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Tropes: The Chosen One

"Only you can ..."

Neo, Katniss Everdeen, and Anakin Skywalker are Chosen Ones

In the realm of fantasy literature, few tropes are as ubiquitous and polarizing as the "Chosen One." This archetype, which features a character destined for greatness or burdened with a monumental task, has enthralled readers for generations. However, its overuse and predictable nature have also drawn criticism.

The Good:

One of the most compelling aspects of the "Chosen One" trope is its ability to captivate audiences with themes of destiny, heroism, and self-discovery. At its best, this archetype provides readers with a protagonist who embodies courage, resilience, and sacrifice. By following the Chosen One, readers are invited to explore universal themes of identity and purpose, resonating with or against their own desires for meaning and significance.

A prime example of the positive portrayal of the Chosen One trope can be found in J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series. Harry Potter, the titular character, discovers at a young age that he is the only wizard capable of defeating Voldemort. Through seven novels, readers witness Harry's growth from an ordinary boy into a courageous hero who confronts his destiny with bravery and integrity. Rowling's storytelling imbues the Chosen One trope with some depth and nuance, exploring the complexities of power, friendship, and morality.

Another exemplary use of the trope is seen in J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Frodo Baggins, the humble hobbit is thrust into the role of ring-bearer, and exemplifies the virtues of resilience and selflessness as he embarks on a quest to destroy the One Ring. Tolkien's depiction of Frodo's inner struggles and moral dilemmas adds complexity to the Chosen One archetype, elevating it beyond mere cliché and giving it relevance.


The Bad:

Despite its potential for greatness, the Chosen One trope is not without its flaws. Perhaps the most significant criticism leveled against it is its tendency to rely on predictable plot devices and clichéd narratives. When executed poorly, the trope can lead to formulaic storytelling and one-dimensional characters, diminishing the impact of the narrative and alienating readers who crave originality and depth.

Christopher Paolini's "Inheritance Cycle" series falls prey to the pitfalls of the Chosen One trope. The protagonist, Eragon, is revealed to be the Dragon Rider destined to save the world from tyranny. While the premise holds promise, Paolini's derivative world-building and thinly drawn characters undermine the narrative's impact, rendering Eragon's journey predictable and uninspired. The trope's overuse in the series serves as a reminder of its potential to stagnate and detract from the overall quality of the storytelling.


The Ugly:

An example of the trope's shortcomings can be found throughout Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" series. The protagonist, Bella Swan, is portrayed as the object of supernatural fascination, with both vampires and werewolves vying for her affections. However, Bella's passive demeanor and lack of character agency undermine the Chosen One archetype, reducing her character to little more than a passive observer in her own story. Meyer's reliance on romantic melodrama and superficial characterizations detracts from the narrative's emotional resonance, resulting in a shallow portrayal of the trope.


What TO DO.

To use the chosen one story well there are some broad strokes to follow:

-          Establish a Compelling Backstory: Provide a rich and believable backstory for the Chosen One that explains why they have been selected for their role. This backstory should involve elements such as prophecy, lineage, or unique abilities, but it should also delve into the character's personal struggles, doubts, and conflicts. By grounding the Chosen One's identity in a well-developed backstory, you can make their journey more relatable and engaging for the audience.


-          Subvert Expectations: While the Chosen One trope often follows a predictable narrative arc, consider subverting expectations to add depth and complexity to your story. Challenge the notion of destiny by introducing elements of choice, agency, and moral ambiguity. Show that being chosen does not guarantee success or moral superiority, and explore the consequences of the Chosen One's actions on themselves and others. By subverting clichés and adding layers of nuance, you can breathe new life into the trope and keep readers or viewers engaged.


-          Focus on Character Development: Place a strong emphasis on character development throughout the Chosen One's journey. Allow them to evolve, grow, and confront their flaws and weaknesses. Show how they struggle with the weight of their destiny, grapple with doubt and uncertainty, and ultimately find their own sense of purpose and identity. By prioritizing character growth and complexity, you can create a more resonant and emotionally satisfying narrative that transcends the trope.


-          Expand the Supporting Cast: While the Chosen One is often the central focus of the story, don't neglect the importance of a diverse and well-developed supporting cast. Surround the Chosen One with complex and compelling characters who challenge, support, and shape their journey. Give agency to secondary characters and explore their own arcs, motivations, and relationships. By building a strong ensemble cast, you can improve the narrative, provide different perspectives on the Chosen One's journey, and create more opportunities for conflict, growth, and resolution.


-          Explore Themes Beyond Destiny: While the Chosen One trope is inherently tied to themes of destiny, prophecy, and heroism, don't limit your story's thematic scope. Use the Chosen One's journey as a lens to explore broader themes such as power, sacrifice, identity, and redemption. Consider how the Chosen One's experiences reflect universal truths about the human condition and the nature of existence. By engaging with deeper themes and philosophical questions, you can elevate the narrative beyond simple genre conventions and resonate with a wider audience.


Chosen One tropes have the potential to be both compelling and cliché. Effectiveness ultimately depends on how it is executed within the context of the story. By following these five "to do" bullet points, you can make the Chosen One trope work more effectively by grounding it in a compelling backstory, subverting expectations, prioritizing character development, expanding the supporting cast, and exploring themes beyond destiny. With careful consideration and creative execution, the Chosen One trope can be revitalized and reimagined to create fresh and engaging narratives that resonate with audiences across genres and mediums.

Are you the chosen one of the next generation of writers?

Only if you go write!

Next week, did you know I am really Prince Kevin? Just kidding, but we will talk about hidden lineage! See you then.

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