor and the new and final hope of the Dunedain people. How he is the "light" that will spring from the shadows to save them at the last possible moment.

  "Renewed shall be blade that was broken."

  Here we are given a hint of history concerning the sword that Aragorn carries, Narsil. It was broken years and years ago when his ancestor, Isildur, fought Sauron and cut the One Ring from his finger and destroyed him - temporarily. It is symbolic for Aragorn to be carrying the "shards of Narsil", the blade of his kingly ancestor and a forefather of his lineage. The sword is later reforged by the elves for Aragorn specifically, and he renames it Anduril, the Flame of the West.

  "And the crownless again shall be king."  

  This one is pretty clear, the wandering Ranger known as Strider, a crownless son of kings, will be the king once more. King of the reunited kingdom of Gondor and Arnor, restoring Numenorian rule to the world of men.

  Isn't that cool? You can learn pretty much everything you need to know about who Aragorn is just through a few lines of prophecy. I am personally a big fan of symbolism and parallel themes in stories, especially fantasy as it seems to work best there. To me something like that is really, really fascinating.

  However, it is very easy for something like prophecy to become cliche and overused. There's nothing wrong with a commonly-used theme in your story - like prophecy - but it's much better when you can flip the cliche on its head and come up with something new and interesting.

  So, here are five ways to do just that with the element of prophecy in your novel.

  1. MAKE IT SUBTLE. If your character stumbles upon a strange old woman in the woods who seems to know an awful lot about him and where he is going, chances are she's going to be telling him his future at some point in there. Likewise, if your character is just woke up from a dream about their loved one being eaten by a pack of wolves we as an audience are going to have a pretty good clue about their fate. Go for something more subtle. I am personally a fan of how George RR Martin went about this in his first book of the ASOIAF series, A Game of Thrones. In the first chapter he has his characters, the Starks (a noble family of the fictional kingdom of Westeros and wardens of the North) stumble upon the body of a huge, dead direwolf (a kind of freakishly big wolf). It was evidently a mother, as there are six pups huddle up against her body. One for each of the six Stark children (as the direwolf is the sigil of their house). They discover the mother died from swallowing the antler of a stag, which got caught in her throat. Later we are introduced to the king's family, the Baratheons, whose house sigil is a stag...
  See how that works? By the time the Baratheons come around we as an audience may have already forgot about the stag and wolf incident. But at the end of the book, King Robert Baratheon is dead, due in part to Lord Eddard Stark's nosing around the capital city, and Eddard is dead as well, killed because of Robert. At the beginning this suspicion is planted in our subconscious but it is so subtle we don't really notice until it is too late.
  This is a great example of using prophecy in a subtle manner to achieve a better audience reaction.

  2. USE SYMBOLISM. Don't go around straight up saying exactly what's going to happen in the future. Make it difficult to figure out, twist your words and don't say exactly what you mean. Like George Martin uses the wolves and stags, use something that is symbolic to your characters, or the situation they will be facing.

  3. FORESHADOW INSTEAD OF PROPHESY. Similar to the example I gave in my first point, go for foreshadowing with certain symbolic events rather than a straight up prophecy with a poem to match. I did something similar to this with a character of mine, whose death is foreshadowed quite heavily throughout the first two books of the series. From the character's birth to day of death, the notion that they will not live as long as the rest is threaded through the narrative again and again. Of course one does not need to use quite as much foreshadowing as I did to get this point across, even one thing that your readers can look back on and see the connection will be sufficient.

  4. TWIST THE PROPHECY. Alternatively, if you have a prophecy that seems really clear but skew it so that is has a double meaning, you can also surprise your audience. If they have an outcome fixed in their minds it will be all the more shocking to reveal something completely unexpected, yet still relevant.

  5. MAKE THE OUTCOME OPEN. If your prophecy has multiple possible outcomes, this is also great for making your audience uncertain of what will happen. George Martin does this really great twice in his A Song of Ice and Fire series with the prophecy concerning Cersei Lannister which goes; "Queen you shall be, until there comes another, younger and more beautiful, to cast you down and take all that you hold dear." There are at least three solid options for characters who would fit the "younger and more beautiful queen" piece. They being Daenerys Targaryen, Margaery Tyrell and Sansa Stark. Any of whom could fit the bill, something which is still keeping fans guessing to this day since Mr. Martin writes REALLYYYY slowly.

  Well, there you are! Five ways to work with prophecy in your novel. To any fellow fantasy writers out there, have you dabbled with this plot device? Do you find it difficult to come up with a theme to weave through your work with prophecy or is it something you enjoy? Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Writing Wednesday - My Summer Project!

  (Totally gonna pretend that I didn't miss my Writing Wednesday post last week and casually insert it this Wednesday like it's all chill)

  As those who hang around here might know, I'm currently in the process of a third manuscript titled 'Faithless', which is an AU dystopia thingy dealing with human conditions like love and trust between a husband and wife that have been separated for seven years because of the husband's betrayal. You can read the full synopsis on my About My Writing page.

  I'm planning to finish it this month if possible so I can be free to work on my summer project (kind of, since my summers are always crazy busy).

  So, for today's Writing Wednesday, I would like to introduce y'all to my summer project, tentatively titled: The Snow Dragon.

  Eira is a young girl living in her family's mountain tribe high in the snowy passes. Curious about the world beyond their valley and fascinated with the ancient myth surrounding the high White Mountain and the mysterious Snow Dragon, she sets out on an adventure to find him and receive the fabled three wishes he grants.

  That's my unofficial synopsis. :P Yay for on-the-spot synopsis'!

  It's going to be a novella, so fairly short. I haven't worked out whether or not it will be aimed at children. Mostly because I haven't started writing yet. I have a tendency to veer into darker, more mature themes at times...

  In any case, I've had this idea stewing in my head for awhile and I thought so long as I can get Faithless done and out of the way, this would be a fun one to do this summer (also ironic, because snow and summer).

  Below you can catch a small sample of what I'll hopefully be working on this July/August/September between working at camp and other activities. We'll see how this goes...

  Eira was bored that day. It was a rare thing for her, there always seemed to be something new and exciting to discover and explore in her blissful valley home. But as the quiet of evening fell over the fall landscape, Eira found herself driven away from the village children and their games, weary of the crowds and the noise and the excitement. She’d wandered off a fair ways, knowing her path exactly as she slipped through the dense forest vegetation with hardly a sound. It was an impressive feat considering that autumn had set in and the leaves were changing and falling all around. The soft crunch beneath her bare feet excited her, lifting her disheartened spirit, and she moved a little faster through the woods.

 She emerged from the bushes into the open on the shores of the mountain lake. The warm red and orange hues of the setting sun shimmered on the ice blue surface of the lake, creating a beguiling contrast. An ancient tree stood sentry over the edge of the waters, Eira had often wondered if it was older than the lake and the mountains themselves, it seemed like it could be.

 Skipping over the rocky shores of the lake, she gathered herself to spring into the tree. The lowest branches were nearly a foot above her head, and she had to climb - not unlike a squirrel - to reach them. The rough bark scraped her bare arms and legs as she went, but her tree-climbing experience and talent allowed her to scurry up easily and with minimal effort. From there, it was only a matter of making her way up through the branches to the top. Or at least, as close to the top as she dared. It was a tall tree.

 The fifth highest branch from the very top was Eira’s favorite. It was a good forty feet in the air and made her feel like a bird. She was not afraid of the height, it thrilled her. Many a time she had even began to seriously consider if she might fly were she to jump…

 From here, Eira would watch, joining the tree in its guardianship. Often she watched for animals, sometimes for birds, or for people. Always though she kept the corner of her eye on the big gray mountain to the north. It was there that the Snow Dragon was rumored to keep its home. A creature out of legend that had fascinated her and owned her imagination for years and years. Some of the village elders said they had spotted the beast once or twice through their lifetimes, but the young people had never seen it. Many wondered if it was even still alive, though dragons were supposed to live thousands of years.

 Today Eira decided to watch for colors while she hoped to glimpse the dragon. She attempted to count all the varying shades of red, yellow and orange in the sunset, but lost track at twelve, unable to distinguish them all. Her eyes roved over the landscape, finding the dark green of the pines, the stark white trunks of birch, the ashen gray of the mountainsides, the peaks covered in white snow. There were brighter colors too, the beautiful orange and yellow fallen leaves, dancing in the soft breeze. Brilliant hues of red and purple trembled in the wind across the blue lake waters. The sky was afire with a thousand variations of red merging into blue and then black as night crept on.  The branch her legs were wrapped around was a warm brown hue and the pale underside of her arm contrasted with the pink scrapes left by the rough bark.

 Eira had counted almost one hundred colors when she heard a voice calling her name from below.

 “Eira! Eira! Are you up there?”

 She bent over to peer down to the ground. Her older brother, Ivar, stood below, bellowing up into the tree and disturbing the picturesque scene. Eira sighed heavily before calling back.


 “Mother wants you come home, it’s time for supper.” Ivar was only a year and a half older than Eira, but he liked to pretend he was much her superior and lorded his responsibility and supposed maturity over her at every opportunity.

 “Coming then,” Eira answered half-heartedly. She didn’t want to leave yet, the Snow Dragon was still out there…

 Still, she was obedient and made her way down, soon it would grow dark anyway, and the woods were no place for a lonely girl after dark, as much as she wished it wasn’t so.  

  Of course it's a first draft and not very good yet, but I'm hoping it will end up being something interesting and fun.

  Thanks for reading about it guys! Be sure to let me know what you think. Do you have any summer projects? Or projects carrying over into summer? Tell me about them below.