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How do you feel about a 'Chosen One'?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by C. A. Stanley, Apr 21, 2017.

  1. C. A. Stanley

    C. A. Stanley Minstrel

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    I'm going to break this reply up into 3 parts to match the above comments I find most critical...

    (1) My MC doesn't specifically fight against the expectations of others, but struggles--as most people would--with expectation itself. Even though he is highly motivated to go to war, it's something he's not prepared for mentally, and he doesn't quite know how to deal with being 'put on a pedestal' (he is also reviled by others, but he is used to this). In his past, his intelligence has meant peers, and even adults in his home town, are intimidated by him, and as people often do when intimidated or 'shamed', they alienate. MC struggles with the sudden change in perception; when you're used to trying to fly under the radar, it's overwhelming to suddenly be a deafening BLIP that people can't help but notice.

    (2) So, FifthView, as you have deftly noticed, I am very much in the conceptualisation stage... This 'WIP' was originally just a fun way of putting ideas into words, and focussing my overthinking mind... As I developed ideas, and starting truly building the geography of the world, the religions, main characters etc. it became a more serious project. As I'm sure many writers can relate to, I struggle to avoid procrastination lol. It's only now that I feel I have enough material to start really writing (probs 65,000 words of notes) that I'm realising just how much I have left to do in terms of synchronising character arcs and plot vectors (I LOVE world building so much that I've neglected the nitty gritty parts of storytelling). Your idea of 'mashing' character and plot together is exactly what's happening atm, and your comments are really helping me to straighten out certain crucial factors in my mind.

    (3) I'm going to work backwards here... What goes on behind the scenes is far more intimate and detailed than the reader will ever have access to, which is a shame really. There are so many aspects of my world that I instinctively understand now, that will be tough to relay in prose to the reader. As you mention, 'organic' is the most important thing for me; there's no point being awed if your disbelief is shattered, and I want the readers to feel that this world is as real as the one we all love to escape from.
    I like the idea of an 'accidental hero', and think I've probably convinced myself that I need to ensure the MC is a Chosen One, when it's not necessary at all. Accidental hero is also a figure that readers can relate to more easily - I can't think of any 'Chosen Ones' in real life (excluding religious figures), though there are many heroes who live normal lives. Chosen One thread effectively considered null and void lol.
    On your point regarding randomness vs determinism, determinism is not something I feel comfortable with, and so the conditions of the story allow for full freedom of will - although the character's powers are determined for him at birth, every step after that is his to make. He's going to make this journey as anyone would... with apprehension, fear, excitement, doubt. And he is going to do his fair share of sweating I assure you.
     
  2. C. A. Stanley

    C. A. Stanley Minstrel

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    No apology necessary, I was considering a Pokémon reference myself (grew up on that shit, I love it :D).

    Ash was clearly not the Chosen One, after all, I never heard "Ash, I choose you!"
     
  3. C. A. Stanley

    C. A. Stanley Minstrel

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    Totally your prerogative Dragon. I admit, I used to hate the Chosen One trope until I saw what Brandon Sanderson did with it. And I certainly see the attraction of your relatable average joe making waves... after all, are we not all average joes? If I was a first rate assassin maybe I would disagree lol.

    I think the trope is so popular because people want to be inspired and awed. People want to see someone do something that they could never do (Usain Bolt, Cristiano Ronaldo?). Is that just human nature? I mean, if I had the chance to see someone shoot lasers from their eyes, I would damn well take it, even though I'd feel like a pathetic specific afterwards.
     
  4. C. A. Stanley

    C. A. Stanley Minstrel

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    Ok so I only watched Life of Brian for the first time last night, by your inadvertent recommendation... Brian must be the funniest Chosen One of all time. Brilliant. "Consider the lilies..."
     
    Demesnedenoir likes this.
  5. In the case of chosen Ones having unique/incredible powers: Somehow I prefer characters who are mundanely skilled rather than magically gifted, or who gain skills (magical or otherwise) throughout the story. If magically gifted, nothing special. Somehow I appreciate wildly powerful characters as side characters rather than main characters.

    I tend to associate Chosen One with being forced into playing a role instead of having to choose to play that role. Also, I associate it with some kind of pre-determined fate the MC can't affect.

    Basically, I don't like it when characters are special/the only one who can defeat the big bad/the only hope because they just are. I have trouble articulating it, but "specialness" is generally something I don't like in an MC.

    (Especially when the MC is unskilled, kind of dumb, and really undeserving of being given the job of saving the world. I JUST read a book exactly like that. Not saying all Chosen One books are like that, but there are too many books like that. Probably part of my bias against chosen ones. I guess maybe I like characters with skills rather than powers because it seems like they "deserve" their hero status? Instead of just being stuck with it? Idk really.)

    I definitely could enjoy a story with a Chosen One if they weren't the main character. If the MC was the overlooked best friend of the Chosen One...I wish someone would do that.

    But, yeah. This is all my personal preference. And I haven't read Sanderson. (Probably because I tend to veer away from more traditional fantasy in my reading tastes anyway.)
     
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  6. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    My idea of randomness vs determinism is only tentative. I'm only recently coming to a new way of thinking about these as they relate to a) the author's method of conceptualization vs b) the reader's experience of the story.

    A lot of times, I've begun with an "accidental hero" concept: an everyday sort of fellow, albeit with some peculiar power or ability, who starts out living a routine, insignificant life, but who becomes "embroiled' in a larger struggle due to seemingly random circumstances.

    I like this idea an awful lot or at least am drawn to it.

    Determinism:

    Consider this word as what the author does rather than how a reader perceives the character's path.

    When I conceive of the character separate from the plot, then just throw him into the midst of things through accidental circumstance to see what happens, I may not be using determinism. And I think this might be a problem, maybe a huge stumbling block as I proceed to consider the plot and story of the novel. When I come to those questions, Why this character, why here and now, why these developments, why this path through the plot...I might have difficulty answering them.

    So I think I should first answer those questions, use some determinism. This character is going to succeed because he possesses X, Y, Z qualities and/or because he possess A, B, C powers. He's particularly suited to the task at hand.

    Randomness:

    But the reader may not realize all that until near the closing credits. Tension, the roller-coaster ride through the story, hope and dread require that the reader not feel that the outcome has already been determined. At least, the reader should have some doubt and wonder how the hero will succeed.

    That said, I think it's typically important to give the reader hints of the hero's worthiness throughout the story, a suspicion that this is a special character particularly suited to the task at hand. This keeps the reader tied to the story: he wants to see his suspicion confirmed, he wants to learn how that character was suited to the task. Also, at the end of the story, the reader might then be able to look back and say, Of course this hero was perfect for the task at hand!

    I've been thinking of Game of Thrones as an example. GRRM's world allows for all kinds of doubt and changes in fortune. But all the principle characters who are still alive at the end of season six are starting to feel like Chosen Ones. They were particularly suited for whatever circumstances arose in their individual plot arcs. In contrast, those characters who have died were not suited to the task at hand due to excessive idealism, a lack of ambition, hubris, or some other weakness. (Sometimes, this weakness was merely relative given a particular foe's qualities.)

    In a way, the reader might suspect that some determinism is at play but not be certain about this.

    So....

    This way of looking at things shaped my earlier comment. But how you approach providing those hints is another huge discussion, because there are many methods and things you could do to keep from spilling all the beans at once in a "Prophecy said so!" kind of way.
     
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2017
    C. A. Stanley likes this.
  7. lonelyboy1977

    lonelyboy1977 Dreamer

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    As with any overused trope, it depends how it is utilised. If you can do something original with it, in addition to writing a compelling marrative, then it's less likely readers will view your story as something they've read numerous times before.

    As an example, Buffy Summers was a "Chosen One" but she didn't fit the archetype. On the surface, she appears to be the archetypal blonde bimbo who gets killed in a slasher movie on account of being too stupid to live.
     
  8. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Always good to spread the teachings of Brian.

    Much of my sense of humor can be blamed on Monty Python in general, and the Life of Brian specifically. Just an awesome movie.

     
  9. glutton

    glutton Inkling

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    I prefer ones who are the best (or one of the best) and special because of their skills. They tend to have superhuman (by real world standards) physical attributes too but it's attributed more to their training and some degree of inborn talent than explicit magical gifts. Cute warrior champions. :D
     
  10. Yeah, I like that kind of thing a lot better than inborn magical powers or "specialness" from birth.
     
    Tom likes this.
  11. Tom

    Tom Istar

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    I agree with Dragon, I prefer heroes who are not chosen to be so. It makes it all the more powerful when an ordinary person saves the day through their own skills and sheer determination, not because the gods or a prophecy or magic selected them to and gave them everything they need to accomplish it. "Destiny" cheapens it for me; it feels like the hero is being compelled by an outside force to do the right thing, rather than make a choice to do it simply because it *is* the right thing.

    If anything, most of my protagonists have turned out to be the exact opposite of the chosen one trope. Anti-Chosen Ones, if you will. A lot of them have everything set up for them to make the wrong choice, to continue in a path that they are being told is right but they know is wrong. They all make a conscious decision to break away from that path, equipped with only what natural talents they possess and anything they have learned for themselves, to do what they realize is the right thing. Destiny doesn't exist, and the gods don't care. It's up to ordinary people to recognize evil and do something about it themselves, without someone telling them they are supposed to. This kind of story is very real and very powerful, and that's why it appeals to me so much.
     
  12. Nobby

    Nobby Sage

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    Erm, so.

    You can have a chosen one who accepts the call.

    Like an egomaniac.

    Or.

    You can have a chosen one who denies the call (not getting into the thrice denied then giving in here).

    Like an egomaniac.

    Or.

    You can have a chosen one who says, "Pardon?"

    Sorry :D
     
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  13. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    "I have chosen you for a great task," Hebob said. He smiled at Cheros, and the glow from his face was not of light but something approaching pure love. "The Emerni are corrupting the land and will soon enter Yuba. But you will stop them."

    Cheros said nothing. His body felt molded to the earth below him, incapable of movement but not heavy. Complete contentment flooded his muscles, as if his limbs had existed in this state forever, one with the land.

    The god rose into the air, still gazing at Cheros with love. "You will soon discover the path to your success, a power you have never imagined possible. Your countrymen will look to you for salvation. Fear not, for the end is written!"

    With those final words, Hebob disappeared. The evening light reappeared, and Cheros felt movement return.

    The image of Hebob remained within his mind, but his body felt weary. Enough of this sh*t, he thought. I still have a jewel to steal.

    Cheros left the ruined pavilion with nothing but the jewel and his filthy room at the Traveler's Rest guiding his feet. He'd need his sleep; tomorrow would be a long day.​

    [Eventually, circumstances will force Cheros to confront the Emerni. Something about being cornered, his true love murdered by them, and no path left open to sell the jewel--at least until he can turn them away. I don't know; planning stages, heh.]
     
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  14. Nobby

    Nobby Sage

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    Or you can have a chosen one with sh*t to do...

    Forgot that one.

    *genuine grin*
     
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  15. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

    Does someone fulfill a prophecy because a propecy says they will, or do they fulfill the prophecy because they were going to do it anyhow, and someone who sees the future writes it down?

    There's an obvious argument against the uber-powered chosen one, but its the same argument against any uber-powered character. Prophecy and chosen ones don't alleviate the MC of choices, hardships, flaws, character growth or atrophy or the possibility of losing/dying.

    The greatest uber-powered character of all time is, of course, Groo the Wanderer.
     
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  16. X Equestris

    X Equestris Maester

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    While true in theory, I can't recall the last time I saw a prophecy that was flat out wrong. It's much like heroes dying. It's possible, but experience tells you it's not going to happen. Those instances where it does occur stand out because they smash that preconception.

    It's certainly true that you can keep tension over the costs of victory, though all too often authors don't make those costs very meaningful to their audience. Unless characters they've come to know and love are hurt in some way (from physical pain/death, to mental anguish, to not achieving one of their goals), the cost isn't felt. All too many chosen one stories gloss over that.

    Whenever I run across a chosen one story, I'm a little wary. Staleness in handling the trope is one reason. Chosen Ones all too often being Mary Sues is another. I have no problem with the trope if it's a fresh new usage, though. It's just going to take more to get me to stick around for the whole thing when a Chosen One is involved.

    That said, I have been toying around with the idea of writing a novel where the "Chosen One" fails, partly inspired by the Bar Kokhba Revolt. Seems like a good way to deal with expectations and preconceptions about what a Chosen One acts like, and how one failing would impact a culture.
     
  17. C. A. Stanley

    C. A. Stanley Minstrel

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    Thanks for the clarification, I'm on the same page now. It's a very interesting point. One might suggest it's the whole foundation of storytelling! probably best not to get into the topic further...

    I love what Martin did in GoT, at no point did I know who the main character was supposed to be (the TV show totally spoiled this for me). Some protagonists evolved into antagonists, and vice versa. One of the pros of having a huge number of POV characters
     
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2017
  18. C. A. Stanley

    C. A. Stanley Minstrel

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    Sounds like a great perspective. I wonder if anyone knows of any novels written from this angle? I'd love to read something like that myself, I imagine could be pretty dark if the author was that was inclined
     
  19. C. A. Stanley

    C. A. Stanley Minstrel

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    Love this one :) YOU NEED TO SAVE THE WORLD, YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE! Sorry, I'm busy.
     
  20. C. A. Stanley

    C. A. Stanley Minstrel

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    Totally agree with this. I really want to play with the idea of the 'Chosen One' being his own worst enemy... At what point does somebody become a danger to themselves and those around them? The old adage says with great power comes great responsibility, but I feel the idea that great power leads to great danger is somewhat underrepresented. The greater ones station, the greater the consequences of any decisions and actions made
     
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