On personally-motivated foretells, and how they forge compelling fantasy.
Sometimes fantasy has wizards. Often, wizards make creepy or ominous-sounding predictions. Too many times, those predictions are not realistically petty or personal.
Impersonal and removed prophecy (Bad Writing):
Bolindar raised his staff; his milky-white eyes began to glow an unearthly blue, and his tangled beard trembled.
“I foresee a time,” Bolindar said in an echoing voice, “when all who stand here will be consumed in fire and smoke.”
The hall of warriors grew still; the eyes of the captain of the king’s guard fixed themselves steadily on Bolindar, and the queen’s lips pinched into a narrow line.
“There will be many dead,” Bolindar went on, “but before the end, the demons will fall, and only one young prince shall survive, and rise to the throne of a united empire.”
A mutter went through the hall; the empire had been shattered for hundreds of years. The queen’s eyes darted to her three sons, who sat in a neat row behind their father.
Personal and immediate prophecy (Good Writing):
The hall was full of drifting noise and the heat of many bodies; the captain of the king’s guard sat near to the queen, listening to her rapid, quiet words. The three princes kicked each other under a trestle table, and a pair of wolf hounds wrestled over the carcass of a roasted hare.
Bolindar, the local seer and witch-maker, was perched on the edge of a table; he was chewing on a wad of pine gum, and idly twisting his crude wooden staff between his hands. The tip of his staff made a slight grinding noise against the rushes that were beaten against the wooden floor.
A spark of golden light spun up from the tip of the staff, and exploded with a pop in the air, high over the tables in the great hall.
Bolindar blinked, and looked up at the shivering white stars that danced in the remnants of the exploded sparks. The king and queen rose swiftly, and came to Bolindar. The noise in the hall dropped at the pop of the magic, and the eyes of all the warriors turned irresistibly towards the spinning white stars.
“Well?” the king demanded, when he and his wife were standing before Bolindar. Bolindar suppressed a sigh, and examined the gleaming white lights that hung high in the air.
“Does it say anything about the war?” the queen asked. She did not look at her three sons, but her jaw was tense, and her neck was very still.
Bolindar narrowed his eyes, and his lips moved slowly over his pine gum as he studied the fading fragments of light. The noise in the hall gradually picked up, though the eyes of the captain of the guard were turned steadily on Bolindar from across the room.
“It’s going to be pretty bad,” Bolindar said, his jaw working slowly. He frowned at the magic in the air.
“How bad?” the queen demanded. Her husband hushed her, and stared anxiously at Bolindar.
“All but Franz will die,” Bolindar told the queen in a low voice. “And I’m going to have to raise Franz myself,” the seer added, his face twisting into a sour expression. He spat the pine gum into the rushes on his right side.
“Are we going to die?” the king asked in a low voice, glancing at his queen.
“No, I don’t know,”Bolindar said with a shrug, “but your two older boys will be eaten by demons. They’ll be dead soon.” Bolindar’s forehead creased as he glared up at the last pieces of white light. “I’m going to find a white mare,” he said.
“I don’t want to hear about your horse,” the queen hissed, her eyes furious. Bolindar stared at her with a blank expression. The queen blushed, and turned away swiftly. She hurried towards her three little boys.
“She’s going to run away tonight,” Bolindar told the king.
“Did you see that in the magic?” the king asked, turning his eyes to the retreating form of the queen.
“No,” Bolindar said, lifting his shoulders. “I just think that’s pretty obvious. She’ll pack up her sons and run. I guess I’ll have to follow her,” he added with a sigh.
“You won’t follow her,” the king said, his face clouding with anger. “I won’t let her go anywhere.”
Bolindar gave the king a look of some compassion.
“It was nice knowing you,” Bolindar told the king. He extended a hand towards the monarch, but the king looked askance at the seer’s proffered arm. Bolindar took a deep breath, and hopped down from the table. “I have to go look after Franz,” Bolindar told the king, and the seer followed the queen towards the three blond boys.
The king glared after the seer, and then went directly towards the captain of his guard, who was looking, very suddenly, preoccupied.
People who can do magic and see the future have feelings, too. They are just as invested in their own future as any other person, though their perspective on life and death is inevitably affected by their powers. Let your wizards be people first, and magical beings second.