Fantasy Seers: Look into the Crystal Ball

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One of the most common devices/characters/whatever in fantasy is the fortune teller/seer/oracle.  It happens all the time where a character either seeks out or stumbles upon a strange person who can hint about the future.  One great use for these characters is to pick out the readers that hate this device.  Seriously, it’s fun to see people roll their eyes at this one because it’s usually such a minor character with a vague revelation.  Aside from being a cliche that people pounce on like free pizza, there is some fun with these types of characters.  It’s all about the variation:

  1. Old Man Seer of the King–  This guy is who the king calls on to make any decision.  From royal affairs to the day’s pair of socks, the cards are needed for everything.  This guy may also betray the kingdom, which nobody will realize because it isn’t like he’s going to reveal that part of the future.
  2. Sexy Female Seer of the King–  Scantily clad and the sexiest creature in the castle, it’s also important that she stay a virgin.  Sex means she loses her powers and will be seen as worthless to the, typically cruel, king.  Many times this is a lie to avoid being bedded by anyone other than the protagonist.  After all, you know she’s going to be bedded by the protagonist either by the end or soon after the credits.
  3. Random Fortune Teller–  This is a character that appears in the middle of a city, a festival, or a tent in the center of the wilderness.  Her appearance is sudden and there is a sense of mystery around her.  Incense and strange lights are necessary here.  The point of such a character that never appears again?  Foreshadowing and to freak the character out.
  4. Gypsy Matron–  For some reason, there is always an old or middle-aged woman (black-haired, of course) has the power to tell the future.  This is where bones, cards, and crystal balls seem to come into play.  The crystal ball is the most popular because an author doesn’t have to design a system or do research to say how they work.  Stare into the ball, see fog, and mumble about the future.
  5. The Oracle–  Straight out of mythology, this is the woman (note a theme?) who is sought for her power.  Sometimes she’s a priestess with the blessing of the gods and other times she’s nothing more than a girl born with the power.  Either way, the heroes will search her out as part of their adventure.  She typically appears at the beginning to set them on their path, but you can also place her in the middle if they get lost.
  6. Fortune Telling Thief– It happens sometimes and usually as a scam.  The thief in the group has the equipment and makes extra money making fake fortunes.  Of course, they have a habit of getting arrested or run out of town until they stick with the hero and behave.  It’s not uncommon for them to stumble onto a real vision too, which tends to freak everyone out during a climactic scene.  It also tends to result in the thief dying soon after.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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21 Responses to Fantasy Seers: Look into the Crystal Ball

  1. Paul Davis says:

    I like #2! Because I’m that guy. I like how she was used in Immortals, where the sex freed her. So what are your feelings on using the fortune tellers? You give hints towards a little bit of you are and aren’t okay with it. I do agree that it’s often overused in meaningless ways.


    • I’m neutral on them because I’ve seen them used amazingly and terribly. For me, it depends on the story and if they make sense. A fortune teller that moves a major plot or subplot with foreshadowing is great. For example, guiding the heroes to a location or even helping the villain stay one step ahead of the good guys. A seer that seems to be there for the sake of having a fortune telling scene irks me.

      An example of bad, a prediction is made on a character that sends them to a magical island where they hope to find an item to save the world. It’s revealed to be a message from their mother who died in childbirth and showed a way they can talk for a few minutes. The item just happens to be on the island too. I’ve actually read a short story that worked this way in college.


  2. Jack Flacco says:

    I love canned characters. They’re clearly defined, already have all the baggage in place and the reader immediately knows them on sight. The thing though, unless steeped in humor, these characters can turn the reader against a writer–at least for me they do. Again, the trick is humor. Adding them in to add levity to the plot will make an unoriginal idea into a creative one!


    • Humor is one of the best methods to soften their existence. Still, I do think there’s nothing wrong with having a seer involved in the main plot if they fit. One would have to work in a unique personality or some quirks. Like a fortune teller who is always talking about some of his/her old successes or one that has a gambling problem.


  3. Interesting, I never realized there were so many. I learn something new everyday, thanks. 🙂


  4. sknicholls says:

    So many to work with. Having had clairvoyant dreams, I was always fascinated by the dreamers even as far back as the Old Testament. The ones who advised Pharaohs and Kings. And Ezekiel, just try to read that, if he wasn’t dreaming, then he had to have been having an extraterrestrial encounter.


  5. I would also point out the Tortured Seer, a character whose power comes upon them rarely and is not under control. They can’t do it when they want to. The power makes its own decisions. An example would be Professor Trelawney from the Potter series, who mostly rattles her beads and gets all drama-swoony — but on two occasions is seized uncontrollably and delivers a genuine prophecy.

    Another twist on this could be characters like Cassandra, whose prophecies are 100% accurate but no one ever believes her due to the punishment of Apollo.


  6. Jade Reyner says:

    Thank you for this education Charles. I am looking forward to getting stuck into your book ! 🙂


  7. M T McGuire says:

    I’m thinking about that James Bond film for number two. 😉


  8. aldreaalien says:

    I guess I use the Oracle version in a goddess (whose daughter is a prophet), which doesn’t really work for my group as their missing person is basically in a scry-proof place. And he had to risk his life to reach her only to be sent to someone worse for an answer that leads him to somewhere potentially more dangerous.
    Good times.


    • Wow. That sounds like jumping from one fire to the other, but that can be a lot of fun in a story. I do that in my second book and a character has a really fun ‘snap’ at the worst possible moment.


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