The lilac in our backyard is blooming again. I’ve never seen it blossom at this time of year. My first reaction was, “Cool! I love lilacs!” My second thought was about what this means for the health of the plant. Is it getting too stressed? Will it bloom again in the spring? Then it occurred to me that had I lived even five hundred years ago I would have asked, “What kind of omen is this?”
Omens can be good, or bad, or both, depending on who is interpreting them. I’m reading Plutarch’s Lives and he writes about a little infowar between two opposing parties and the meaning of apparent omens. It would have been hilarious except the omen was used to start a war, but that’s a blog for another day.
Writers don’t have to limit themselves to fantasy or horror to use omens in their plots and/or character development. We all look for meaning in our lives, and sometimes that involves deciding when something is a sign from the universe – which is sort of the definition of an omen, yes? The need to make a hard decision could force your character to rely on superstition, or revert to child-like behavior (“eeny, meeny, miney, moe” and all that), because there is no obvious right answer. Similarly, making a wrong decision could be both a plot point (or the beginning of a subplot) should one character decide everything would have been fine if the protagonist had only used some sort of faith-based option in the decision-making process.
In the ancient world, anything could be an omen. Give yourself the freedom as a writer to use whatever comes your way to make your story what you want it to be.
Luck and wisdom!