What is it? The “Chosen One” is a character that is prophesied/destined to save the world. Sometimes being the chosen one is a blessing, and at other times a curse, but it always ends with fulfillment of destiny. For example, Neo in the Matrix movies, Rand al’Thor in the Wheel of Time books, or even Harry Potter.
This was one of the first tropes to appeal to me when I was younger. I loved those middle grade fantasies about kids my age discovering powers and great destinies along the way. I liked imagining that I could have an important role to play in the world, that I could be special in some way. Also I liked seeing kids having people believe in them, despite their doubts, how afraid they were, and how terrible the evil they face – eventually it led to them believing in themselves.
But it’s been done… and done. I’ve got nothing against the trope, but it’s hard to stop from descending into cliche. So how can you make it fresh and interesting?
As Anthony proposed, why not let characters choose responsibility, rather than let it be forced upon them? Thereby, not use the trope at all.
An alternate idea, is that being marked as the ‘chosen one’ is truly a misunderstanding. By truly, I mean that the story does not fall in to the related cliche where you reveal “oh but she really was the chosen one” in the end (like Neo in the Matrix).
What if there’s not a chosen one, but chosen ones? What if a destiny was shared by a group working together, or by multiple people whose stories are woven together, and do not start out in the same place?
What if the destiny is something small, tiny, not world changing? Or appears to be nothing spectacular, but has a big impact? Or what if it affects no one but a single family?
My approach was to invert it, so some of the flaws were easier to see. Some of the things I wanted to examine were: how do you know whether you’re savior or the destroyer? and what about free will? Because you know the future, are you doomed to self-fulfill it?
Hmm, I’m sure there are more ways to go about it, but those are just a few I could think of off the top of my head. I think a good writer can always find a way to make a trope fresh. Ironically, here I am, moaning about the chosen one, when two of the best books I’ve read lately (The Inheritance Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin and Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor) make it work.
What do you think about the chosen one? Has it been overused? Or do you still see potential in it?
And an extra dose of geekiness for you today:
And if you picked up the reference in the blog post title, you might like to reminisce a little.