Writing Tips

Five Ways to Twist the Chosen One Cliche

Many, many popular books use the “Chosen One” storyline. The basic idea is that some unsuspecting, ordinary character is actually a hero (often, but not always, a prophesied hero) and is the only one who can save the world. Lord of the Rings (Aragorn), Harry Potter (Harry Potter), Divergent (Tris), Ender’s Game (Ender), and many other famous stories use this storyline with great effect.

But readers do not like clichés, and the Chosen One has become a cliché.

So, as writers, we have three options: to abandon, to copy, or to twist the cliché. There is nothing wrong with any of the three options (Tolkien, himself, copied the storyline from Medieval stories), but here are five suggestions if you are looking to twist the Chosen One cliché and use the reader’s familiarity with the storyline to your advantage.

(Please note that I am not guaranteeing that these twists have never been used—in fact, I have read a couple books, myself, that use a some of these twist. I am just saying that these twists are ways to deepen the cliché and are not used as often.)

Five Ways to Twist the Chosen One Cliche

  1. The prophecy was false/faked. For this twist, the basic set up is the same: a prophecy declaring that there would be a hero who would rescue the world from some oppression. But what if the prophecy was either a false prophecy, or the very evil/oppression, itself, invented the prophecy to use for their advantage? They could raise up a man accord to the prophecy, their puppet pretending to be good, and then control him—effectively putting down all rebellion or really chances for good to rise from the people. They could even stage a rebellion with this puppet chosen one, give the appearance of the old evil being destroyed, but really be controlling the new power.
  2. The chosen one is evil/abandons the calling. This twist can be seen, a little bit, in the prequel Star War trilogy, but I would love to see this twist done with actually interesting characters (who aren’t whinny brats. Looking at you, Anakin.) What if the chosen one does not want to save the world? What if he decides to farm instead? Or what if he likes the power a bit too much? How can you oppose someone prophesied to win and save the world? Enter the real main character.
  3. The chosen one is not the obvious character. In most stories that have a chosen one, it is very clear who it is. But what if, for most of your novel, your characters (and reader) believe that someone else is the chosen one. To do this, you would most likely have to make the real chosen one a supporting character and not the main character, or the reader would see through the ruse. What if the chosen one is only revealed at the very end—right before they die? That could be fun, especially for your readers when they reader your novel a second time and see all of the hints that they missed!
  4. The popular prophecy is not the true prophecy. History tends to be muddled and get messed up over time. So what if the prophecy was not passed down properly over generations? Or what is some secret part of the prophecy is deliberately hidden from the chosen one? If so, what was the motivation for hiding part of the prophecy? Manipulation, protection, or something else?
  5. There are multiple prophecies, spanning multiple cultures. If the chosen one is supposed to save the whole world, then why does only one culture have a prophecy about them? Maybe multiple cultures have multiple versions of the prophecy, each with a different twist and each missing information. Maybe they even appear to contradict each other (do they contradict or do they just appear to contradict?). I am currently reading a book series, The Wheel of Time, that does this, and it is very effective and interesting.

Do you like to use the Chosen One cliché? Did you put a twist on it or have an idea for twisting it that I forgot to mention? Or perhaps, you would like to recommend a book that twists the chosen one cliché in an interesting way (I love book recommendations!)

God bless,

Gabrielle

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50 thoughts on “Five Ways to Twist the Chosen One Cliche”

  1. Awesome post, Gabrielle! 😀 All these are great! I’ve toyed with 3 before. It’s pretty fun. 4 and 5 really are overloading me with ideas, though. LOVE them. 🙂
    The Lego movie actually uses both 1 and 3, though 1 isn’t as evil plan-ish as you put it. But what’s fun is that they treat it like they KNOW it’s a cliche, but work with it anyway with a sort of tongue in cheek attitude.
    As far as recommendations, have you ever read The False Prince? The author does a VERY good job with it. Though I can’t say too much without spoilers. 😉

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    1. I know! Ideas were running all around my head while I was writing this post, and I only wish that I had time to write them all! I was not planning on it, but I may introduce twist #5 into my current novel– it would just be so much fun.
      I have never read the False Prince, but I think that I have heard of it. I will look it up; thanks!

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  2. These are all great ideas! The first one makes me think of the whole SHIELD/Hydra thing in the Marvel universe, except minus the chosen one. Although I guess you could see Cap as the chosen one…

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  3. YES!!! I don’t particularly like the “chosen one” cliche.

    I realize that everything is written from their POV because they are the one everything revolves around, and they are usually the most interesting person, but I’ve always wanted to write a book where the “chosen one” is the boring character, who only just barely manages to keep up his end of the prophecy by accident and whose cousin is waaaay cooler.

    These are good ideas. I shall have to use some of them. No. 5 is an interesting one. I’ve never actually read (or even heard of) a book that used this method of prophecy. But when I think about it it makes SO MUCH SENSE! And the dreadful things that can happen when the various prophecies are misinterpreted! Oh the trouble I could cause my poor defenseless characters!!! *evil cackling*

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  4. This is really cool! I’ve guess I’ve kind of done #3 and am looking at trying out #2 in another story. Great post! Other than that, I usually try to stay away from the chosen one thing. It’s so much more interesting when ordinary people decide to step up and do what’s right without having a prophecy. 🙂

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  5. These are good! I wouldn’t have guessed how amazingly some of these ideas could be used in a story but I just finished reading Brandon Sanderson, Mistborn trilogy and he incorporates several of these ideas. It was an absolutely awesome book! Although he does kinda use the chosen one thing to but not in the way you expect.

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  6. I love the Chosen One storyline, though I agree it has been overused. So it’s always good to see intetesting twists on it. I’m basically using the Chosen One plot in my series, but any semblance of a prophecy across multiple cultures is very vague, and the main character kind of makes himself the Chosen One because he willingly steps up to the plate, and as he becomes more powerful and influential, others elevate him to the “Chosen One” status that is almost god-like, which he fights against because he knows he’s not God.

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    1. Great idea, Kylie! Personally, I prefer when the main character decides for himself to act, too, but I am twisting that idea in with the Chosen One storyline in a short story that I am working on. It is quite fun!

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      1. Oooo, sounds interesting! Can’t wait to hear more about it! (Sorry for the delay. I’ve been a bit preoccupied with non-writing-related things…)

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  7. Great list. I love your #2, and I couldn’t agree more about Anakin… at least, in the movie. Have you ever read the book Revenge of the Sith? Anakin’s actions are FAR better explained! It’s one of my least favorite movies, but the book makes my Top 10. I would recommend reading it, even if it doesn’t change your opinion of Anakin, the author tells an amazing story often using second-person perspective.

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    1. You are actually the second post this week to mention that book, and I had never heard of it before. I might check it out now. Hum, I have never read a book in second person, so that could be interesting. Have you ever read the Republic Commando books? There are five (the last one is technically Imperial Commando.) The characters, storyline, world building (the author focuses on one culture in the Star War universe and really does a fantastic job developing it), and moral observations are very interesting. The first book is Hard Contact, but the following books are better.

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      1. I haven’t read them. In fact, Revenge of the Sith is the only Stars Wars book I’ve ever read. I’ll have to check the series out. And yeah, second person isn’t common (outside of choose-your-own-adventure stories). And the whole book isn’t like that… it has multiple POV and you really get a sense for how each person interacts with the force differently.

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  8. I had an idea for a novel where there was a mostly-cliche Chosen One (handsome, magic sword, righteous, strong, etc.) who was actually a supporting character.

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  9. Brandon Sanderson does a good job of twisting this cliché in his Mistborn trilogy. It’s all built up around the premise that the chosen one failed… and now a new one is about to be revealed. It’s sure not the one you expect.

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    1. I’ve heard lots of good things about Brandon Sanderson, and his Mistborn trilogy is on my reading list. Right now, I’m actually reading the Wheel of Time series where Sanderson wrote the last few books. I haven’t gotten to Sanderson’s books yet, but I am looking forward to reading his novels.

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  10. In some ways, Corporal Carrot (of Pratchett’s _Guards, Guards_) is kind of a Twist #2, or maybe it’s more the prophecy is open to interpretation. There’s a prophecy about how the line of kings did not end and someday the heir to the throne would return, save the city, & serve the people!

    And that’s exactly what Corporal Carrot did. He had this aggressively non-magic sword; it’s very definitely a plain, functional sword that means business. He has the crown-shaped birthmark. He came back and saved the city from a dragon. And he serves the people, as a member of the City Guard, not as the King.

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  11. Brandon Sanderson’s MISTBORN trilogy actually incorporates all five into his “Chosen One” and I can’t even begin to imagine the amount of effort and time he spent planning those books out.

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  12. I’m writing about something similar. The “Chosen” one walks away his destiny/fate believing it will bring peace to his country but later realizes how wrong he was. Is it too late to change?

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    1. While I think there is a point where it is too late to change a novel, I doubt you are there 🙂 Sometimes writers have to completely rewrite their novel– I know I’ve had to before. But I don’t think your premise sounds too cliche; it all depends on how you executed it and what you did with the characters and plot. So maybe get a few beta readers to give you feedback on whether or not you need a drastic change. Good luck with your story!

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  13. I’ve had this idea sitting in my Story Fodder file for a while. It was inspired by something I saw on Tumblr. What if ‘the chosen one’ is so confident in his status that he never does any of the training or anything to prepare. Once he has to start defending the world it’s always up to his teammates to rescue him because hes simply not prepared. He ends up losing his ‘chosen one’ title because hes done nothing to earn it, other than fulfilling a prophecy or something.
    Similar, I guess, to #2

    As an aside, The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins has a pretty cool Chosen One twist and I recommend them!

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  14. A couple of books that change up this cliche a bit:

    “Star Prince Charlie” by Poul Anderson & Gordon R. Dickson has a young man being slotted into the Chosen One role by a manipulative noble and having to get ahead of the manipulation to make sure that the prophecy doesn’t lead to ruin for the common people by propping up a dictatorship. It’s been published as a separate YA book and as part of the “Hokas Pokas” collection which I review here: http://www.skjam.com/2016/04/07/book-review-hokas-pokas/

    The Chalion books by Lois McMaster Bujold twist the background of the Chosen One thing, in that there are five gods that each have multiple Chosen Ones at any given time, setting them up like dominoes to affect events (they can’t manifest on the physical plane, but must work through mortals.) However, in at least three of the books, we follow the Chosen One who actually succeeds, so it plays out as if it were the standard use.

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  15. Not exactly a Chosen One plot but in the same vein there was a McGuffin stone in an early in The Vampire Diaries run that legend said was why vampires burned in the sun and werewolves could only change on nights of the full moon. The twist is that it has nothing to do with either of those things, an extremely old vampire needed the stone to break his own curse and to achieve that he’d manufactured many legends over the centuries so people would look for the ingredients he needed.

    The show has gone down hill and I no longer watch but it’s one of the best subversions of the McGuffin that I’ve seen.

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  16. If I may add one…what about something I’ve been referring to as the broken circle? Basically this: its one of those ‘every so often this big evil shows up and a hero arises to defeat them’ things. History keeps repeating itself, so everyone takes it down as prophecy. But the chosen one, or two in my case, would decide…they wanna save the world…but they don’t want to die, so…let’s find a way to not do that.
    Would that fit under 1?

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    1. SPOILERS: This is the reveal and subsequent plotline in Final Fantasy X, with the sequel being about the world trying to sort itself out now that it’s no longer stuck in that cycle.

      There was also a recent anime where there are six Chosen Ones marked by the Prophecy every five hundred years…but when the team assembles to fight the Dark Lord, there are seven people with the mark.

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  17. I really like the idea of deconstructing and reconstructing tropes in writing (especially about heroism), so the idea of twisting the Chosen One ideal is very interesting to me. Personally, the trope has never appealed to me, since i like to ground my stories with heroes into realism (which, for me atleast means that my heroes are often heroes by choice and only in their sphere of influence rather than for the whole world or whole countries). An interesting twist that i think could be added to the list is the idea that a character is the Chosen One but a dark variant: as opposed to rejecting their call and becoming evil (like good ‘ol Anikin) they are expected to be a great force for evil, or some epic world conquering villain despite their complete lack of desire for it. That might be breaking the trope a little but TOO much (since, at the core of the trope, being the Chosen One seems to be about being a force for good) but i think it asks interesting moral questions about characterisation and humanity in general: are characters specifically designed to be villains or can even the most likeable of our protagonists become villains in the right conditions? It’s a pretty scary question i think, and says alot about our human nature and free will (and our essential need for a Saviour in God). Would the prophesied ‘dark’ Chosen One cower at their own potential for evil? Would they take matters into their own hands to prevent? Cripple under the pressure?

    I briefly toyed with the idea of including time travel in my story to have an alternate timeline to the main one where the female protagonist uses her charismatic personality, people skills and (supernatural )ability to sense and control other peoples emotions to survive and climb up the vicious sociopolitical ladder of her country after her husband (the deutaragonist )is murdered by his treacherous bestfriend ( a powerful and ambitious political leader seeking revenge) and he forcibly marries her. Two envoys would be sent into the past to kill her before she becomes a threat but her husband, knowing the good in her heart and unwilling to lose her, is desperate to save her and thus keeps travelling through alternate timelines to prevent it. Kind of like a contemplative romance turned on its head into a political-intrigue science fiction piece with heavy moral questions when the deuteragonists past comes back to bite them. It honestly scared me a litlle bit though, to think this character i had created with so much good in their heart could potentially be a villain. As you can probably tell my mind wanders far and deep very easily. I am an INFP. Such is my curse.

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    1. Wow, I love how you tied twisting the trope into the nature of humanity. You definitely need to write that– I don’t think it is twisting the trope too far at all. One of my favorite history professors loves to point out that every human has the potential for incredible evil. I seriously love your idea– I think it would be an incredibly meaningful story with a lot of reader appeal, too.

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      1. I would like to begin writing it now but i feel like its one of those story ideas that is miles ahead of my writing ability and my overall cognitive understanding of morality. Coming up with the bear bones of the plot is easy enough but actually developing it further is really hard: kind of like i know what i have to do but not exactly how. To begin with, i would have to make my female protagonist an incredibly complex and realistic character (making her a normal grey character wouldn’t cut it: immense potential for evil would somehow have to be laced within even her compassionate and kind personality to make her villaneous outcome believable). It is definitely a plot i will leave on the back burner and write when i am older and a more experienced writer (right now, my ‘oldest’ characters have only existed in my mind for about eight months since eight months ago is when i began taking writing outside of school seriously) so i still have a lot of growth to do (as a writer and as a human being) to pull that plot off. But maybe i’m underestimating myself (or overestimating the complexity of the plot) : after all, Mary Shelley wrote and published Frankenstein between 18-20, right?

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    2. There’s an anime series that uses the first one–all the kids at this magical school are run through a test to determine their future career, and one poor sap gets “future Lord of Darkness” and must find ways to twist the prophecy since he doesn’t want to be evil. I didn’t watch past the first episode to see how it went as it was the kind of show where girls’ underwear being exposed for titillation was done repeatedly and un ironically.

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      1. It sounds interesting, though i can definitely understand why you stopped watching. I love anime but fanservice is squicky no matter what (especially played very straight rather than unironically: my guess is that it was a seinen series targeted at the older male audience(extra squicky)). Actually, my idea about a character travelling through mulitiple timelines trying to prevent an event tied to the destruction of a loved on comes from an anime I just watched: i would have said the name but doing so would immensely spoil the show (big plot twist at the end, as you can imagine).

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  18. Hey! Thanks for the great blog post. I love a good chosen one story, but I also hate that it has become a cliché. But then again, clichés are popular for a reason. I’m currently trying to kind of abandon the chosen one thing in my novel, though the main character is still going to save the world in the end. I thought that maybe if I make her a regular soldier who fights her way to the antagonist’s “liar” and defeats him it might make it more interesting. But it is still in the developmental stages so I’ll work on it. I thought that I’ll share a few things about myself since I’m new to your blog (I’m loving it so far!).
    My name is Caro, I’m fifteen years old and I live in South Africa. I am also an INTJ writer who believes that art was created to serve the one and only King. I’m working on a trilogy called Speechless, and I would love to submit an extract to the Open Pen section soon. Thank you for creating the exact type of blog I was looking for. 😉

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  19. This is a pet peeve of mine as far as stories go. Why does there have to be a prophecy that foretells of a coming savior!? It’s been so over used. I hated that George Lucas pulled that with Anakin in the Star Wars prequels. And, I’m afraid that are going to do that again with Rey in the new trilogy.
    In the series I’m working on, there is no foretold chosen one. However, I do have a race of people looking for a hero with specific qualities. It’s not based on a prophesy, its just that they know what they’re looking for in their hero. The words chosen one or prophesy are never used.
    Great post!

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  20. These are brilliant! Very helpful to me. Just one little thought to add: what if the chosen one was lazy and clumsy and terrible at his or her job? For example…

    “This is your prophecy, young one. You must use the map to—”
    “Uhh, I may have lost the map. Is there a back up?”

    Just a thought😊

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  21. I’m doing a story where every hundred years a girl has to choose whether to end the world in fire or ice. Or she can choose to die and let humanity survive. Now there are two gods, the god of fire and the god of ice. The two rulers. If she chooses fire, the god of ice will die and vice versa Now its been three thousand years. Its the last chance for Aurelia(main character) to choose or both gods die. I made it so that it’s kind of a look at how dark love triangles are and how the choice may seem easy but it means that its your life over humanity. Both gods use and manipulate Aurelia for their needs. They were cursed to fall in love with all of the chosen ones but they could control what it is exactly they loved about them. This was originally meant to be a honest to good chosen one love triangle. But as i grew out of that stuff, I knew that it was WAY more dark.

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  22. These are really cool! 😀 Percy Jackson and the Olympians has the 3rd twist and it works out really well. And I’m thinking of possibly using the 2nd one for one a book that I am writing.

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  23. 6. The Chosen One fullfils prophecy in an unexpected way, in a way that seems contrary to the most obvious interpretation of prophecy. Perhaps, the reality turns out to be far more odd or anticlimactic than the simplistic, popular interpretation. Or, the Chosen One is thought of as a false missiah, because the prophecy seems to have been proven false; however, the Chosen One fuffils prophecy in the end as someone who is old, beaten down, and seemingly crazy.

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  24. I remember when I read this post and realized my main character was nothing more than a stereotype ‘Chosen One’. I believe it was last year. Since then, my book has come really far, and I’ve come up with a chosen one twist of my own.

    The boy who we are lead to believe is the chosen one acts like the chosen one, is as strong as the chosen one. Is a leader. His name means ‘Our Hope’, which adds to our belief in his chosen standing.
    In reality, this boy was adopted by his father, who’s real son had died. His father, grief-stricken, had named the orphan child after his deceased son. Passing the name of the chosen one upon the boy. Leading the child and those around him to believe that he is indeed, the child of prophesy. The boy grows up training to fill his mantle, but something is off. He isn’t like the prophesized ‘chosen’ boy. He’s not as strong, he wasn’t born in the prophesized land, etc.

    Still, he tries his best, and we are never lead to otherwise believe that the boy is not the chosen one.

    Until he encounters a boy who’s name means ‘our hope’. His father’s biological son is not dead. He is alive, and he is the chosen one. He however, has become a twisted, darker version of himself. He keeps up the pretense of helping my protagonist’s cause, but my protagonist is in a way let down, yet relieved. All his sacrifices thus far are for nothing. Until the chosen one reveals his true nature.

    In honor of his father, and the boy who perhaps once was the child of prophesy, the hope, the chosen child. My protagonist keeps the name his father gave him, determined to right the wrongs of the true chosen one, and to bear the mantle with honor, and in honor, of the boy who died. And of his father.
    This is just ONE of the many twists within my story that change the ‘chosen one’ cliche. If I hadn’t read this post, my story would be nothing like it is today.

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    1. Wow! I am so glad that God used this post to inspire your writing! That sounds like an amazing story, and I love the ties with Christianity that your character is an adopted heir who knows that he is lacking but seeks to please his father. It reminds me of how we are the undeserving coheirs of Christ who, despite our unworthiness, seek to honor our heavenly Father.

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