Monday, 20 June 2016

Plain Janes vs Chosen Ones

You don't have to look far in YA to find the Chosen One. 

Harry is of course the obvious choice, but consider the other, more recent fantasy / paranormal lit we know and love. The son of a Greek god, prophesied to change the world. Exiled queens with hidden magical powers. Young mages who may be fated to destroy the cosmos. You know, just normal destinies. Not.

Many of us are getting a little tired of this trope. It harks back to ancient Greek and Roman stories; I'm currently reading Virgil's Aeneid, wherein the MC, Aeneas, is fated to found Rome.
I did not flinch from the Greeks or from anything they could do. If it had been my fate to fall, my right hand fully earned it.
The gods and the Fates have got it all mapped out for Aeneas. He doesn't die in the fall of Troy, nor in any of his trials, struggles, shipwrecks, descents to the Underworld (just part of the day job) thereafter, because he has to fulfill his fate. And he is the leader of the Trojans, AKA someone Very Special Indeed. He has a duty to his country, his people, his family and his gods.

This idea of duty has been continued into YA. Harry believes he is the only one who can defeat Voldemort. Percy knows he could be the child of the prophecy. Neither of them can turn their backs on their destinies; they believe that the fate of the world could be resting with them, so however difficult it is, they have to face their enemies.

But what about those who are not Chosen Ones?

The Lord of the Rings is a very interesting book because it has an ordinary hero. Frodo never wants to leave Hobbiton; he has to take the Ring because Gandalf tells him to. And when he reaches Rivendell and the Council of Elrond, he takes the decision himself to be a part of the Fellowship.
A great dread fell on him [Frodo], as if he was awaiting the pronouncement of some doom that he had long foreseen and vainly hoped might after all never be spoken. An overwhelming longing to rest and remain at peace by Bilbo's side in Rivendell filled his heart. At last with an effort he spoke, and wondered to hear his own words, as if some other will was using his small voice.

“I will take the Ring," he said, “though I do not know the way."
Actually looking at that section is interesting, because it speaks about a “doom ... long foreseen" and “some other will"; you could say that taking the Ring is, in fact, Frodo's fate. I would argue that this section shows, rather, Tolkien's Christianity; those words “some other will was using his small voice" make me think, instantly, God's will. But that isn't really the point. What I'm trying to say is that Frodo is a hobbit and a gardener and generally a quiet individual. He's not a mage or a king. Unlike Aragorn, he is not a Chosen One; he is a regular dude who knows that the Ring needs to be destroyed, and is selfless enough to step up to the task.

But what about my own writing?

A war begins near the end of TCATT (my WIP* high fantasy YA novel), and it will continue through the next two books. Corrie, the MC, gets caught up in a mild bit of questing / kidnapping / beheading (again, all part of the day job), but when Book 2, Stay in the City, starts, the war is going to be more organised -- less “WE ATTACK AND CHOP YOU WITH A SWORD!" and more actual tactics and structured armies. You know, once everyone gets their act together and works out what they're doing.
*Only WIP until tomorrow, though, because I'm planning to finish the fourth draft then!

Where will that leave Corrie?

In contrast to the Chosen One, she is a definite Plain Jane. Freddie is a mage whose sister is going to play a key role in the war. Without giving spoilers, Jem, Mel and Dephrena all have very personal and pertinent reasons for getting all up in the action. But what about her?

On the surface, there are similarities between her and Frodo. They are both ordinary chaps who choose to get involved in the fighting / quest. But there are actually two important differences.

1. Mission Statement

Once Frodo accepts the Ring, it doesn't matter if he was fated to take it or not. He becomes the Chosen One, in a sense. Once he has it, it is his responsibility to get it to Mordor. It is a personal task, and it's the most important task there is.

Corrie, on the other hand, doesn't have a personal mission. Sure, Big Things Are Going Down and she wants to help with the war effort. But she's not a mage and she's not a noble. She's not going to fight on the front line, and she's not a brilliant general/tactician. Whatever she does, she'll be doing to help her friends, not because she's The One who has to do it.

That may sound OK -- doing stuff for your friends is, after all, good -- but this leads us onto Difference 2.

2. We Are Family

I don't know what this is from but I love it
Frodo is not married and he has no children. Bilbo is the only family he'd be sorry to leave behind, and Bilbo wants him to go; after all, Frodo is continuing his own mission. Really, Frodo's family is his friends -- Sam, Merry and Pippin -- and they go with him.

Conversely, Corrie has loving parents and two sisters. In staying away from home and getting involved in war, she is choosing her friends over her family. I'm not saying her love for her friends is less important than her familial love, because in a way they have become her family too and she would do anything for them. But is it fair to her parents to go careering off into danger and possible death?

A lot of YA books dodge this bullet by taking family out of the equation. 

Harry Potter and Celaena Sardothien are both orphans. Harry especially is shut out and mistreated by his real family, so when he enters the magic community, why on earth would he look back? In fighting Voldemort he's fighting a magic war, so of course he's going to choose his magic friends, rather than returning to his Muggle life at Number Four, Privet Drive.

This is not the case for Corrie, whose family desperately wants her to come home.

So does she have any right to turn her back on them and put herself in terrible danger?

You see I've backed myself into a bit of a corner. I don't know the answer to that question. Obviously Corrie is going to stay with her friends/the war, because if she trots off home I won't have any books left to write. But I am not looking forward to writing that conversation between her and her mother. “Why do you have to go away?" her mum will ask. “Don't you know you're breaking my heart?" And what is Corrie going to reply?

At the end of the day her friends need her, and I do think it's patronising to suggest that she can't have those important relationships just because she's young. But equally, she is sixteen, AKA A CHILD, and it is therefore all a bit perplexing.


What is your take on this? You see this was a purely self-indulgent post for me to rant about my unresolved issues. But what advice can you give me about character motivation? If your character isn't a Special Snowflake, how do they make that tough choice? Have I just made terrible choices putting a normal person with normal parents into a high fantasy setting (in which everyone else is a) an orphan and b) prophesied to save the world)? WISDOM PLEASE. Thank you.



  1. THAT IS A HARD ONE. What if she just goes home because she feels terrible for her parents, then she's like wait, no, this isn't right. My friends are out there dying and I'm sitting here doing nothing? I love you mom, but I've gotta go. Or you could murder her parents quite viciously.

    Then again, I have no idea what I'm doing. So best of luck!

    1. She's definitely going to go home -- she can't not, she HAS to let them know she's OK. But she has two sisters at home. One of them is quite broken and I guess her parents will see the contrast between them and be like actually, Corrie, we need to change the world so that people aren't hurt like she's been hurt, and also you are now the stable one. If that makes sense??

      Maybe I'll just murder them viciously, yeah.

  2. I like when characters aren't special snowflakes and kinda find themselves in the thick of things, but have no idea how they got there or why. It's much more believable and relatable. Rant away, I enjoyed it.

  3. You bring up interesting questions in your post, Emily. I don't know what to tell you, but I'm sure you'll figure something out. :)

    Just wondering but have you read The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness?

    1. Thanks, Lauren! I hope so. I've not read it, but I did enjoy A Monster Calls by Ness so I might pick it up :)

    2. Well, it definitely fits your topic since it is about a group of non-Chosen ones. :)

    3. I'll look out for it! Thanks for recommending :)

  4. I guess it's difficult because you don't want your character to have no REASON for their Special Snowflake-ness. But at the same time they have to be different to others, otherwise there'd be no point writing a book about them. Although I did love The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness (as someone else has mentioned) just because it's about the sidelines of a Chosen One battle haha.

    1. I'm interested in that book now -- thanks for the rec! Obviously Corrie is VERY special (she is my #1 bae and general narrator queen after all) but it is a tricky issue. Ugh. Thanks for visiting, Emily! :)

  5. I think one reason why the Chosen One trope is getting a little less love these days is because it basically assures us the hero/heroine is going to come out on top. HOWEVER, readers like to be teased. They like to worry about if the hero/heroine ends up surviving and winning. A little bit of doubt in the reader is a good thing. A little bit of doubt in the character should be a good thing too. Corrie SHOULD struggle about leaving her family and going to war. There should be no easy answer.

    1. That is very true! Thanks so much for you insight, Blue. Honestly I can't wait to start writing the thing. Then, I think (I hope??) things will start sorting themselves out ...

  6. This is an interesting discussion. Both have their pros and cons. I'm tossing around an idea where I have a pair of chosen ones who occur every generation to try to fulfill a prophecy but each have failed. Then there is a sort of anti-chosen one. I'm trying to play around with the trope. XD

    1. I love that idea! Keep us updated with your progress with it! :D

  7. I want something in the middle. I don't want someone bland and lackluster, nor do I want the special snowflake. I want to see a character's struggles and desires and watch them overcome adversity and triumph and fail at times. That is what makes a character easy to relate to and that's what makes me cheer for a character. Great post!

    Rachel @ A Perfection Called Books

    1. Thanks, Rachel, I'm glad you enjoyed it! I hope I'm able to strike that balance. Thank you for visiting! <3

  8. I ALWAYS struggle with what to do with parents. Honestly, this is why they usually end up dead. lmao. It's so difficult :/

    1. Ha, I think a lot of us have taken that way out before! XD

  9. Oh man, this is definitely a very hard one. I'm honestly not sure what advice I can give you for Corrie's motivation to leave her parents behind...but I guess it'll be quite similar to children deciding to move out of home / to another country? Of's not that similar at all, but I think you can have a think about the motivation for why we would leave our parents behind to pursue our own thing. Mainly for independence a fantasy world though, if not fate it's probably strong friendship bonds? Oh man, too hard!!

    Have you read "The Rest of Us Just Live Here" by Patrick Ness? It's all about the ordinary people in a world full of 'Chosen Ones'. I think you might like it Emily :)

    Joy @ Thoughts By J

    1. It IS hard! She has left her parents once before, to go to the capital, and I think her mum especially has a bit of (confused) resentment about that that she and Corrie haven't really worked through. Hence her especial desire to keep Corrie at home. But I guess her friendship bonds do need to come into play. Ugh, I'm just not sure!

      I've had a couple of recs for that in these comments alone, I'll have to look out for it!

  10. This is so haaaaarrrrrd. I've wrestled with it before, and still am!

    As far as chosen ones go, I still love them (*cough* I WRITE about 'em) but I like to leave room for free will. Someone may be "chosen" for a great destiny blah blah blah, but they could still reject it and choose another path. It would be a terrible choice, yes, but they're not bound to their chosen-one-ness, if you know what I mean. I like to compare it to how God has laid out the best path for our lives, "planned good works for us to do long ago," but we don't HAVE to take that path. I certainly want to, but I have to choose to. So in writing chosen characters, doing it that way lets them have an ordinary, Plain Jane side too. An ordinary person with the opportunity for great things, but it's not forced upon them by Fate or Destiny or Some Other Such Thing. (That was a long rant. Oops.)

    BUT PARENTS. UGH. THAT IS EVEN HARDER. I got away with it in The Prophet's Quest because circumstances don't let my chosen ones tell their parents they're going gallivanting off on a life-threatening adventure. But later on, the truth has to come out, otherwise my heroes would turn into dishonest people who don't respect their parents enough to inform them, "Hey, the world is on my shoulders and I almost died yesterday and I might just die tomorrow."

    One set of parents is working to accept this hard truth and actually supports their daughter because they realize she's doing the right thing. The other set freaks out and practically disowns their son. Being kicked out, he can now do what he wants (but his poor heart is shattered, so). I don't know how/if this will help your Corrie situation, but there it is.

    Could something happen to make her realize that she has to leave her family for THEIR sake? That if she doesn't join the war, they'll be in danger, and so will tons of other people like them? Higher motivations and all that?

    (Now that everyone is recommending "The Rest of Us Just Live Here," I'm interested in reading it too...)

  11. That's true. All this Chosen Ones chat makes me want to write about a Chosen One who doesn't want to be chosen, or something. Or just fails their destiny. Cheats Fate. ???

    Yesss, in your 777 Josiah's dad was being nasty to him wasn't he??? Poor Josiah. Bless his heart!!!! </3 (I love him already ngl.)

    I don't know! This is kinda what she says in TCATT, but I guess the point is there's nothing (at least, I don't think there's anything) that SHE could do specifically. Whether she joins the war or not, they're all gonna be in danger; she doesn't really have a specific role / destiny. At least, I don't think she does, though she is mates with the queen so potentially she'll actually be, like, ordered to stay with the royal party? (Which is where the rest of her friends are too.) That's looking increasingly likely, actually.

    (I know, same!)

  12. Very interesting topic, of course. In Oddball, the Foursome are Postal Travelers who specialize in going to dangerous or uncharted places to make deliveries. The Post actually makes a specific point to hire young people who have no family connections so they aren't breaking some poor parent's heart.

    Obviously, this is different. I would normally say that she eventually has to grow up and leave her family and do her own thing. A ship is safe at harbor but that's not what it was made for and such stuff. But Corrie is sixteen, and I'm guessing by the standards of your fantasy world that's still considered to be too young to gallivanting off to do your own thing? In the Dark Ages, it would've been normal to be sixteen and independent, but if that's still too young then how in the world does she justify leaving her family? I have no idea! Somehow, it has to be personal to her? Like what is the war about? Is it just over kingship? Or do certain values and living circumstances come with either side winning or loosing? Is there some way in which Corrie could be equally frustrated with her family for not wanting to get involved? Is there a way in which Corrie may also be fighting for principles, morals, or ideals? I really have no idea; I'm just throwing suggestions around. That is a difficult corner to be in.

    I really like the idea that Corrie's not a chosen one though. And if even she does have a good reason to leave her family and help her friends, she will still probably have that internal struggle inside herself about leaving her family?

    I love these questions and discussions! We've kind of been batting them around a bit. And even if the answer still seems a little gray, I think it would be a good topic/theme to explore throughout the book itself, maybe?

    Excellent post!

    1. I wrote such a long reply to this yesterday but the bloath got it D:

      That detail about the Post is really sad! It's almost telling the Four they're less important because they don't have families. They break MY heart for sure! </3 (<-- see?)

      A summary of my long reply (~mourns for lost comment~): You can get Selected from thirteen and it's OK to move out, and at 16 Corrie could be married, BUT running off to war, as a girl, is not really the thing. (It's the opposite for boys, though. So many stereotypes/societal constraints! D: )

      The war is over kingship but also magic. There are kind of two simultaneous wars, that is, two levels to the war. Most people are only aware of the evident issue of the ruling of Ivaria, but there's also dark magical stuff going on under the surface. As Corrie knows about this, I guess she feels kind of obliged to do something about it, at least that's what she says to her parents in TCATT. She feels like most of her country is fighting a war over kingship which ultimately doesn't matter.

      She will be having conflicts herself, though! I think the title Stay in the City will come into this. Is staying in the city what one should do to stay safe (eg we might all shriek at Jem: Stay in the city! Don't run off! Stay with us!), or is it putting oneself in danger (eg Corrie may say to her fam, I've got to stay in the city! And they'll be like no please come home!). ... I feel like that all makes more sense in my head, but oh well. WE'LL SEE WON'T WE??

      I'm glad you enjoyed it! :)

    2. Gosh, that bloath. Grr.

      Hm, I've never really thought of it that way? One of the Postal Travlers has kind of taken upon himself to seek out new recruits. He looks for kids who are in trouble or alone (like Oddball) and the Post in a way helps them by taking them out of a bad situation or putting them in a place where they can make friends and have a job. But I kind of see what you mean.

      I see. societal constraints are always so bothersome!

      Oo, a secret war raging beneath!! I love it! *claps hands* It does make sense that she wants to help as someone who actually knows the true purpose of the war. Does she help spread news of the real purpose? Like as a writer?

      And I love the different conflicts here too! For one the city is safety, for another it is danger.

      I'm getting really excited now about TCATT! I feel like saying something weird like: The plot thickens, or The game's afoot!

    3. I guess the Post thing works two ways. (Kinda like duty to family vs country. Like the war. Like the city in TCATT ... EVERYTHING WORKS TWO WAYS. It's almost as if our writing is, like, NUANCED or something????!!!!)

      She does a bit of writing-y stuff like that in TCATT .... to be honest I'm concerned about giving you spoilers! So I'm not gonna, uh, say anything else ;)

      I'M EXCITED THAT YOU'RE EXCITED ABOUT TCATT! My pal says she's gonna finish week. ~hopes about in a frantic dancing fashion~

    4. *hops. But I am hoping too, I guess, hoping she likes it!

    5. No way, Em. That is too weird! Especially after the whole Jem and Peril both have different color eyes and like crowds, and -- AH!

      I dropped my brain.

      Oh, I see how it is. Clamming up now, huh? ;) I'm just teasing. I definitely understand. And I keep asking dumb questions like, "are there any character deaths" as if I want to be spoiled. Which I do not.

      *hops around also*

    6. I think about Jem and Peril both having different coloured eyes SO OFTEN! But I assumed you would have forgotten!

      ~dances in mad circles~

      (Seriously, the amount of time I spend thinking about Peril's eyes. Probably only Oddball thinks about them more ... oi oi!)

      I will not spoil, fear not ;)

  13. While reading this post I was instantly reminded of this YA book called Zodiac. It had a Chosen One, turned into an orphan within the first few pages of the book and I was bored before I even made it to chapter four. In YA the Chosen Ones are often bland and unoriginal these days. They're predictible and because they're the Chosen One you just know they're going to do amazing things. I'd like to see some variation on the theme. I think making your character a Plain Jane is a good idea. It'll give a new dimension to her character and can influence her development in a way we susually don't see in novels these days. Good luck writing :)

    x Envy
    Lost in Translation

    1. I've not heard of that, but it sounds a bit tedious! I am very conscious of wanting to break tropes etc, so hopefully Corrie will be a new and fresh character! Thanks for visiting, Envy :)


Thanks for commenting! :)