I had an idea for a story which I feel fits very close with Studio Ghibli style stories, especially ones like spirited away. I really want to expand it while keeping the Miyazaki feel, and have already come up with some interesting character concepts, but I'm really limited by the need to better define the central abilities that drive the story.

In particular I'm having trouble coming up with powers that are undefined enough to leave the protagonist unsure how to use them, weak enough to not make things to easy on the protagonist, and yet strong enough that the protagonist can play an important role in the climax to show her character development.


In this world there are people I'm currently calling Fortune Tellers (I don't really like the name, I just can't think of better yet), who are closely linked to Fate, which is an important element of this world. Fate seems to happen around tellers, meaning that spectacular events, extraordinary strokes of luck, and generally the sort of things that seem to go beyond coincidence and into the realm of Fate constantly happen around tellers. However, Fate is a neutral force, neither good nor bad, and as such the spectacular events around Teller's are equally a mix of good and bad.

Someone talking to a Teller may trip and and stumble into the arms of their true love, but they may also stumble knock over a man carrying the expensive prototype for an invention which will cure world hunger and destroy it, getting themselves ostracized by the famine riddled town.

Teller's may have a strong sense of Fate as well. They may look at someone and know they are Fated in some way (ie something big or important will happen associated to them). They may see two people and realize that there is some sort of Fate between them, something will happen between the two of importance. However, they don't have full control over this, sometimes they will notice it sometimes they won't, and again they only know that Fate will happen, not when or how, or if it will be good or bad Fate.

People aren't sure how Teller's work exactly, in fact there are many different and often conflicting theories and more myth then fact about them. Some believe that a Teller causes Fate to happen by being in an area, other's think that Tellers are simply drawn towards places where important Fateful things were likely to occur anyways, causing them to happen to be there when it happens, and others think that Fate is a cosmic plan that controls tellers as much as others, the tellers are there because they were Fated to be just as much as the person who was Fated to have a Eureka moment after accidentally dropping his gold plated watch in a bathtub and watching water spill out of it.

The response from people to Tellers is varied. It's not uncommon for people to come to Teller's to ask for advice or help. Some believe that since the Teller's can sense Fate they may be able to steer it slightly, though there are lots of myths and no one is certain how or if they can. Someone may come to a Teller and ask them which baby name feels right to them, or to pick between two hands which each hold a slip of paper with a course of action their considering on it. The idea is that the Teller may be able to sense which of the two names, or actions, is associated with a better Fate and pick the one that will end better. two young teens who are dating may go to a teller and ask if they are Fated to be together etc. I may expand on this more, but the idea is that some turn to the tellers to try to take advantage of their sense of Fate for good, but it's not as easy as having someone that can see the future. A teller can't be certain that only positive things will happen, and how much power the teller actually has to effect things isn't entirely certain either; though ideally I'm leaning towards them having some ability to have a positive effect if they do things right.

While people often come to the Teller for advice the general opinion of people towards Teller's vary significantly. Some may blame (or thank) a teller for some bit of Fate that happened to them before, and the amount that a Teller is credited for being able to influence Fate varies. The one thing that is generally true is that, while many may come to a Teller for help when they need it, few want to spend a long length of time with them. Teller's bring lots of fate, both good and bad, and that leads to a chaotic life. Not all of the Fate will be bad, but the consensus seems to be a long boring life is better then a crazy, if interesting, life of constant ups and downs of Fate that come with being around a Teller.


The hero is, in keeping with the Miyazaki feel I mentioned, a younger girl, I'm not set on age, but no older then mid teens and quite likely younger. Teller's discover their abilities during a Fateful, awakening, and it usually happens in their 20's. The hero has her awakening at a much younger age. This may mean that Fate is even stronger around her then others.

She is going to be a strong, though young, hero. She is still young and emotional, and thus is hurt to an extent by the fact that people don't tend to want to stay around her because of fear of Fate happening, and even more that some blame her when bad Fate occurs, but she will grow strong enough to handle this. She has, from the beginning, a strong desire to help people. In particularly she idolizes to her much older brother who was well loved for all the good work he did before he left to help people further away, and she wants to do the sort of good he did.

The ambiguity of most Teller's powers is intentional, I want to show the struggle of her not knowing how to be a Teller. People come to her and ask her to pick between two decisions based off of what feels 'right', but she doesn't know how she should tell what is right. She want's to help, but worries that she is just guessing instead of actual helping.

The story should, in miyazaki tradition, focus the protagonist's growth and maturing. I'm willing to work with her growth in a few ways, but growing more confident in her own decision making and abilities, rather then 'helping' by going along with whatever anyone else wants, and working to learn how to use her ambiguous abilities to help others are likely key parts of it.

One of the side characters she has is a scientist who wants to understand Tellers and their link with Fate, who may help her to try to figure out what she actually can do vs what is Myth. However, even with the scientist help it should mostly be a journey of self discovery, the scientist doesn't have the answers or a way to set up proper controlled tests, so she is simply discovering along with the girl.

What I'm Missing

The idea of Teller and Fate is not completely defined, as I said to an extent I want the world to not fully understand the implication and limits of these things so that it has to be a journey of discovery for the girl. However, I'll ultimately need a climax in which the girl has to do something to help others to show her growth. Her power's can't be completely ambiguous or worthless if she is going to be the person who has to do something, despite having other more physically competent people with her. At the same time her abilities can't be an "I WIN" button either, I want to show her being brave and taking action in a situation where she has to have confidence in her own ability to judge the situation, even if the answer isn't completely obvious.

I need to better define what I want a Teller to actually be able to do if I'm going to decide how she will grow and what an appropriate climax is. I'm pretty flexible on specifics so long as I can both have her struggling with unknown abilities at first and yet developing enough to be relevant by the climax, while still feeling more like a strong willed girl doing her best rather then an x-men with magic Fate powers.

I have toyed with giving Teller's abilities beyond the general Fate ones, but only if they weren't too powerful. I had originally thought of saying Teller's gain some other weak magic like abilities that develop over time, with the Girl's being particularly weak due to her age, but it was hard to get something thematic that wasn't too powerful.

The one idea I thought that may work is the idea of having them able to see or interact with spirits/ghosts of some sort as well, with the climax partially being about quelling upset spirits before they cause harm. However, I had a hard time fitting it in with the other Fate ideas in a way where the ability to interact with spirits didn't monopolize the plot, but also didn't feel forced in just to justify having a relevant power to solve whatever the conflict was in the climax. I think it's partially because I have a hard time thinking of a good way to interact with spirits/ghosts that I feel is interesting.

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    $\begingroup$ To be honest, this feels like idea generation to me. You've proposed an incomplete scheme for a character and are looking for ways to complete it. I won't vote to close yet; the question as is seems to be about on the border. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 17:12
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    $\begingroup$ You should read up on ta'veren from The Wheel of Time. They skew reality around them in a way similar to what you are describing. (Both good and bad) $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 21:05

3 Answers 3


I'm a bit of a scientist, so it seems natural to me to try to fit a set of rules to the situations you described. From there, you have great freedom to define what Fate actually does. As long as it is consistent with a scientific model of what is going on, it will appear reasonable from a scientific perspective. One phrase struck me as particularly meaningful from this point of view:

Fate seems to happen around tellers, meaning that spectacular events, extraordinary strokes of luck, and generally the sort of things that seem to go beyond coincidence and into the realm of Fate constantly happen around tellers.

This description provides quite a bit of content from a scientific perspective. In the scientific method, one never actually "proves" any hypothesis. Rather, one proves that it is highly unlikely that the observed results occur by random chance by the existing theory (the "null hypothesis"), but the new theory requires much less coincidence than the existing theory did.

Your description says that, around Tellers, highly extraordinary strokes of luck occur. In the language of statistics, this would be phrased as skewing the distribution of random luck to "unnaturally" favor extreme values. This definition seems particularly interesting to me because this pattern has been seen in real life. Nassim Taleb has made a living arguing that there are "fat tails" in the stockmarket -- the idea that the extreme results are more common than one would think they should be. I believe the general idea is that if enough people bet on the sure-fire solution in the stock market, it actually begins to bend the probabilities and make the more unusual results more likely to occur. This means you have some real life content you can draw upon.

One key detail: "spectacular events" are in the eye of the beholder. This tells me your Fate is heavily entwined with the beliefs of the individuals observing the events. It strikes me as akin to the universe consciously trying to become harder to predict by making extreme situations occur more often.

There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened. - Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

The question of whether Tellers are agents of fate, or merely sensitive to it is as old as time, so it's a great direction to go for a Miyazaki feel.

Now, as for the specific abilities, one of the things I have found makes stories in this genre feel "real" is when people have an ability to consciously fight against fate. We build ideas and structures which are designed to prevent fate from having a say in what occurs. This leads to a situation where fate is most powerful when the world gets murky. Its easy for a man to combat Fate and pull the trigger on his gun when facing someone who is shooting back at him. It is much harder for him to work against Fate when the target in his sights is not quite as evil (perhaps a child), causing him to not fully desire to compete with fate.

It would be reasonable to me to suggest that the ghosts/spirits could be embodiments of parts of Fate. If Fate is not some uniform mass advancing on our universe, but a fickle complicated structure, it is natural that some of it would condense into shapes that we could perceive as ghosts or spirits. This would fit well with the idea of society trying to triumph over fate. We traditionally find stories where ghosts and spirits start to disappear as the march of progress lumbers forward. This can fit with your issues of trying to avoid overpowering her abilities: if spirits play less of a part near the cornerstones of the foundation of society, her abilities to talk with them become less essential the closer she gets to trying to "solve" anything. (That is, of course, until just one spirit finds its way to somewhere important and starts to act against society).

  • $\begingroup$ I would give you a plus one for taking a scientist approch, I'm a scientist myself, and the lack of having better defined rules for the concept is what's kept me from moving forward with what I thought would be a cool idea. I'm still processing the second half, but I like one idea you implied. I think a human actively trying to stop the girl because she 'causes fate' that he doesn't want would be good. Make him misguided and not entirely evil, doing what he thinks has to. It gives the more 'mundane' characters a way to help her by fighting a mundane, but real, threat to her. $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 14:17
  • $\begingroup$ I'm surprised I hadn't really thought of the whole fighting fate trope much with this idea, your right it's an obvious path. I think having some of the early emotional strugle of the girl being her feeling she can't fight fate would work, mix it in with her young age and with older people (her father in particular, who tries too hard to protect her) trying to push her into actions. Her actively trying to fight fate and standing up to her father to do what is right could both be part of her stepping away form passive child to having strength to actively try to shape the world for the better.. $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 14:32
  • $\begingroup$ I'm still not certain I have fully defined the Fate power from this, but I really do like your feedback. I do think I will 'visualize' fate as something like spirits, something more visual then her just 'feeling' something works better; myizaki was very good at interesting visuals like this. However, I don't know if I want the spirits to be truly sentient, and if they aren't then how she could interact with them isn't clear. Besides, I want to imply that people besides Tellers could fight fate. I'll see what I come up with after mulling over the ideas you gave me some more. Thanks $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 14:37
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    $\begingroup$ I do agree that the answer doesn't fully define Fate. I intentionally avoided doing so. What you are pushing towards could easily be viewed as a classic story of physicalism vs. dualism vs. idealism, and the study of freewill under all three viewpoints. This is a very open ended debate in philosophy, so I didn't want to put too many details in which might lock things down. However, a classic story of {insert major philosophical issue here} is also what I would consider a VERY strong starting point for a Miyazaki-esque story, so I think you're barking up a very good tree :) $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ @dsollen Fighting Fate should be the immature portion of the trope. If fighting Fate was truly worth doing all the wiser Tellers would be doing it. Instead, accepting that Fate often has a plan and that accepting it and guiding those along its path makes the journey smoother rather than rougher. Having a "Devastating" humiliation in a Nobles Court could pave the way for a client to be less followed giving them the opportunity to have a clear path for making a Major unforeseen change later. After all, Fate often works in mysterious ways as the older Tellers know well. $\endgroup$
    – IT Alex
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 15:36

Your world sounds lovely. Very Miyazaki-like.

One option is that the girl creates fate. She doesn't know it, as everyone believes that fate is created by spirits or the universe, or that each person's fate has been there all along for them to discover.

The fate she creates unconsciously for other characters could be based on how she feels about them, or what she wishes for them. That can be good and bad.

Of course the Fate she creates would become more pronounced or immediate around the Tellers.

Her character arc could include "beats" like this:

  • She thinks she is just seeing Fate like Tellers do.
  • She discovers that she creates fate for other people, based on how she feels about them. She might discover that by changing how she feels about a person, and seeing their Fate change suddenly.
  • She can't handle it and tries to become a hermit.
  • She realizes that it is powerful, and potentially useful, and returns to her society.
  • There are people she thinks are evil, and therefore she keeps creating bad Fate for them, and she feels terrible about that.
  • At the end she comes to understand the people she thought were evil, and discovers they are just misunderstood, and is able to then create good fate for them.
  • She can also start to show people that they can create and control their own fate, though she is the first one to do it so powerfully.

There are probably plenty of other "beats" in the story:

  • She confides in someone who promises to keep her secret.
  • The secret comes out. People who find out about it go nuts - some celebrate it, some get enraged that she is creating bad Fate for them, some just get afraid of what she could do (even though she's really sweet and loving).
  • When she is alone in her self-exile, she suffers from loneliness and has a hard time creating shelter, finding food, etc.
  • Someone in her society tries to defend her when she returns.
  • Other characters start trying to control their own Fate, or the Fate of others.
  • She learns how to control her own Fate and guide her own future.
  • She becomes a teacher of her magical self-determination.

For some reason, your synopsis makes me think of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. You could do a riff on that rule of quantum physics in your story. Let me explain my reasoning:

You mentioned that your Tellers have a definite influence on people's lives, but that the end result is unpredictable- it could be positive or negative, right? What if your girl finds that, unlike other Tellers, she has the ability to predict/cause to happen events with a definite positive or negative outcome? The kicker is that, in line with the uncertainty principle, the more clearly she can see a "good" Fate the less she can identify the "bad" and vice versa.

For example, if she causes/sees a definite positive outcome for a 'client' she will fall into some negative Fate in her own life. It could even be that the stronger the good she does for others, the more costly it would be to herself or those closest to her. By the same token, If she sees and acts on a clear positive path for herself, perhaps she fails to see the disaster impending for others. The point being- there's always a cost, an equalizing of Fates.

As a climax, it could very well be that the stakes for helping someone achieve their positive Fate will end up costing her or a loved one their life.

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    $\begingroup$ I think this is a very good idea and could make a great story. I don't think I'm going this route because it doesn't really feel like a Miyazaki style story. The implication that she can only do good by effectively hurting herself is a little bleak, it doesn't have the same feel-good, or at least empowering, ending that usually occurs in his works. I could perhaps amend it by having her discover a way to beat fate and help without sacrificing everything though. In any case the concept is very good for a future story, rather or not I use it with this one. $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 14:40

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