Chosen Ones became popular for a reason. This trope is a great way to uproot a protagonist from their safe home and force them to save the world. The plot is like a hunk of metal, while the Chosen One protagonist is like an ultra-strength magnet.
Despite its popularity and the fun that comes with it, the trope is frequently bashed. Some flat out refuse to read Chosen One stories because of a few common pitfalls that tend to accompany it.
The Chosen One trope can be annoying if:
- It guarantees an easy win for the protagonist
- The protagonist doesn’t actually make decisions or win through wit — they suddenly develop a new power when stuck, and things that should have failed work because they’re Chosen, not smart
- They never face consequences for their actions or make a genuine mistake. Every seeming blunder is revealed to have actually had positive consequences.
Anyone who doubts them is cast as evil or stupid
- The prophecy is too obvious and spoils the plot
- Someone more qualified steps down to let the protagonist save people, causing harm because the protagonist is woefully under-qualified and hurts people with their incompetence, and this is presented as a good thing
- The side characters are underdeveloped and useless
While avoiding these common pitfalls isn’t a subversion of the Chosen One trope, it will make it enjoyable to read — both for Chosen Ones aficionados and Chosen Ones doubters.
Now, onto ways to subvert it!
The Unchosen One (or ones) ends up saving the world
The ones without plot armour or destiny on their side have to save the world. Perhaps the Chosen One was killed, and others have to take up the fight in their stead. Perhaps the Chosen One is incompetent, and refused to train because they’re lazy and thought their destiny would just write itself without any effort. This subversion heightens the tension.
The Chosen One switcheroo
A Chosen One exists, but they are not who is thought to be the Chosen One. Perhaps the prophecy specifies that a man must defeat the evil, and the protagonist was a trans guy who has to defeat the imposter chosen one (chosen one is not capitalized in this case because he is an imposter unworthy of capital letters).
The prophecy was made up by the Big Bad
Ways this could manifest:
- This explains why the Chosen One is young and inexperienced. The prophecy was made to select someone who could never be strong enough to actually defeat the evil
- The mentor was hired by the Big Bad, and their teaching methods are insufficient and cryptic, not giving the ersatz chosen one the skills they truly need. When the mentor dies, it is revealed that their death was staged, and the Chosen One has to defeat them.
- The Chosen One is groomed to be arrogant and to not rely on others, preventing them from gaining the allies and skills they need to win.
- It is revealed that the prophecy was a sham, but the Unchosen One ends up saving the world anyway. To win, they have to undo the arrogance ingrained into them and ask others for help.
The Chosen One is evil and has to be defeated
They have mind control powers that make others do as they say and believe their lies to be truth, they have plot armour, they are an in-world Mary Sue, Gary Stu, or the non binary variant Mgary Stue. And a bunch of people without plot armour have to gang up to defeat them.
The Chosen Many
A group of people are prophesied to save the world. This isn’t a major subversion, and also comes with all of the potential pitfalls listed above. Take care to give the unchosen ones agency as well, and make sure the Chosens Ones victory is not guaranteed or effortless. (Or victory is guaranteed, but the costs of victory are not set in stone and could be catastrophic.) (Or perhaps they lose.)
If you want to write the Chosen One trope straight, do you! But it’s fun to consider all of the options. There are plenty of ways to subvert the Chosen One trope, and I’ve barely scratched the surface.
Have a great day, night, evening, or whenever you happen to be reading this, and keep curious.