Wednesday, 30 September 2009

prophecy, or: how to rob your protagonist of agency

Prophecy: I hate it.

Hero’s Journey fantasies love this trope. The young protagonist discovers he’s prophesied to bring down the Dark Lord. Unfortunately, the Dark Lord now knows about him too, and unleashes his +2 Storm of Wrath on our luckless protagonist. Standing in the smouldering ruins of his home village, ideally on the graves of his parents, the protagonist vows vengeance. He’ll take down that dastardly Dark Lord or die trying!

This is also the reason why half the Hero’s Journey fantasies on my shelf have dented corners -- I threw them against the wall.

Here are my problems with the traditional use of prophecy in fantasy:
  1. Prophecy makes the story predictable. If it’s prophesied that the protagonist will overcome the Dark Lord, we know that’s exactly what will happen. No suspense, no surprise, no excitement.
  2. Since we’ve been told how the story will go, we’re ahead of the plot and waiting impatiently while the reluctant hero tries to refuse the call. It’s obvious to everyone except the protagonist that that’s not going to happen. He’s going to be railroaded into his prophesied role whether he likes it or not.
  3. It’s a not-very-veiled form of authorial intrusion. Consider where prophecy comes from: the gods, fate or destiny -- ie. authorial intent.
  4. We read fiction for compelling characters who must take drastic action to overcome conflict. If their actions are dictated by prophecy, not choices that they themselves make, they’re just a puppet.
Soon: uses of prophecy I’ve enjoyed reading; things I’d like to see done with prophecy.

week zero: freshers' week

It's week zero, and as I head back to real-life university, I'll also be studying my real passion - how to create a good fantasy novel.

The bibliography: authors from Abercrombie to Zelazny. The schedule: three times a week I'll blog about what I'm reading, writing and learning. The final project: my ongoing novel, which is languishing at a 3rd when it needs to climb the dizzy heights of a 1st.

I have a lot to learn. ;)