I want the protagonist of my story to be the chosen one but without the overused "offspring of an important person" as the reason, or the "I'm going to be the hero this world needs because I want to". Any suggestions? By the way, your blog is amazing!
I’m glad you like the blog! Thanks for saying so :)
The “Chosen One” Trope
Before I go further, let me turn your attention to a great post written by Penney not too long ago where she discusses the different types of “chosen ones,” as she talks about how it’s more than just fate or prophecy that can lead to someone becoming the chosen one in a particular story. If you missed it, check it out now: Penney’s “Chosen Ones” Post.
I also just want to add that the chosen one is a trope for a very good reason - readers LOVE it, regardless of how overused it might seem. In my mind, it’s only overused if the writer doesn’t take the time to plan the “rise of the chosen” thoughtfully. So if my anon, or anyone else reading this, is shying away from doing the trope in its traditional way because they think it’s expected or overdone, remember that it’s all in your execution.
But okay, disclaimers out the way, let’s get down to the real discussion about this trope and the desire to do it.
Putting the Cart Before the Horse
It’s difficult to give advice in this situation when I don’t really know what drew the anon to doing this trope to begin with. You mention that you want them to be chosen, but why? Does the story demand it? Or does the idea of a character rising from zero to hero appeal to you? Where are you in the process of developing this idea? Is it just a concept? Or are you working with plot? (for more about the difference between concept and plot, check out my post here).
Let me put it another way. How much are you considering your story’s plot in making this decision? I could throw out some ideas, but would they be relevant to your story? Was your character “chosen” to overthrow a government? To defeat a monster? To find a mystical portal and close it? These are important details when it comes to the “why” behind their chosen-ness.
So before you start thinking outside the box, make sure you understand what you’ve currently got in the box. Write out precisely what they were chosen for, and why them versus someone else, and can their chosen purpose become something more? Let’s break that down using one of my favorite executions of the Chosen One trope, A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray (spoilers to follow).
- What were they chosen for?
I’m using the word “chosen” very broadly here, so don’t get too hung up on semantics. When I say chosen, I don’t mean chosen by a god or powerful being or even nature. I mean chosen, as in, the person who has been put in this role to alter the outcome of the conflict.
Start by making a list of the exact things this person was put in this role to change or affect. In A Thousand Pieces of You, the protagonist Marguerite is chosen to find who she believes to be her father’s murderer and bring him to justice. This list may just be one item long, or it may be two or three. Think about your conflicts and put the causes your character is chosen for into precise words.
- Why were they chosen?
In this step, answer why the character was “chosen” within the story. Marguerite was put in this role, because her father’s murderer has fled into an alternate dimension, one that only a handful of people know about and that have the technology to travel there. This means that the number of people that can chase this murderer is severely limited.
Also consider, if the “why” is knowledge or possession based, why can’t this character turn their resources over to someone else? Marguerite’s knowledge is sensitive, not to mention outrageous. She cannot trust this information in just anyone’s hands, nor would that person have the expertise to know what to do if someone goes wrong. It’s also the type of information that most people may laugh in her face about. A police officer would think her theory about her dad’s killer vanishing into another dimension to be absolutely ludicrous.
Was Marguerite anointed by some higher being? Did she step up to save the world? No! She found herself in this position for very personal reasons, and because she couldn’t trust anyone else with the knowledge and resources to do it. If she didn’t run after her father’s killer, no one else would. That makes her the chosen one out of necessity, because her love for her father will not allow her to sit and do nothing.
Make a list of the circumstances that have put your character in this position. If you haven’t figured that out yet, then now is the time. Don’t worry if the circumstances are new or refreshing enough. Just focus on your story’s logic. Go back to what the character was chosen for and come up with the reasons why. At this stage, you might come up with conflicting reasons as you’re brainstorming, but this is good. It gives you a few different ways to take the story.
- Will their chosen purpose become something more?
In the case of Marguerite, she uncovers some pretty diabolical stuff in the search for her father’s killer, and she discovers that hopping to new universes affects her differently than it does others in her small circle. She doesn’t experience the same negative side effects that others do, and this immediately makes her a target of the antagonist, who wants her unique abilities for some terrible masterplan. With these abilities, and how closely she has now become to the events, her purpose has grown from uncovering the truth about her father’s death to stopping this evil plan from being put into motion.
And while these “abilities” scream overplayed chosen one trope, Claudia Gray presents a backstory that is well hinted at throughout the novel until its reveal shows that Marguerite is a victim of some surreal accident, who seeks justice for her father, and discovers how those two situations collide, turning her from grief stricken daughter to chosen one through the course of the novel.
So once you’ve thought about the reasons, consider if other reasons will come into play once the character has started on this journey.
Mixing it Up (or not)
Ultimately, I don’t think chosen one tropes need mixing up. I think writers try too hard to be new and different, when it comes down to simply telling thoughtful stories. Chosen One stories fail when characters accept their role just because it was given to them, without thought, without question. And when the author fails to consider the why’s behind the character’s chosen-ness, the story loses its authenticity.
Decide what they’re chosen for, why it has to be them and no one else, if that chosen purpose can grow into something bigger, and (the clincher) how your character will respond to these circumstances. Give the character their own personal reasons for giving into the role. Rather than saving the world, make it first about saving their family, their friends, or hell, even themselves. Fate might hand them a baton with Chosen One written on it, but if you give your character a personal reason to reach out and take it, you’re one step closer to an authentic story.
I hope this was helpful to you. Bottom line is, tell the story the way you think it shoud be told. It’s not about the originality of the idea; it’s about the thoughtfulness you put into your execution of it.