Complexities and Depth to the Chosen One Trope

I’ve just finished reading an essay from the TOR newsletter about The Chosen One trope. One of the flaws of the trope the essay reflects upon is how, as a secondary effect of there being a chosen one, the unchosen masses often free themselves from further activism and responsibility. There are some positives in the essay, as well, and I think it is a good read to help write a Chosen One story with some depth and complexity to it.

Some of my favorite chosen one stories seem to always be the ones with an ensemble cast. The chosen one may be prophesied to be in the right place at the right time but they won’t actually get there without the aid of invested group support. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a good example of this. She is the first Slayer in a long line of them to survive more than a short span primarily due to having a team of friends and allies to support her success.

Here is the link to the essay:

I’m interested in the comments of others on this trope. Please share your thoughts.

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I get the TOR newsletter too and just finished reading this article.

I think Owen has some good points. There are things about the Chosen One trope that don’t really address the underlying issues. Like she said, the Chosen One can become a silver bullet–a cure-all to fix what’s happened, but not necessarily why it’s happened. To right a wrong is one thing. To purify a corrupt system is another.

Don’t get me wrong, I love plenty of Chosen One stories, but my favorite story is one that took a group of “chosen ones” to accomplish. There never was one person who consistently saved the world. They all had to have a hand in every incident. Without everyone working together, no one would have made it out alive. It took away the feeling of “Oh, I can let someone else handle this.” It made you want to get up and do something. It made you feel that if people like these could make a difference (even if they were horribly flawed, or made terrible choices) that you could too, no matter how “unspecial” you might consider yourself.

That being said, I just finished reading a Chosen One story (The Staff and the Sword trilogy by Patrick Carr) that I absolutely loved. Very few books have ever made me cry. The last book, A Draw of Kings did.

Overall, I’d say there are some great things to think about here, but Chosen One stories are still lovable–even necessary as a vehicle to convey truth and human emotion and experience.

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Thank you for sharing, Deborah!

I completely agree that even at its core without all of those other considerations, chosen one stories are incredibly enjoyable to read. They give you that feeling that even one person can change the world, with a little help. They have built in adventure and magic, too, which is always fun. I think my favorite will always be Bastian in the Neverending Story.

Today’s TOR newsletter was a good one, packed with several interesting articles for me. Did you read and enjoy the worldbuilding article on economies and ecologies? I also bookmarked the fairy tale retellings article for later.

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So glad you posted that link to the article - thank you. In real world terms, fascinating and important in these times. The many comments in response to it were worth the read, too.

The main character in my novel-in-revision very nearly fell into the Chosen One trope. It felt wrong throughout the first draft, but I ploughed on and made justifications as the first version grew. Daniel’s CFW and PPN courses are helping me in revisions, as is the value mechanism in Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid.

The novel now has a new placeholder trope: “An Irreligious, Flawed, Half-Alien, Half-Human Character Who Chooses To Make A Sacrifice In Order To Right A Bunch of Wrongs within the Human Tribe, then Takes on the Dual Roles of Retribution Bringer/Scapegoat and Leaves Knowing the Tribe will Heal Quicker on its Own”.

I just hope the short form of this isn’t: “Sucker Saint Trope”.

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Chosen One stories are fun to read when the main character doesn’t devolve into a Mary Sue/Gary Stu. The trick seems to be ending the series before that happens.

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Chosen Ones as a trope can be a little tricky to make interesting, I think. I don’t know the official terms for these, but some ‘sub-tropes’ that can make it interesting could be:

  • Chosen, but chosen to be evil~!
  • Chosen at random, so there’s no elaborate plan behind the choosing.
  • Chosen by hope, not destiny, so that the end goal is clear, but the path to it isn’t.
  • Not actually Chosen at all. The legend was to give hope to those believing in it, not the actual figure of the legend.

These all come with their own challenges as well, but I think one of the big issues with Chosen Ones as a trope is the common image associated with it.

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