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Prophecies and legends

Updated: Apr 9

The trope of "prophecies and legends of long-gone times" has been a staple in fantasy literature for centuries going back literally to mythology and old literature, captivating readers with its promise of mystery and reveals. I think we are drawn to the idea because we want to believe there can be more than this world. More than what we see. We don’t want to always believe the problems of today’s world are the best humanity can do, and we want to believe the worlds of old had more to offer than they really do. However, despite its popularity, this trope often falls short. Here are several reasons why this trope can fail to resonate with readers in fantasy novels.


Predictability: One of the primary issues with the prophecy trope is its predictability. When a prophecy foretells the events of the story or the fate of its characters, it can strip away the element of surprise and suspense. We know what the trope has to offer and it is going to surround that prophesy one way or another. Readers may find themselves anticipating the fulfillment of the prophecy rather than being genuinely engaged in the unfolding plot.


Lack of Agency: This one comes up in many guises with possible failings of many tropes, for a reason. We want to see people have agency, because we want to believe we have agency. Prophecies can diminish the agency of the characters within the story. If the fulfillment of the prophecy is inevitable, it can make the characters feel like mere pawns in a predetermined narrative. This can detract from the sense of empowerment and personal growth in the protagonists.


Overreliance on Exposition: Fantasy novels often rely on exposition to convey the details of prophecies and legends, which can lead to information overload, especially in a forward loaded tale. Excessive exposition can bog down the pacing of the story and hinder the reader's immersion in the fictional world. Instead of experiencing the events organically, readers may feel as though they are being spoon-fed information about the prophecy, diminishing the impact of its revelation.


Unfulfilled Expectations: In some cases, prophecies introduced early in a fantasy novel may fail to deliver on their promised significance by the story's end. If a prophecy is built up as a central plot point or driving force behind the characters' actions, its resolution must be satisfying and meaningful. When prophecies are resolved hastily or ambiguously, readers may feel cheated or disappointed by the lack of payoff.


Cliché and Stereotypical: The trope of prophecies and legends can also feel cliché and stereotypical if not executed with originality and depth. Readers may tire of encountering the same tropes and archetypes repeatedly in fantasy literature, craving fresh and innovative storytelling instead.


Despite these potential pitfalls, the trope of "prophecies and legends of long-gone times" remains a popular device in fantasy literature. When executed thoughtfully prophecies can add depth, intrigue, and thematic resonance to a story. It can put layers into the world. However, we must be mindful of the challenges associated with this trope and strive to subvert expectations, surprise readers, and ultimately deliver a narrative that feels new, despite the old.

Here are recommendations to use the trope well.

Subvert Expectations: Instead of presenting prophecies as absolute truths, you can introduce ambiguity and uncertainty surrounding their interpretation and validity. Subverting expectations allows you to surprise readers with unexpected plot twists and character developments, keeping them engaged and intrigued. What if the entire thing is a lie? 😊

Integrate Prophecies Sparingly: Especially for complex or large backstories that need to be told, do it slowly over time. Rather than relying heavily on exposition to convey prophecies, integrate them more subtly into the narrative and conversations. Prophecies should enhance the story's themes and conflicts without overshadowing the characters or plot. Providing just enough information to pique readers' curiosity can maintain momentum and intrigue without overwhelming them with unnecessary detail. As we have said in past posts, tell readers what they need to know after they are asking the question, not before.

Empower Characters: Even inside the boundaries of a prophesy which may or may not limit character behaviors the character’s should still lead the tale. Rather than relegating characters to predetermined roles within a prophecy, emphasize their agency and autonomy. Characters should drive the narrative through their choices, actions, and personal growth, rather than being passive vessels for fulfilling a prophecy.

As always, remember to get out there and write some stories!

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Anna Varlese
Anna Varlese
09 de abr.
Avaliado com 5 de 5 estrelas.

Thanks for the thoughts on this one. This was a topic I didn't know that I didn't know. I haven't thought much on this topic, or why I don't usually find prophesy stories that interesting, and the ones that I do, the why of it.

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