Ladies and gentlemen, I contest that there is no form of artificial plot advancement, no unnecessary McGuffin so odious and unimaginative as “The Prophecy.” Further, I assert that almost every single story that has a prophecy or any kind of “precognition” in it could remain exactly the same, or be improved, by the clean removal of them.
For as things stand, a prophecy acts as little more than a crutch for the author to bridge meaningful character decisions with artificial fluff, hollow and transparently contrived.
You, sir! Yes, you! Need a reason to make your uninteresting protagonist The Hero? Try a PROPHECY that forces them into the center of all existence!
Young madam! Do you need motivation for someone in your story to do something they normally wouldn’t do? Have YOU tried PROPHECY today? Guaranteed to utterly circumvent any sense of organic agency your characters might have!
Hey, how about those pesky worries that your characters or plot aren’t engaging enough? Not to worry, friend, we’ve all been there, and with just a little bit of PROPHECY thrown in, your readers will be HOOKED!
And that’s not all! PROPHECY comes in many DISTINCT FLAVORS!
The Vague Prophecy: Excellent for keeping your audience guessing as they try to decipher your cryptic, terrible poetry! This way you can either fulfill it or not, and still make it seem mystically wise in retrospect!
Example: “The White Queen will see red, when by dark hearts she’s led.” Is it her dark heart? Someone else she trusts? What does see red mean? Who knows?! Does the prophecy even matter? Not really!
The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Want to write an utterly predictable story no one can relate to? Just dress it up with some “deep” existential questions about free will that ultimately have no impact or moral wisdom beyond the scope of the by-the-numbers plot!
Example: “The Dark Lord will be defeated by the child of two farmers.” But how!? Simple! Upon hearing the prophecy, they will attempt to undermine it, and somehow be hoist by their own petard! Everyone loves a Deus ex Prophecy!
The Incomplete Prophecy: Want to keep some artificial tension? Make your prophecy completely understandable and straightforward so that it ensures a lot of angst over a foretold tragic event, but have it leave out vital bits of information that renders it utterly meaningless!
Example: “You will kill your father.” But they end up dying from a painful disease or wound, and ask for a mercy killing! Hooray!
The Spoiler Prophecy: One of the favorites, who doesn’t love a good SPOILER right in the middle of the story? Now we know what you’re thinking, aren’t all prophecies spoilers in some regard? Not as much as this one, which serves NO PURPOSE other than to inform the readers, while keeping the characters ignorant! The trick is to make sure the prophecies have NOTHING to do with the character who hears/sees it, and they can’t ALTER the outcome in any way! So not only is it utterly meaningless except to break the fourth wall, you don’t even have to change anything in your story to fit it in! It’s like it means nothing at all! nothingatall! nothingatall!
Example: A bunch of dead people at a feast, their leader with a wolf for a head! What could it mean?! Nothing to the person seeing it, but ho ho, what a shocker it’ll be for the readers once they get far enough in the story and come back to it! You clever writer you, dropping such discrete hints of the future plans you alone know and control!
That’s right, with the power of PROPHECY, you too can elevate your subpar, generic fantasy and science-fiction into the over-used-tropesphere!
(Note: Any apparent reference to specific stories is almost completely coincidental, and not a remark on the overall quality of that story, prophecy notwithstanding. On top of which, fanfiction works are somewhat exempt from this criticism, as they usually have a source material that includes prophecies to abide by.)