Trope Spins: The Chosen One

This article was originally posted in the March 2019 issue of “Trope Breakers”, a monthly magazine located on and hosted by The Fae Folk.

The Fae Folk are a multi-talented body of authors and designers dedicated to the support of all things fantasy. If you’re a Wattpad user and write fantasy, be sure to check them out — they offer review services, book club, writing contests, and lots of amazing camaraderie!

Article content is mine, reposted with permission of The Fae Folk.

You step tentatively into the circle on the floor.

A faint hum begins to emit from the magic-meter in the center.

The elderly wizard's eyes stare searchingly into yours as a faint blue glow creeps throughout the room.

What?” you gasp. “What does this mean? What is happening? Who am I?”

Why, do you not know?” he responds gravely. “You are — the Chosen One!…”

Welcome, fantasy-lovers! Glad you've tuned in to today's tale of the special one with face of yellow (sorry, Lego Movie reference, couldn’t help myself)… or, more collectively, the trope known as the Chosen One.

The Chosen One is almost the quintessential fantasy trope. Everywhere, in every guise, with every spin, the chosen one is there, it seems, breaking some norm, some standard that confines everyday human beings, with a quality that makes him or her — well, special.

Chosen ones can wear many hats. They might be chosen to fulfill a prophecy, carry out a task, or become a leader. Their rare quality might be wielding shimmery magic, or perhaps the gift of visions, or an area of remarkable talent. Power to turn invisible? Super-charisma? The options are endless

And is it just me, or has the world of readers grown a little tired of reading about “special” people?

Yes, there is something about the uncommon, the bizarre, the exceptional, that stimulates us, excites us to read on. It gives us a pleasurable thrill to live vicariously through the lives of people who are Something, who are extraordinary, who are what we wish we were. We also like to root for the outcast — the loner — the one who is different and ostracized or reserved on account of it; and chosen ones often are just that, with good reason.

But I also think there’s a new hunger growing amid fans of fantasy. They want stories about the relatable, the approachable, the real. They want to see the ordinary overcome extraordinary odds. Sometimes that aforementioned alienation between the Chosen one and the ordinary people of the story grows so great that the readers begin to perceive it in a different way. Instead of thinking how sad it is that the Chosen one is not understood by the rest of the world, they wonder, “What about these people? How is it for them — those simple soldiers and merchants and farmers, downtrodden under all the wizards and kings and drama? What is their story?”

Why are all our innkeepers dismissed as story props and superfluities? Why are our villagers (except the lucky chosen one) scorned as being illiterate, uninteresting characters — as though being uneducated made them somehow less-than? Not-quite-worthy? Your job as storyteller is not to fall in with a flawed perspective, but to break it. Show your readers that these are people just as rich and varied as the erudite of the world.

Is the Chosen one trope bad? Nope.

Has it burned itself out? Not yet.

As the quote goes, “Write the story you want to read” — and if that’s a Chosen one story, you write it. Just don’t be afraid to expand either. Feel out some new paths. Maybe a Chosen one story isn’t, after all, what you or your readers need right now. Do you want to create some beauty out of the normal and ordinary in the world (which is, strangely enough, immensely dazzling and extraordinary all on its own)? Go on and dazzle us. I know you can.

Tips while writing a Chosen one story:

  1. Don’t make him too powerful. This should go without saying. When you level-up your protagonist, you have to do the same to the antagonist (if you don’t, you’ll face even more absurd problems), and the higher up it gets, the more it becomes a “him-and-me” battle, alienating the protagonist from the people below.

  2. Do touch base with those people below. Remember that not every tavern-keeper is a round-faced man with a jolly beer belly who drops his h’s. And if he is, that doesn’t by default make him comical or stupid.

  3. Do balance the powers or gifts you do give your Chosen one with weaknesses/repercussions. Nobody wants to read about an unstoppable social butterfly who can’t do wrong and is the hottest girl ever to spring from Venus.

  4. Don’t do anything magic/power/talent-wise without explanations. No, no three-page info-dump in the first chapter. The explanations can come later; but they’ve got to come. I’m not buying it that Belaina can whip fire around and communicate with peacocks “just because”.

  5. Need I say it? Have fun!

And that’s been today’s fire-and-brimstone article! I promise, I don’t know as much as I sound like I know, and what I do know probably isn’t worth knowing… but if you enjoyed, be sure to check in next time!

Liked this article? There will be more! Next Tuesday: “The Orc Trope”.