Andrea Lawrence has a master's in creative writing. She studied fiction, poetry, playwriting, and screenwriting.
Create a Guide for Logic
First things first, DO NOT try to figure out your curse or prophecy in the midst of writing your novel. You will likely have severe logic issues that will turn your readers off from your story. You might have to rewrite large sections of your book if you suddenly realize your foreboding event isn't working.
In order to properly handle a curse or prophecy, I recommend creating a guide for yourself. Guide notes will help you to nail down the specifics. You want to know your mystical thing's identity, when it started, the rules behind it, and how it can be broken (or fulfilled).
Ambiguous curses or prophecies that are drowned in loopholes will annoy your audience. This is why you want to organize the details of it.
You could treat it as its own character with its own timeline, desires, needs, failures, and demise. What is your curse's origin story? What is the sequel to your prophecy?
Drive the Plot Forward
Mystical things like curses and prophecies need to drive the plot forward and create curiosity. If you create something enchanting and your reader is bored, it means you need to raise the stakes. The conflict isn't big enough for people to care.
These mystical things are often not the A plot, but they act as a buffer to your A plot (your main plot). They can act as a trigger for events.
- A curse is something a character or group of characters is burdened by. They're given an unfair setback. This curse could, in a way, be a gift to them. It gives them a unique perspective. Your character might struggle with wanting to give up the curse.
- Prophecies are all about foretelling. This is a prediction. Your reader is curious to see how things will unravel. When you make a prophecy in a text, you're making a promise. The payoff needs to be worthwhile.
Create Timelines and Family Trees
I recommend in your notes creating a timeline for your curse or prophecy. When did it start? Who was the first person to fall under it? When will it end?
As an author, you want to be the main expert on how your curse or prophecy operates. You should create a guide that has more information in it than will actually go into your book.
Curses Need a Backstory
You could have a family that's been suffering from a curse for centuries. I recommend creating a family tree to map this out. Pick a year and a setting where the curse began. Curses are excellent to develop in the past.
Prophecies Need Future Ideation
For a prophecy, you'll think about the future. Prophecies are often associated with a chosen one or group, cataclysmic events, and zeitgeist shifts. A simple foretelling of how someone's regular ole' day will go isn't grand enough for a prophecy.
Curses: Individuals and Small Groups
Curses are more associated with witchcraft and a small collection of people who aren't necessarily fixed as a group identity. Curses can come from a regional, tribal, or ethnic group. For the most part, curses aren't associated with nation-states or dominant religions.
Curses are often made up or passed down as recipes. Curses are usually messy and involve some grossness.
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Prophecies: Organized Religions and Establishment
Prophecies typically come from large religious groups that are noticeably established and often have dominance. Prophecies tend to arise in groups that have an established writing system, archives, and organization. Clergy will focus on particular texts.
Prophecies are more structured than curses and involve a promise. Prophecies are associated with seers.
What Are the Rules?
It's not easy to peg down the rules of a curse or prophecy. When it comes to telling a story, you'll want to show as much as possible, but you'll likely have to rely on exposition to explain the rules of your curse and/or prophecy.
I suggest coming up with a general idea of how your mystical thing operates and then talking it out with a smart friend. They can help you spot loopholes or suggest things that will make it better. You want to be open to ideas, and you want to listen because you don't want to be knee-deep in writing and realize something doesn't work or make sense.
Write out your rules like they're commandments. It's like writing a computer code. You can go sideways really quickly with the addition of a new rule that counters something else. Your rules need to function together as a whole. Perhaps you'll save some of the rules for later in your book as plot twists or surprises.
Think of your curse or prophecy as a living thing. It's a species within your text. You need to nurture it correctly, or else risk it coming off like an unbelievable character... or worse, just an annoying vapid presence.
A curse operates like a glitch. It's causing something in the day-to-day to not function correctly. A prophecy acts like a cheat code: we're getting insider information about what is to come. People have to manage their curse; they have to prepare for a prophecy.
Your rules should address things like:
- The power of the curse. Is it deadly? Can it spread?
- What caused the curse to start in the first place?
- Important dates
- Important characters associated with the curse or prophecy
- Any noticeable conditions of the curse or prophecy. Does it only apply on full moons? Does it cause physical changes that have to be managed?
- Reasons why the curse or prophecy might skip someone
Curses and Grudges
Curses often start because someone was wrongfully sidelined. In fairy tales, curses are sometimes used to teach a lesson, such as in the case of Beauty and the Beast where a prince is cursed for how he treated an older woman. He is transformed into a beast until he can truly fall in love with someone's heart, and not just superficial things like looks.
Curses are often associated with grudges. People will go to extra lengths to make someone's life worse if they caused them harm. Curses are often reactionary; they're revenge-like. People don't typically cast curses willy-nilly. They're angry with someone, and they express their anger through a curse.
Curses often require something from the person who casts it. It's often a strange ritual and has to do with gross things, like animal parts or bodily parts. A sacrifice is made or a contract is written. Sometimes a contract is exchanged with something supernatural.
The curse was cast out of a particular motivation. It's important for the author to explore that motivation: why was the curse cast? When you start exploring the intent behind the curse, it should reveal something bad about the person it befell or the person who originally inherited it.
A curse often creates a grudge match. Your character who is cursed is either going to be compelled to rid themselves of the curse and be free, or they'll choose to suffer with it and manage it.
Curses usually have to do with individuals who are upset with a misfortune, whereas, prophecies have to do with groups of people who have experienced misfortune and desire a new future.
Prophecies and Worship
Prophecies are often associated with a group of believers. The believers often worship a god or something else in hopes of seeing the prophecy fulfilled. Prophecies often take a look at particular bloodlines in hopes of finding the chosen one.
Prophecies tend to have people dedicated to studying them. These predictions often come about from long journeys into isolated places (often deserts), dreams, hypnosis, sleep deprivation, drugs, traumatic situations, and ghosts.
Some prophecies are created by lower classes who are tired of those in charge. They predict a person in the future will break the system to begin something new, and, hopefully, better. Prophecies are often politically motivated.
When prophecies are strong, there will be people dedicated to them. Believers will be married to ambiguous ideas; they deeply desire to see the prophecies fulfilled. Prophecies build hope in people, often false hope.
Prophecies are religious in nature. They're not generally associated with science as they can't be tested. They're a mix of rumors, hope, future-seeking, and legends.
The King Arthur legends start with a promise: the one who will pull the sword from the stone will be king. There is a promise that we'll get to see who pulls the sword from the stone.
Prophecies often don't go the way people want. They can be disappointing. False prophets tell fabrications to try and exhort people.
Curses and Prophecies Can Help You Develop Conflict
One of the most important story elements is conflict. A curse or prophecy can help heighten your conflict and make your narrative more interesting to your reader.
You have to be careful to assemble your curse or prophecy correctly, as you would a 1,000-piece puzzle. If you scramble it all together and try to present it to your reader, they might not connect with it.
You don't want your story to come off like something a kindergartner wrote. You want it to be sophisticated and professional. You want people to be impressed with how you developed your curse or prophecy. They should find it compelling and original.
Cultivate an Original Idea
If you feel like you're starting to copycat someone else or another text, try reinventing your curse or prophecy a touch more. People often look to ancient texts for inspiration.
You have to be careful with current/living writers because they might put a curse on you for stealing their work or poor reproduction of it.
Keep playing with your curse or prophecy in your notes until it seems original, juicy, and worth exploring. It might take a few drafts to get your curse or prophecy pegged. I recommend working on this part of your story on its own document or in a distinctly designated space in your notes.
Breaking a Curse or Fulfilling a Prophecy Shouldn't Be Easy
To really make a curse or prophecy powerful, they shouldn't be easy to solve. A curse may require a long journey, a huge investigation, and challenging items to acquire to finally get it to end.
Prophecies usually have timetables. This can be helpful for an author because then you're working toward a deadline. You know when things will unravel; your characters should only have a general idea of what's about to happen.
You could really change things up and start your story at the point where the curse ends or the prophecy is fulfilled. Is it more interesting to explore the aftermath of these things? For some stories, yes.
I recommend looking at other fiction to see how other writers conveyed curses or prophecies. You could also look at ancient texts and literature to see how these things were done in the past.
Content I recommend:
- Death Note
- Harry Potter
- Legends of King Arthur
- The Iliad
- The Queen of the Night
- The House of the Seven Gables
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Andrea Lawrence