Editing my genre series got a lot harder thanks to the collision of plot, character and Second Sight. That’s right, the one big fantasy idea is clairvoyance, the ability to perceive future or distant events. It enables the author to see just how big a hole they’re about to bury themselves in.
‘Madame Violet’s Psychic Readings: closed today owing to unforeseen circumstances.’
Having a character with second sight or premonition is the power tool of foreshadowing. It’s not subtle but it can crank up the tension within a plot like few devices can. It also has the potential for plot disasters the size of a super-massive black hole.
Questions the author has to ask about a character with Second Sight:
- What does she know, and when?
- When the bad guy turns up, how come she doesn’t know it’s him?
- How does she not know how the story ends?
Wrangling premonition is a similar struggle to wrangling time-travel. Premonition clashes horribly with Cause and Effect.
Foresight indicates predestination.
Can you change the future you’ve foreseen by changing circumstances in the present? Because if you change the present, you don’t get the future you just foresaw. So how can you foresee it? See?
All ‘change the past to save the future’ plots (such as The Terminator series) struggle with this. Minority Report tied itself in knots over this.
So I’m playing my ‘Get out of jail card.’
The character’s psychic ability is inherited from one side of the family. Her half-blood heritage makes it unreliable, fragmentary, difficult to contextualise. As an outcast, she has no wise mentor to explain how it works.
Let’s twist it further using the Sliding Doors McGuffin. Let’s say her Second Sight shows moments of significant choice; forks in the road where the outcome is dependent on the character’s decision at that moment. Turn left, happy ever after. Turn right, enter the lion’s den. Now you have foreshadowing, tension, conflict and revelation. Especially when the vision cuts out at a crucial moment to provoke a cliff-hanger.
Now those forks in the road of Destiny, Fate or Fortune can be used to spear the character with sharp dilemmas. Should she act or not? What’s the right choice? Is there a right choice? What are the consequences of one over another? Can she save a character from a death worse than fate? Or herself?
Twist it further; show how a wrong choice leads to a mirror-universe, to an evil version of the same character in the future.
Wrestling with unreliable premonition turns a problematic character trait into an asset to twist or enable the plot.
I have a feeling it’s all going to be fine. Unless it isn’t.
2 thoughts on “Plot, Character and Second Sight”
Tying yourself up in knots with this one. This is the trouble with every time travel plot from Terminator onwards.
If you see the future how can you change the future, because i you change it how did you see the original which doesn’t happen? This breaks cause-and-effect.
This is where multiverse theory comes in handy. Branching timelines. Its a big cheat I know.
If its good enough for the Russo’s in Infinity War, who am I to argue.
I’m very clear my MC’s second Sight is unreliable and presents crossing places not certainties.