Exposition and foreshadowing are some of the most challenging things to disguise while writing.
Info dumps are boring, narrators are often less engaging and ideally you want to weave in into natural dialogue, not have characters blurt out need to know info intended for the reader. Readers see through it and it peels them out of the story. When trying to solve these issues it’s all too easy to get trapped in looking to anime and manga for solutions, but it can be far more interesting to look to the real world and see what weird things real people that can inspire you. Another tool that’s often used, with varying degree of success, is prophecy and fortune telling.
I came across an interesting real-life fortune telling concept that felt like a fun story telling tool to consider and share with you.
In China there is a phenomenon known as the “credit knife man” thought to be Daoist fortune tellers, have been known to show up before disasters to sell knives to those in need on credit, with a few “words of truth” to those they have a karmic connection with. When you buy these knives on credit, the say they will return after the prophecy is fulfilled and you pay for it then. The interesting part is that they tend to come true.
A fun example being a knife seller that appeared in Huang gang, Huber who would return for payment after every family in this place is serving prison sentences at home, they can’t go out when they have a door, they can’t travel when they have roads” …so I guess he’ll be back after the lock-downs?
I’m not saying these guys are necessarily psychic, many things can be foreseen if you know patterns and history. Many of the Knife man predictions I saw were of weather-related disaster or disease; Weather disasters can be forecast if you are familiar with astronomy and long-term atmospheric cycles. The Japanese Onomyoji seem to have been similarly mystical but when you look closer, they studied many things that today go in a farmers almanac such as astronomy, cycles, history and pattern recognition. As with the lock down example, many already had their eyes on dec 2019-Jan 2020 for a world changing event relating to disease…
some intuition probably helps too.
Another example, in July 2021 Knife and scissor sellers showed up in norther Hubei who said he would return to collect the money when it snows in august next year. No snow? No money, keep it as a gift. It should be hot there in august, like most places so it’ll be interesting to keep an eye out for.
I’ll try to leave a note in the Sept issue, whether crops in Hubei are destroyed by out of season snow or ice. There’s another this year, coming to collect in Dec after the group fails and the red boat sinks…but I’m getting distracted! We’re looking at ways to hide exposition!
As I was saying, the knives seem to serve as an excuse to travel and indirectly bring messages. Not unlike the medicine sellers in Mushishi and Mononoke, who aren’t really selling medicine as much as dealing with beings and spirits and giving an excuse for the stories to play out, and medicine as an indirect way to explain what is happening.
Another side of this, fortune tellers can be, or be portrayed as scammers. Scams, lies and misdirection are handy tools as a storyteller. Half truths are a way of giving exposition in a less obvious way, or disguising something to make a reveal hit stronger. A lie to a character can even be exposition for the reader, we know but the character doesn’t which also creates tension.
Look for these types of people in your culture, or in the world of your story. Travelers with a message come in all shapes, from a Jehovah’s witness to gypsies selling sprigs of heather, Truckers at truck stop restaurants, lone drunks forcing stories on you at a bar, even a chatty bartender. Once you shift the way you think of it, many possibilities open up!