Pay the Cost to be the Boss
Here are some of the major drawbacks of overrelying on an explicit “Chosen One” in a work of fiction (instead of, say, a complex apotheosis where ideas of destiny and fate are contributing factors, but not the governing or primary ones):
- The dialogue is going to suck. Just the words “Chosen One” are so cliche right now that it hurts any character to put them in his mouth.
- Your character becomes much simpler. There’s a reason that Keanu Reeves fits Neo from the Matrix so well – it’s because Neo is a frickin’ idiot with next to no personality. He’s so caught up in being or not being The One that he doesn’t bother to do any of the other things that make characters watchable.
- There aren’t going to be a lot of surprises. When a character is organically motivated by things that are internal and specific to him or herself, then that character can go in any number of different directions. If you’re relying on determinism and destiny to get the character where he’s going, well, then there’s only one place he’s going to be, and that hurts you in the “bag of tricks” department.
- It’s going to be harder to have diversity across characters. If you put your characters in a universe in which there is a “Chosen One” running around calling hims or herself that (or being called it by others), and if that’s credible in the world you’ve constructed, it can be very hard to find relevant stuff for your other characters to do. Clearly, it takes a lot of pressure off of them if some proxy for God is going to help this other dude and all they have to do is stay out of the way. If you make the backing for your protagonist less obvious, other characters can more believably think they are the hero, and this gives them their own opportunity to showcase their internal motives and to take interesting actions.
- You are hamstringing yourself with a very specific ideology. It’s not a given that your fictional universe has to have “Chosen Ones” in it, but if it does, certain other things are probably true – namely, that there is something out there that does the choosing.Think of how much better the later Matrix movies would have been if there were no Architect – if the Wachowskis didn’t feel so obligated in following through their “Chooser” to its semi-logical, absurd conclusion.
- It is lazy. For Christ’s sake, just use another word or something, at least. There are dozens of basically equivalent ways to motivate characters. Why use the same one everyody else is using?
However, there are also good reasons to use a “Chosen One” in your piece:
- You can ingratiate religious audience members or readers without pissing off any specific religion or unreligious people. It’s a nice red-state/blue-state style cultural cop-out.
- It adds stakes and purpose to characters that have no stakes and no purpose. Sometimes, you have somebody like Superman around, and there’s no reason for that guy to do anything. Might as well write in a prophesy, then. Keep in mind that you probably shouldn’t aspire to have characters with no stakes and no purpose.
- Hollywood will probably think better of you for it. Seriously, Hollywood screenwriting types seem to really like the idea of the Chosen One, because they see in their audiences a large mass of pretty ordinary people who are looking to be told that they are special. It’s a cynical act of fantasy fulfillment. Now, I’m not against fantasy fulfillment through movies, but I do think that, while making it this cut and dried makes it easy for a producer or scriptwriting seminar guy to analyze and talk about it with praise, this sort of “critic service” is probably not going to make your actual movie better, even though it might help it get produced.
- It is quick. Without the complexity of organic motives, you can breeze through discussions of why people do things and get straight to the action. This is probably the biggest reason why this tactic is so popular today. If you’re writing a movie for set pieces, you don’t want to waste time doing that other stuff, right? I say wrong, but that’s a topic for another post.
There’s a lot to talk about here, but I’ll leave it at that today. What do you think about Chosen Ones? Leave your thoughts in the comments!