Why I Hate The 'Chosen One' Cliche

5:14 PM


Infomastern / Foter / CC BY-SA

Rant time! 

You've all seen The Chosen One. Because this character is mostly found in fantasy books (in my experience) this is the week I'm going to ramble about it, but really, The Chosen One is a regular feature in a lot of YA books, and it's absolutely the worst. 

I'm pretty sure everyone is familiar with this character, but just in case it's not ringing any bells: The Chosen One is pretty much always the protagonist. The Chosen One is special in some way that sets them apart from the others -- and not only is the Chosen One special, but they are THE MOST SPECIAL EVER. They are the only one who can save the universe. There's probably a prophecy or something involved. They develop skills at a fourth of the normal required time and very quickly become the very best ever, even if they've had no previous training or experience. They're always right. Even their flaws are perfectly convenient. And so on. 

I'm sure you can think of a ton of examples. Some people would argue that sometimes, this type of character is a good thing. I'd argue that with a very few wild exceptions, we should leave this type of protagonist behind forever and ever, and here's why: 

They're convenient. 

Let's be honest here: this is the number one reason for me, aside from the fact that they're just plain annoying. The typical Chosen One has their whole life work out all nice and neat, by book standards. They're found just in time. They develop their powers just in time. Without them and their skills, the world would be doomed. Most of their life is just handed to them, and once they show up, everything starts falling into place. You know what I dislike with a raging passion? Books where things are convenient/the one necessary thing shows up just in time. 

Look at that.

They don't have to work for it. 

Another thing that turns me into a flailing whirlwind of rage. I'm going to use Harry Potter as an example because he's my most rage-inducing example of a Chosen One and apparently I like making people angry because I can't stop picking on Harry Potter. I can think of a very small handful of situations where Harry actually takes things into his own hands without huge amounts of help, and yes, I've read all the books. Every clue, every bit of homework, everything, is practically done for him. If not for the people in his life leading him along and throwing him into situations, most of the things that happen in the books wouldn't have and look at that, everyone would be dead. Chosen One characters suffer from the unfortunate ailment of being tossed around and used like a cardboard cutout, good for looking nice on the cover and occasionally being sarcastic. Very rarely do they have to take initiative and really work for something, or sacrifice for it. 


They're good at everything (instantly). 

The Chosen One is the absolute best. Always. Occasionally it'll take them maybe half the book, but where would we be if our protagonist didn't rise to become the best wizard/Divergent/whatever?


They have no personality. 

This is not always the case, but it usually is, and mostly because of the above reasons. The Chosen One is a cardboard cutout, the result of a model you're supposed to follow to create the perfect story protagonist, so why do they need a unique personality? Something like that would come with flaws that mess with the plot, maybe not succeeding at what they're supposed to succeed at, and so on. I'd love to see more unique protagonists in all kinds of ways, or at the very least some that have personality. Because maybe it's just me, but cardboard cutouts aren't exactly my thing. 


And finally...

They're just plain old

Again, maybe it's just me and my zero-tolerance-for-tropes self, but I'm getting tired of this. Really, really tired. I don't particularly want to read about some kid who's chosen because of his ultra-special powers that no one else has. I want to read about people who work for it (Connor from Unwind) and people who have a reason to be where they are but aren't perfect (Darrow from Red Rising) and people who aren't special at all but who make themselves special through being ordinary (David from Steelheart). 

So no more prophecies and Chosen Ones and specialness for me, thanks. 

How do you feel about the Chosen One cliche? 

26 comments

  1. *resounding applause*
    Yes, yes, and again yes. Especially to the "convenient" point. CONVENIENT IS BORING, PEOPLE. AMAZE ME WITH YOUR BRILLIANCE. (Also why I hate cliff hangers, but that's off topic.)

    Though the fantasy plot bunny that is residing in my head (and will probably never make it to paper, because I hate writing fantasy) does actually have a Chosen One in it-- of sorts. I twisted it quite a bit, though: the "Chosen One" is actually the protagonist's sister, the "prophecy" that refers to the "Chosen One" actually could refer to anyone in a certain group of people, and the only thing that makes his sister special is that she simply decided she was going to try and fulfil the "prophecy".
    I think I just have too much fun screwing with cliches... x)

    Anyway, AWESOME post and so true.

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    1. Oooooh that does sound very interesting! Screwing with cliches is my absolute favorite and I've been known to read books just for that. ^_^

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  2. It's funny how somehow I always seem to avoid writing clichés. xD I don't even think I do it on purpose most of the time. And I don't think I've ever written a "Chosen One". In fact, I went to great lengths to keep my protagonists in my current story from BEING "chosen" while still being special. -blinks- I guess that makes more sense if one reads it.

    I totally agree about it getting old-- not even just that, but all kinds of stuff common to certain genres. (Emily Tjaden wrote an awesome post about that once) I just want to bang my head against a table when people can't seem to come up with good, creative ideas on their own anymore.

    And speaking of ideas... reading this just gave me a really good one for a story. -scrambles for a piece of paper and hides before somebody steals it-

    OH, and I'm currently in the middle of reading Steelheart, actually. I'd read about it here and I needed things to read, so I got it from the library. :D It's pretty awesome. I'm in the middle of it, and it's seriously reminding me of just one big, creepy, intense episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (I feel like you said once that you watch that?). o.O And creepy is good.

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    1. I really liked Emily's post on it, too! It actually inspired a lot of these rage-filled thoughts of mine. xD

      STEELHEART IS SO GOOD. Agents of SHIELD is so good. I approve. :P

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  3. You're spot on, Aimee! I mean, can't we have some Anti-Heroes in these books every now and then? It really does get old after a while; yes authors sometimes take from other stories/novels in order to develop their own, but sheesh...enough flat out recycling them!
    It's funny how Harry Potter is literally "The Chosen One" anyway xD and though I've lost my fondness for the books, I think J.K Rowling did allow Harry to not know what the heck he was doing and /then/ develop his wizardry skills for the ultimate battle (it's been like 5 years since I last reread the series, so I could be wrong), so it's not like he was automatically awesome, but in a way...I guess he was.
    Divergent really made me annoyed because here is a girl who's had no fighting ability, no strength, an absolute weakling, yet after just a few weeks of training she's got those muscles and she's ready to fight. The fact she becomes "dauntless" so quickly just makes it so much more convenient, unfair, and unrealistic.
    Point is, we need someone who is an Anti-hero. I'm tired of these normal people all of a sudden extraordinary...why can't we have someone who is not at all extraordinary, and who doesn't really become extraordinary, save the day or something? It'd be more relatable and believable, even though this is fantasy. Rant over, awesome post!

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    1. *shrugs* My opinions on Harry Potter are pretty off the beaten track, so I expected a lot of disagreement there. It's all cool. :P But Divergent...ugh. I don't think I made it through all of Divergent because it's such a prime example of this and this is one of the main things that makes me put down a book. More originality would be appreciated, thank you.

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  4. Okay, I've gotta admit: I LOVE Harry Potter. With that exception--and Aragorn in Lord of the Rings, I suppose--I'm not a huge fan of the chosen one trope at all. Mostly because, like you said, it's just too convenient. What I really want is a fantasy book where the main character falls into another world, but is not considered particularly special at all. He or she would still have to work to find their place there. That, to me, would be far more interesting.
    Great post :)

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    1. Convenience in books is my least favorite thing ever, so this trope is one of my least favorites by default and makes me flail angrily almost every time. :P I have liked those books, yes -- Gregor the Overlander is one of my favorite examples of that. The character, who falls into the world, is technically a 'Chosen One', but more by interpretation and not because he's the only one who could do it, which is a neat take on that.

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  5. Although I disagree with pretty much all of your examples, lol save Divergent, I do agree that the Chosen One is annoying and needs to stop. I really want to read a book where the Chosen One fails completely.

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    1. Right? I've read several books where that occurs and I think I've enjoyed all of them. It's a great twist.

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  6. The Chosen One is probably one of my biggest pet peeves. It drives me mad. I love reading about characters who aren't perfect and make sacrifices and have to work for stuff. That is the kind of character that interests me, and that I'm usually emotionally invested in. Not the perfect, flawless, instantly amazingly talented character. Characters like - as you listed - Connor, David, and Darrow are great examples. And I love all of those characters, they're awesome.

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    1. *angry flailing* Yeah, I don't generally care for those characters. They're just so...well, I ranted about it a lot already.

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  7. I agree with this, but do you hate this cliche because of the reasons or just because it's overused???

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    1. Both! I think it's wildly overdone and lacking in originality now, and these were some of the reasons why for me upon further thought. :)

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  8. I like Harry! (Don't insult my baby). Actually, though, I agree that this is a bit too easy, and that we have to move on from the Chosen One, because this is just too common. Nice post!

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    1. Heh, I won't mess with the Harry Potter people. :P

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  9. *shrugs* Eh. I mean, yeah, it gets annoying after a while, but it's not the worst thing that can happen to a book, in my opinion. Some of my favorite characters have been about Chosen One characters because it often discusses the roles of duty vs. choice in the matter and I find those themes very powerful. And so yes, they can get old and boring, but hey, so can every other trope. I mean, if you take thrillers and spy books, Artemis Fowl, Unwind Dystology, Ranger's Apprentice, H.I.V.E., Spy High, etcetera are all just the "noble but morally ambiguous heroes fight for a cause greater than themselves while at the same time being incredibly selfish regarding individual human lives" which is basically every James Bond movie (and I would know since I've seen them all). Every character has that just-right moral compass to make them supportable. Every character is intelligent-enough, hardworking, and committed despite their relatable flaws so that they are admirable. And in the end they always win because they have the moral upper hand here! Oh, like that's news. There's boring, stupid stuff in every book, I'm afraid. But the Chosen One isn't boring and stupid enough to be a turnoff for me. *shrugs again* So, yeah, I can understand your frustration with an overused trope, I guess I just don't have the same reaction as you do. But that's okay.

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    1. I guess it's just something that really gets to me personally and doesn't bother other people as much, which is totally okay because we all look at books differently (hey, I'm posting about that soon, too!). *also shrugs*

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  10. This. Post. I hate the chosen one cliché. It's just, in my opinion, lazy storytelling. There are so many better ways to write a novel, and it's time we ditched this.

    Again, as I was reading this post, I compared what you said to my novel, just to make sure I was avoiding that trope. And it actually encouraged me. My protagonist is so selfish and dramatic and confused about life, she couldn't possibly be the perfect cardboard cutout heroine. Also, she has power--but instead of developing it, she loses it and has to learn to live without it, among other things. And she can't save the world by herself--isn't even sure she cares about the whole world. On top of that, her connection to the villain is more personal than anything, and she's very self-centered about it.

    Anyway, great post! Thanks for getting me thinking. :)

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    1. "Lazy storytelling" is a good way to put this. You could make the argument that sometimes it's good for the story, but in my experience it's almost always a result of the author needing some kind of plot and a character to fill that void so look at that, the Chosen One is born. Which annoys me to no end.

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  11. THANK YOU FOR WRITING THIS! And especially thank you for picking on Harry Potter with this one --- I think he's probably one of the worst examples of this ever, and I totally agree with you.

    I actually make a very conscious effort to avoid doing this in most of my own writing. In fact, I have one character who just had really shitty luck and spends the entire book trying to figure out how to get the mess she stumbled into figured out. And she's timid and quiet and gets absolutely zero kudos along the way.

    I do think that sometimes people reach to find an answer to the "why me" question that every character inevitably asks. Personally, as a reader, I would rather that answer be dumb luck than "because you're fated for it." Blagh.

    Excellent post!

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    1. Thank youuuu I feel so much better about picking on Harry Potter now because I feel like every time I do I get beat up for it in the comments. xD It's something I try to work around, too, which gives me an appreciation for how hard it is NOT to deal with that trope...but oh well.

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  12. I started laughing at "They are the most special ever" I personally hate it but I like when it an author uses this cliche but it goes wrong. Like Star Wars, Anakin was the chosen one, but not like everyone thought, loved that.

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    1. Ooh, yeah, that's a good point! I've liked books/movies where the Chosen One totally turns in a different direction than expected. It's so refreshing.

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  13. I feel you! The chosen one trope is the worst! Generally I just can't connect with THE ONE because his life isn't realistic. Unfortunately, this trope is often found in fantasy which is my favorite genre. On top of Harry, I'd like to add Kvothe from The Name of Wind to the list. I don't know if you've read this book or even heard of it, but this guy outdoes all the other chosen one. He's literally perfect. Hell, he learned a new language in a couple of days or a night (can't remember which). How is that even possible? Great post!

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  14. The only Chosen One I love is Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader because there the Chosen One is actually the bad guy.

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hey. hey. talk to me. i'm a fan of comments and flailing with you. go for it.