Basic Tips To Write Better Chosen Ones

The Chosen One trope is a common feature in fantasy stories, and one that many writers go for. However, it's often handled in ways that make for a weak and boring narrative, or in ways that repeat some disturbing ideas. So, here's some simple tips for anyone who's thinking about using this trope.

Last revision: November 17, 2020.

You can't ignore the fascist elephant in the room. Western media often uses the Chosen One trope in ways that have extremely disturbing implications when you actually stop and think about it. The trope often reifies divine right of kings; IE, the belief that monarchy is intrinsically good because of divine mandate, and therefore ought to exist (as opposed to, say, a democratic government). If the character's genetic lineage is important, then you have eugenicist and very likely white supremacist implications. Basically, if you uncritically and unironically use the Chosen One trope this way, you're repeating fascist rhetoric.

Likewise, if being the Chosen One means that your protagonist is absolutely required to "follow their destiny" and do whatever's asked of them despite any personal limitations or reservations, you're repeating fascist rhetoric. The idea that someone has to serve a higher power or authority who shows little to no respect for their personal freedom and autonomy is just plain totalitarian.

You also can't ignore how the concept of a Chosen One often ties into toxic masculinity and misogyny. Most Chosen Ones are male, and there's a reason for that: the basic assumption that it's a man's destiny and duty to become a leader or warrior and defeat the bad guys. Toxic masculinity teaches that boys and men who don't follow this path are weak, cowardly, and not "real men." Meanwhile, this kind of thing is generally not expected of girls and women. Instead, girls and women are generally expected to value purity, which ultimately functions to keep them unchallenging to men. If you want to work with the concept of a Chosen One, it's important to be mindful of the inherent gender politics the trope has long perpetuated, and make sure you're not uncritically repeating them.

Ask yourself why your narrative needs a Chosen One. Why are you considering a Chosen One for your story? Does it actually impact the overall narrative and influence your protagonist's development as a character, or are you just using it as a substitute for actual character motivation? What would happen if your character wasn't a Chosen One? Would they still have any motivation to do anything, or are they so self-centered that they won't get up to do the right thing without being told they're special first?

Is the status of Chosen One supposed to confer special talents or abilities? If so, why? Is there a reason your character can't just cultivate their skills like anyone else? If it's important for them to have special abilities, what are the narrative reasons? If there's no real narrative reason beyond making your character better at doing things and impressing people, then ultimately their only real purpose is to gratify your protagonist's ego and make them feel important.

Think about who or what is choosing your character, and what their personal motives are. A number of writers basically just put down "an oracle gave a prophecy" and leave it at that. The problem is that this is actually a pretty lazy approach, because it doesn't establish just who is doing the choosing and why we should take them seriously.

Exactly who or what are they? What gives them the right to call these kinds of shots? Do they have the right to call these shots? What are their motives? Why do they want this to happen? How do they personally benefit? Are they even half as objective and interested in the greater good as they think they are or want others to think? Or are their motivations actually more self-centered, and perhaps should the characters and the audience question the wisdom and politics of having a Chosen One in the first place?

Your character should be a well-rounded individual. People don't just pop out of vacuums. They come from families and cultures. They have life experiences and social connections. Your Chosen One is still a person, and therefore, should be no exception. Give them interests, hobbies, friends, and acquaintances that actally matter to them, and make it an integral part of their character.

Similarly, being the Chosen One doesn't have to be all sunshine and daisies, but if you define your character's entire life and identity by how miserable being the Chosen One is, you don't have much of a character. Plus, it's very boring and nerve-wracking when a protagonist is just constantly stewing in self-pity.

Being the Chosen One shouldn't be an "I win" button. If being the Chosen One means that your character is certain to win all the time or solve every problem, then your story's going to start feeling predictable and monotonous, and the supporting characters may start feeling unnecessary or look like a bunch of suckers who haven't realized their actual purpose is boosting the protagonist's ego by giving them an audience.

So, creating uncertainty and making your Chosen One need help now and then can make your story more interesting and engaging and give your supporting characters a real reason to be there.

You might also be interested in:

How To Challenge Toxic Masculinity As A Writer
Why "Purity" Is An Overrated Character Trait
Tips & Ideas To Create More Believable Sword 'n Sorcery Worlds
Basic Tips For Writing Better Ensemble Casts
Tips To Write Better Royalty, Nobility, & Other Upper-Class & Important Characters
On Writing & Roleplaying Characters Who Are Good Leader Material

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