One of the most prevalent motifs in fantasy, science fiction/ space operas and similar folklore style genres is that of the Chosen One- the one character (99% the main character/protagonist) that is destined to save the world from the big bad- the evil sorcerer, the overlord, the empire, the devil, the apocalypse. Only the Chosen One can do it. Only the Chosen one can prevail, in a very Homeric single-combat-situation where the destiny of the entire world hinges on this one person facing off the (usually singular) antagonist.
The Chosen One is a trope that is often considered boring in terms of character development, or an easy cop-out for the plot to propagate. Often a character that is the Chosen One is passive: the plot happens to them simply because of this general consensus that this person is the world’s only hope, rather than the Chosen One being pro-active. And as I’ve discussed in a previous article, such a character can be boring and cause the audience to disengage.
The main reason for this situation is that often the Chosen One is that because of a prophecy or some such divinely-ordained dictum that says so without any other reason whatsoever. The Chosen One hasn’t earned his/her rank as such; they were born that way or the tribe shaman (glorified or not) said so. One of the best applications of this is in the movie Willow where the Chosen One is (and remains) an infant, thus becoming the MacGuffin of the plot rather than the main character, and saving the audience from being disengaged while capitalizing on the assets of such a plot device.
But what happens when the Chosen One isn’t a baby, but the character we’re supposed to identify with?
Often the connection with the audience is sought by making the character an everyman- someone as relatable as possible before they are told they’re the Chosen One: Harry Potter is an orphan boy that does chores for his abusive relatives, Luke Skywalker is a farmer hand, Neo is a clerk in a big company’s cubicles, Sailor Moon is a ditzy school girl, and so on.
From the success of these example, we can see that this can work quite well- provided that the Chosen One is surrounded by a cast of interesting characters that are far more pro-active than him/her, and thus more interesting: Harry Potter has Ron, Hermione and an army of colourful professors, Neo has Morpheus and Trinity, Sailor Moon has a dozen other classmates that also Sailor and Luke has Han Solo, Obi-wan and Yoda among others. It might feel like the Chosen One is a bland meal made fun because of a ton of tasty side dishes. That is often excused as an effort for the audience to project themselves onto the bland, often two-dimensional Chosen One and thus immerse themselves in the work by vicariously becoming that special world-saving person.
But what if we want to make the Chosen One the tasty meal, without relying on the side dishes?
An efficient way to do it is by forcing the Chosen One to earn his/her rank as such, rather than having it be ascribed to them: rather than having a prophecy, a god or a shaman anoint the character as the one true savior, have them act and earn that recognition from the world. Have them rely on the character to save them after that character has proven that he/she can in a manner nobody else can or will.
That is harder to do in such a story because the Chosen One needs to have proper motivation to go above and beyond, facing the insurmountable odds that come with saving the world. Often for that motivation to be realistic it has to be (at least initially) linked to personal gain or personal stakes the character has which are forcing him/her to embark in such missions. Character development arcs have to take place for the character to accept the position of the Chosen One rather than be passively adherent to it. It’s no wonder that this way is often reserved for antiheroes, though not always.
How do you handle the Chosen One trope? Do you have it in your comic? Would you?
Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Dec. 2, 2017
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