Why So Many People Like the “Chosen One” Story

The “Chosen One” trope refers to a plot in a novel, a movie, or a TV show in which some regular person finds out that s/he, and only s/he, can save the world or carry out some other grand task. Whether their role was foretold by ancient prophecy, determined by their bloodline, or what have you, s/he is destined to be the hero.

Several fantasy and science fiction editors in the past several years have specifically said that they do not want books with “Chosen One” narratives.

(An aside here: whenever editors walk away from beloved tropes, or even beloved genres such as “sword and sorcery fantasy,” I think it opens up a great opportunity for self-published authors.)

 

 

The “Chosen One” storyline goes way back. It’s all over in the Bible. “Hey Mary, guess what? You’re going to have the most important baby ever!” “Hey friend, guess who’s the new prophet? That’s right, it’s you.” King Arthur is the only one who pull the sword from the stone, because he’s destined to rule. Neo in The Matrix and Buffy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer are other examples of the trope.

If you hate the storyline because it’s overdone, that’s totally understandable. Personally, I’m open to most plot lines, assuming they’re handled in a compelling way.

Whether you love the Chosen One trope or you can’t stand it, though, it’s been around and been popular for centuries. Stories don’t take hold of civilizations like that for no reason. So why have people liked it so much?

The easy and obvious answer is that it’s wish fulfillment. People feel ordinary and obscure, and they like to imagine a situation in which they have talents or intrinsic value that was overlooked before.

Wish fulfillment stories serve some good purposes. They can remind us of our desires and goals, and they can give us hope when we’re experiencing a shortage. But I think stories about Chosen Ones appeal to people for another reason as well.

They’re true.

Every person, no matter how ordinary, has a unique blend of talents and life experiences that nobody else has. There’s work they could do, art they could make, or ways they could help others that is perfectly suited for the individual they are. There’s no one, or okay, at least not very many people, that could do it as well as they could.

The fantasy of the Chosen One is really the fantasy of finding one’s individual purpose.

This is why I encourage people to focus on their strengths. If you only focus on improving your weaknesses, you’ll get better at things you’re bad at, though you’ll probably never be fantastic at them. But if you focus on your strengths, you’ll discover more and more what you were really meant to do.

As you go through this week, I hope you’ll think a lot about your talents and positive qualities — the ones you often take for granted. Whether it’s patience, a vivid imagination, a fascination with history, or the ability to perfectly accessorize, they may all be a part of your destiny.

 

Why So Many People Like the "Chosen One" Story #fiction tropes #finding your life's purpose

 

Do you have thoughts about the “chosen one” trope in stories, or about your real-life superpowers and your destiny? Please share them in the comments! Thanks so much for reading, and have a great week!

 

 

5 Replies to “Why So Many People Like the “Chosen One” Story”

  1. Hi!
    At least 90% of the YA I beta-read is this trope. This a fave of mine…to make fun of.

    Here is a internal dialog from a WiP short story. The set-up is that a writer finds that his characters, plot, and setting is real, and he can visit it in the appropriate solipsism universe. He rejects visiting and the implication that he can ‘fix’ the future.

    “Screw them all. I’m not going to be ‘the chosen one.” It’s bad fiction and judging by what happened to the others, a straight shot to insanity. I’m collecting my daughter and wife. Then we’re going home to get ready to find the nearest theme park. Like normal humans.”

    1. Hi Terry! I had no idea this one was still so popular among YA writers. And that made me smile… it’s common for the main character to refuse the hero’s journey at first, but refusing it and sticking to that is a twist. 🙂

      1. Can’t claim generational superiority here. Way back in High School, the senior class put out a ‘book’ of poetry. From haiku to iambic pentameter to free verse, it was almost entirely musings on “who am I?”

  2. In my opinion there’s a big overlap between the “chosen one” and “reluctant hero” tropes and stories. Chosen Ones are often reluctant to take up there role as the hero. And I don’t necessarily dislike both types of stories, if they are handled in an original way.

    An example: if the “hero” of the book gets picked by chance for a role they never would have gotten otherwise, I’m perfectly fine with reading that story because it sounds like an original idea. A thing I won’t read as easily is a story about a peasant boy who gets a magical sword and goes on an adventure. That is in my opinion a bit overdone.

    Now I will say: in my WIP, my heroine Morgan is extremely reluctant to do just about anything that involves making herself seem like the hero. But in the end she is sort of pressured to do so. And guess what, she wins the super important battle at the end. Jay! So I guess I’ve fallen into the so-called cliche too. 🙂

    1. Hi, Kiete! Yes, definitely! And the “reluctant hero” story often makes the main character more likable then if they were just like, “Yep, you’re right. I’m the only one who can save the world. I certainly can’t leave it to you chuckleheads.” Hahaha I never get tired of reluctant heroes!

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