Why I’m Discarding a Trope – And Why That Terrifies Me

So if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to talk for a few minutes about what I’m trying to do with the main novel in my series, and why it terrifies me.

Most fantasy with a Big Bad and a Chosen One tends to get a lot of its conflict by the fact that the CO refuses the call to destiny. It’s a formula that works, so it gets used a lot. And I still remember the exact moment when I decided MY Chosen One wasn’t going to pull that shit – it was when I was reading The Dragon Reborn, and Rand literally ran away instead of sucking it up and doing his job. And then he spent basically the rest of the series being all “Woe is me! I am cursed!” and similar.

And the same thing pretty much happened with Buffy, where she just absolutely hates what she is and takes a very long time to come to terms with it, and is always pretty emo about the whole thing.

So fuck that trope. I’m not using it. I have got a Chosen One, and when she figures out she’s the CO, she’s not running from it so much as to it. “You need me to save the universe? I’ll pencil you in for Tuesday.” She’s all about this, because while it’s a terrifying huge responsibility, she’s just grateful that she’s got some measure of control over what happens, that she doesn’t have to sit on the sidelines and hope like fuck that the CO doesn’t fail. She’s very much an action person, and a bit of a control freak.

Image is a drawing of a three-ring notebook sitting open. On the right, the following is written: MON: Catch serial killer; TUES: Save the universe; WED: Rebuild civilization; THURS: Siesta; FRI: Fiesta.
Yes, there is a Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers reference hidden herein.

And she fucking loves this job. Not every part of it, of course. Some of it sucks rancid shark carcass. But for the most part, she enjoys the hell out of it. Best thing ever, to her.

And it’s not like she was running from a bad situation. She loved her previous job. She sacrificed a lot for that job and didn’t want to leave it. But when she was called, she didn’t hesitate. She left it behind.

Okay, so she refused one call – before anybody knew what she was, but knew she’d be a good person to have on their side, and begged her to join up, she was all, “Nah, doing important shit over here, you guys have got this.” And then she saw they really kinda didn’t, and she saw that they were all waiting for a Chosen One who hadn’t bothered to show up, and after a bit she was all, “Fuck this. If she’s not coming, I’ll do the damned job.” She chose to become the Chosen One, and was mightily shocked to find out she’d actually been groomed for that role from birth. Because, you see, the original Chosen One had fucked up beyond all belief, and had to be destroyed, and she ended up being the best possible replacement. But the people who groomed her knew it was important for her to come to it on her own terms, as an outsider, because what had sabotaged the original CO was being so much on the inside that she couldn’t take a vitally necessary risk.

So the tension is really going to come from her being such an outsider, from not knowing so much that she needs to know, from being just a human (a very clever one, and well-trained, but just a human regardless). It will come from her never being certain this is going to work, just certain they have to try. There will be people who question her legitimacy, and others who outright deny it, because she isn’t who they were expecting. But she does not for a moment put that duty down. She doesn’t for an instant do the “Woe is me!” shtick. She is not that kind of person.

And, of course, there will be people who think she’s arrogant for believing she can do this, because how dare a woman (or a mere human) think she could ever be good enough?

It’s really hard, abandoning the trope of the reluctant hero. See, I know the trope works. I don’t know if having an enthusiastic Chosen One will work at all. But, like her, I just know I have to try.

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Why I’m Discarding a Trope – And Why That Terrifies Me

18 thoughts on “Why I’m Discarding a Trope – And Why That Terrifies Me

  1. 2

    This novel sounds great. I’m looking forward to reading it.
    How much of the plot do you have outlined already? And how much of the book itself have you drafted? Thanks and best wishes.

  2. 3

    I often dislike the CO as a trope when played straight. At least with Buffy, the concept of the slayer as a ‘chosen one’ was pretty firmly dismantled

    So often when it is used there is no real reason that the CO is anything particularly special. A notable exception to this, is the avatar from the last airbender. Sure, his power is pretty nifty, but the real reason he is the chosen one, is that he is uniquely capable of viewing life through both the lens of a person and as a spirit that sees the big picture and impact of decisions over thousands of years.
    Interestingly, unlike Aang, Korra is a willing CO, getting her identity fully absorbed by being the CO, to the point most of her journey ends up being that she needs to find herself and learn to accept that human part of herself.

    It sounds like your chosen one doesn’t have that to struggle with, but there is plenty of other stuff about being a CO to struggle with even if you’re willing to be one.
    Below I’m posting a bunch of questions I always ask myself when a ‘chosen one’ appears in fiction. There is no need to answer them, especially not here, but I feel that main themes tend to flow from how they’re answered.

    To what extent is the role of the Chosen one laid in stone? Is it a code bound role? Is she prophesized to do XYZ? Does she exemplify virtues to society at large? Or is it simply that she is the one wielding a power that is unavailable to others? How focused is this power she wields (Is it something that can easily be turned against her own people, or is it specifically only usable on the big bad? Does it make her unto a god to common folk? Or is she always vulnerable, even though she is special? What freedom of action does she have before she has to worry about the same fate of her predecessor? Is it possible to replace her role by cooperative work? Can people who aren’t the chosen one carry out the duty of the chosen one?

    By what authority is she the chosen one? Is this authority absolute? Clearly if they’re raising her there are specific beings carrying out the will of this authority. Are they perfectly in sync with the authority or are they heavily influenced by their own beliefs? Are there any who challenge the authority?

    I dunno, those are the kind of questions I’ve asked myself when I considered writing a chosen one, which I ended up not doing. There are quite a few sets of answers that both work with a willing CO and create plenty of drama and space to explore specific themes in.

  3. 4

    It can work, I’ve read a few, but it can also end up leaving people speculating about any hidden ulterior motives the hero might have. Of course, than can be a good thing, depending on what kind of story you want to tell …

  4. rq
    5

    I’m all for it, though I hope your main character will have the human decency to experience a mild case of the doubts every now and then (that’s allowed, isn’t it?).
    I rather liked the subversion of this trope in UnLunDun, where the Chosen One ends up deciding not to take up the mission, but her best friend decides to do so in her place, despite everyone else’s misgivings. She does experience som doubts along the way, of course, but she has taken on the mantle and she completes all the tasks with determination and enthusiasm, and none of this whining ‘I don’t want this’ crap. (Which, come to think of it, is a rather nice thing about the actual Chosen One in the book: sure, she decides she doesn’t want to be the Chosen One, but she doesn’t waffle about it, or give half-hearted attempts, or anything like that – just, no, and that’s that, no questions or mind-changes. Perhaps in this case the title shouldn’t be ‘Chosen One’ but ‘One Who Does the Choosing’.)

  5. 7

    rq’s last sentence nicely summarizes my thoughts. “Chosen One” is a trigger phrase to me, along with “Greater Good”. Who chose? Who’s good is getting greater? The answer more often than not is someone who doesn’t give a damn about anyone else.

    I really like the idea of the answer to “Who chose you?” being “I did!” even though she may have been manipulated/socialized into it.

  6. 8

    The motivations you gave for your CO embracing her destiny are totally plausible, and way easier for me to empathize with. Whiny uncommitted Chosen Ones are just annoying. I always end up thinking “I’ve met enough men like that already, thanks, don’t ask me to identify with one too.”

  7. 9

    Oh, I love this. I’m really looking forward to reading it… but then, I’m the sort of person who chose to go rescuing people for a living. I think you’ll find that most of the people who read fantasy novels are probably also the type of people who think it would be neat.

    I’ve never really understood why ‘refusing the call’ is such a common trope. It tends to lead to whining, and that’s just not as fun to watch. Just look at the Hulk movie compared to, well, every other Avengers movie where the characters enjoy their jobs.

  8. rq
    10

    Because, you see, the original Chosen One had fucked up beyond all belief, and had to be destroyed

    I’ve been wondering about this particular sentence, too…

  9. 11

    This post reads to me like someone saying “I’m not going to repeat a well worn cliché, I’m going to be more original”. So, thumbs up!
    Don’t be too terrified of NOT rehashing the same tired old poop we’ve read so many times before (no matter how enjoyable its often been). I’m looking forward to reading it, and enjoying something new!

  10. 12

    Gotta cheer! And a fistbump to rq on the stragetic recommendation. Being chosen one as a flux of tactical necessities “Oh zhiizzzz I am teh Plan D?” is way cooler especially when Plan A B and C are toe-jam in godzilla’s claws. Although your hero can pick up some useful “itoldyouso” cred on the whole Plan B thing..

  11. 13

    And, if that all sounds like “omg it’s all been done before” just remember it’s all some actual fucking person’s actual fucking life and that’s why we consider Julius Fucking Caesar to have been relatively amazing. Perhaps that makes me bold enough to offer the Julius Caesar principle, to wit:
    If your character is more amazing in shorter time than Julius Caesar they should die proportionately horribly.

  12. 14

    Addendum: because it is SIMPLY IMPOSSIBLE to outdo Julius Caesar without combining shit.

    Like, sure you could say: He refuted Epicurus by age 3, then proceeded to destroy Stephen Fry and Cicero in debate, then made Christopher Hitchens reverse a position on any topic, found a glaring flaw in David Hume and embarrassed Voltaire, then followed up by out-maneuvering Ghenghis Khan in a land war in asia.

    I _HATE_ books where the there hero is basically: “is ghengis khan” whereas history is nothing but the amazing eddies of people who were swept along in the disturbances from the (justly named!) mighty khan. (I probably exist because some ancestor of mine was raped by some ancestor who wouldn’t have been in some part of some area of scandinavia if now having been driven there by the mongols!)

  13. rq
    16

    “I VOLUNTEERED YEARS AGO!!! YOU COULD HAVE SAVED YOURSELF ALL THIS TROUBLE!”
    … Though that attitude might lead too easily to the ‘I’m not going to help you because you rejected me. Okay, fine. Just a bit.’ attitude. :D

  14. 17

    Honestly, at first I thought you were referring to yourself, but I love this is for a character in your novel,

    > “Fuck this. If she’s not coming, I’ll do the damned job.” She chose to become the Chosen One, and was mightily shocked to find out she’d actually been groomed for that role from birth. Because, you see, the original Chosen One had fucked up beyond all belief, and had to be destroyed, and she ended up being the best possible replacement. But the people who groomed her knew it was important for her to come to it on her own terms, as an outsider, because what had sabotaged the original CO was being so much on the inside that she couldn’t take a vitally necessary risk.

    This is so cool, it’s like the story of Dumbledore, Jesus and Harry Potter and the Patronus, but done right this time with cool transfriendly Hermione! Squee!! But Patronus always struck me as so male and patriarchal, and in story, we all know that a “patronus” was fluid and turbulent flow, menstronus! I got it! Menstronus!

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