Often when creating a protagonist, we writers want our hero to feel directly tied to the conflict of the story. Maybe a group of bandits murdered their family, or your protagonist’s boss is offering a job promotion; this is key for good storytelling. Your protagonist and their entrance into the wider plot must flow smoothly. However, a trope that is the exception to the rule is The Chosen One. The Chosen One’s arrival to the plot doesn’t need to be smooth whatsoever. The chosen one doesn’t need to be affected by the wider plot, perhaps even oblivious. It is up to you as a storyteller. The most common way The Chosen One trope is used in literature is the everyday hero.
This is the way it goes:
– Our ordinary protagonist is an ordinary person in your world.
– They are the Chosen by some mystic being or prophecy and are thrust into the conflict of the story.
Often the Chosen One and the origins of the everyday hero come hand in hand, but that is another trope.
Why This Trope Appeals to Audiences?
Who wouldn’t want to be the subject of a massive prophecy, for someone to validate all the hardships you have been through, for people to accept you immediately. Why wouldn’t you want to be told that you are more than special? This is what this trope brings to the table. The Chosen One can become a vessel for the audience to experience the same wonder as the character, something that gives us hope that someone will knock on our and ask us on a magical adventure.
Positive and Negative Traits of the Chosen One
Although the trope has many positives, the negative traits can often come to light if not written properly. The trope could potentially become a cliché which always hurt the quality of your piece of storytelling.
If your Chosen One is thrust into the story with no agency or is picked by a higher entity to solve a conflict that doesn’t affect them, ultimately they will become a weak protagonist. A way to make sure that your character isn’t weak is for them to reject their destiny or the inciting event. Make sure it is clear that want nothing to do with the conflict but something changes their mind. Your Chosen One sees what this conflict is doing to their normal world and ultimately want to fix it.
Although The Chosen One can become a cliché, it has many positive traits. The trope easily endears the audience to the character situation, understanding the applied pressure for a prophecy that might be millions of years old. Not only does this serve your protagonist external conflict but also their inner conflict. They might struggle with the responsibility of being the Chosen One. Not only does this provides a connection to the reader it is a relatable struggle in an unrelatable situation.
Subverting the Trope
The Chosen One trope is a useful trope if it isn’t written poorly just like any principle. However, most tropes work the best when they are flipped on their head when they completely catch the reader or audience on surprise. This is the same with The Chosen One. One of the best examples of this is in the Percy Jackson series. Through the first series of novels, Rick Riordan indicates the death of the main character Percy Jackson in order to save the world. This is however subverted, when Percy wasn’t the one to die at all, rather their friend turned enemy Luke. When I read this as a child, I was completely stunned. The way Riordan heavily pushed the idea of Percy dying made me believe it would happen, that the whole world would die without his sacrifice. This is what I liked to call the False Chosen One. Sure, The Chosen One is still the Chosen One, but an integral part of the prophecy isn’t about them at all.
Another subversion is that the Prophecy of The Chosen One is false, that it was all fake, maybe a part of a scheme to ultimately hurt those doing good. These, obviously, can be a downer but that doesn’t mean it’s not effective. Sometimes this subversion can promote the theme that you should be in control of your own destiny and to question authority, even if people feel uncomfortable with it.
There are so many more subversions of this trope that it would take another post to cover the majority of them.
The Chosen One is really over used. Like a lot. Honestly, I am a bit bored of the trope, however it is the good idea to use it against the audience and that’s why I am so happy when it is subverted. If you remember any examples of this trope and it being subverted and you would like to discuss it will me, please do!