Write for the King

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.)

  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,