Enough With the Chosen Ones

I get it, I do. Life can be a crushing mixture of boredom, indignity and misfortune, a tragedy experienced in slow motion that we feel powerless to affect or escape. Yet, despite it all, we still want to believe we’re Special, that we weren’t wrong when we told ourselves we were Meant For Something. If only someone would burst through the door, magic wand in hand, and tell us we were right all along; they’re here to train us, to prepare us, to push us towards our true purpose.

That’s why so many stories shove Chosen Ones at us. People who were born to be Special, whose destiny is so manifest that the world damn near fires them out of a cannon in the direction of its fulfillment. We see Harry Potter struggling through the humiliations of his daily life with the Dursleys and, when Hagrid arrives to drag him into the world of magic he was meant to save, feel the spark of hope within us burst back into flame.

I could be special, too, you think.

I understand why the trope works. I’m no more immune to its charms than most people. If we were like them, if we were Chosen Ones, then even our own capacity to screw things up couldn’t stop us from achieving our dreams. Writers spin tales of Destined Heroes because we want to read them. Hell, because writers do, too. We really need to believe we’re Meant for Something. It’s what gets us through.

Here’s the thing: We need to stop.

Not as readers. You read what the hell you want to read and don’t let anyone tell you differently.

I’m talking to the writers. I’m talking to myself.

Stories can scratch an itch we know exists. It can give people the Backrub of Destiny, tell readers their hope that they were born to change the world could be true, and send them back into the world with that hope rekindled. That’s cool. Sometimes, we write to do just that. We give people the Happy they want.

But that’s not all a great story can do. A great story doesn’t need an itch to scratch. A great story can *create* the itch. It can make you want something you never knew was possible.

Maybe, instead of writing about Chosen Ones and Destined Heroes, we writers who love us a broad, grand fantasy could do something else: we can write about people who create their destiny. Heroes and Heroines who take power the world doesn’t want to give them. Who succeed not because they were meant to, but in spite of the fact that they weren’t.

Me? I’m tired of reading about Chosen Ones. Some of us are born luckier than others, sure, but if the luck of our birth is all that mattered, the world would be a poor, pale place. Good fortune in our early life is a huge boon, but are those the only people whose story we want to tell? The people who were lucky enough to be handed power?

Hell no.

I love tales of people who accomplish amazing feats. I love the Epic, and the Sweeping, and the Fantastic. I just want people in them that kicked ass because they wanted to kick ass so badly that nothing was going to stop them. Those stories exist, but they’re much, much harder to find. The intersection of Fantastic Awesome and Heroes Who Grabbed Destiny By The Balls and Squeezed is far too thin.

Which means, for my part, I’ve got to write those stories. Aggressively. Intentionally. Because it’s better writing, and because it’s our damn job to inspire. Maybe you’d like to as well. I wouldn’t mind a bit.

Let’s tell people they don’t need fate behind them if they want to move mountains.

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3 Responses to Enough With the Chosen Ones

  1. NYPinTA says:

    I like this. I actually had an idea for a story where someone grabbed the power to create their own destiny. Except they messed it up and altered 7 other people’s destiny in the process. Good times.

  2. Luke says:

    Well said. This puts me in mind of the related idea (as illustrated by Harry vs Dumbledore in the last book) that the people best suited to power/leadership are the people who don’t seek it, but have it thrust upon them — the implied corollary being, if you seek power, you’ll abuse it; you’ll act selfishly rather than selflessly.

    Not to say that seeking one’s destiny equates to seeking power, but in the same way, it has ego in it. So how does one write a story where the hero makes his own way without being selfish? Is that even important? Perhaps you do it by having the hero pursue an ideal, and his/her own self-actualization is a side effect rather than an end in itself. Or maybe a selfish hero is more interesting (Thor?). But I’d be afraid of giving readers the idea that achieving one’s destiny by being an ass is a viable option.

  3. Kaylynne says:

    You have an excellent point. However, most humans appear to be ‘hard wired’ genetically or culturally to need or want to follow a superior being. I myself am no exception to this ‘rule’. Breaking this cycle would require turning down the noise around us and liking silence again.

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