Who does this choosing, exactly?

When writing fiction about impossible things in my own hackish way, I find myself pulled in by the gravity of the Chosen One. I’m sick of him. He was born with the power and just needs to find it. Merlin shows up to tell him who he is, and after that no one can stand against him. He’s Potter, he’s Neo, she’s the P sisters from Charmed, and we’ve seen it rehashed more times than I care to stomach.

Why does Luke get to be the super-Jedi? Why does chosenness have to pass from father to son? The message “if you ain’t born with it, you can’t get it” just doesn’t fly with me.

Trouble is, it’s so easy. You build a world with supernatural qualities, and why does your main character get to be the one to use them? Because of his parents, that’s why. So, for some time now I have tried to write stories where a non-superhuman obtains superhuman powers through practice and tenacity, in which anyone can be a wizard, not just people from the right gene pool.

Then I come across this article by super-genius Jane Espenson, in which she explain how to sell sci-fi.

It’s a very specific type of Hero’s Journey, the most potent sub-case. It’s told over and over again, and it works, over and over again. Dorothy Gale, Buffy Summers, Harry Potter, Charlie Bucket, Luke Skywalker, even Peter Parker, they all fit a very specific pattern. They’re living a life, sometimes a fine one, often a troubled one, but certainly one governed by ordinary rules, when suddenly the curtain is pulled back and a whole new world, or a new set of rules of this world, is revealed. And what’s more – and this is the important part – in that new world, they are something special. They are The Chosen One.

And if that wasn’t enough…

So here’s what I think we need to do if we want to write a sci-fi or a fantasy show and give it appeal way beyond the normal boundaries of sci-fi/fantasy fandom. We need to start with an empty page of notebook paper, write “The Chosen One” across the top and start brainstorming. At least, that’s what I plan to do.

Damn it, Jane! So, I need to do the precise and stated opposite of what I have been?

Thing is, I don’t agree. Starbuck being Miss Prophesy is lame. In Heroes, all of the characters’ parents know each other and have been manipulating them the entire time — also lame. As soon as a show starts down the “it is your destiny” path, I lose interest. The predictability destroys the enjoyment; no matter how much a Chosen character rails against their certain fate, they always succumb* because superpowers are bad-assed. “Just be yourself” is a lot easier when your self can fly.

So, Jane, you know I love you, but on this we disagree. Give me Wedge and Xander over another mewling “why must my life be so hard, what with all of my awesome powers and all” puss. I’m sure to be Chosen is to live alone and there’s some sort of proportional relationship between great power and great responsibility, but a person who chooses himself would be a welcome change.

(With the exception of Luke. It was his destiny to kill Vader. It was his destiny to join Vader. He did neither.)

8 thoughts on “Who does this choosing, exactly?

  1. Beers

    Luke is the exception, because he I don’t feel is the actual hero of the Star Wars Saga. If you believe the George Lucas bit about how he had the entire Star Wars story at least outlined in his head the story never was about Luke, but Anakin. However, one has to wonder if Anakin even fulfills his destiny of the one who brings balance to the force, because killing the emperor would appear to upset the balance between the Yin of the light side and the Yang of the dark. I think Luke did fulfill his destiny to whine alot thought. Just like his father before him.

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  2. gabsosteel

    thank you for explaining perfectly why i love batman. he wanted to do something, so he went out and learned how to do it. and yeah, he can be a real bitch about it, but troubled men are hot, so i let it slide.

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  3. johnny k

    I agree that Luke is not the hero in Star Wars.
    The greatest hero of the republic is R2D2.
    Who saves Amidala’s Naboo cruiser in Ep.1? R2D2.
    Who frees Luke, Han and Leia from the trash compactor? R2D2.
    Who activates the hyperdrive on the Millenium Falcon, allowing Leia, Luke, Lando and Chewie to escape the advancing Imperial star destroyers at Cloud City. R2D2.
    He carried the Death Star plans to Obi Wan Kenobi. He was instrumental in helping his friends escape from Jabba’s sail barge over the Sarlaac. He flew with Anakin while destroying the Trade Federation control ship AND with Luke while destroying the Death Star. He helped Obi Wan and Anakin rescue the Chancellor. Not to mention the countless times he dragged C3PO’s worthless ass away from danger.

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  4. Greg

    It bothers me too. But it is hard to resist. And the problem with the guy who goes out and gets the power instead of winning the Destiny Lottery is that he ends up being smug about it. After all, if he isn’t any more special than the huddled masses he’s saving, why aren’t they saving themselves?
    Fast forward a few months, and you’ve got yourself an anti-hero, if not an actual villain. But then again, those guys are cooler.

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  5. Gary P

    “In Heroes, all of the characters’ parents know each other and have been manipulating them the entire time — also lame.”

    Dagnabit. And I was really looking forward to getting the DVDs and finally checking it out. I think this might very well completely ruin it. Spoiler, indeed, but perhaps a saving one.

    I also agree that this is exactly why Batman is the best of the bunch. He worked his not-yet-spandex-clad ass off to become what he felt he needed to be.

    Spiderman, especially the new movies, deals with the power versus responsibility stuff, but much of why Peter is a great character is that he didn’t ask or seek out any of this. Chance sunk its fangs in him, and now he has to decide how to deal with its consequences.

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  6. Beers

    Gary,

    I just finished watching the entire season of Heroes due to the magic of the interweb and Bittorrent. Having read Alex’s post before I started watching didn’t totally ruin the show for me. However, it is one of the more suspect and weakest points of the story arc of the first season. However, Syler is the shit, and still one of the coolest villians. I would still recommend watching.

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  7. gary p

    Thanks for the tip. Well, if I can BitTorrent it, I’ll give Heroes a whirl.

    One day before I read Alex’s post, I heard a glowing review of the DVD set, and was set on buying it. (Or, more likely, asking for it for Christmas and, failing receiving it, then buying it.) Seems harsh, but I was looking for a great story, and this one detail is apparently enough to make me regret myself or another spending money on it.

    Ok, must stop imagining writing something fantastic, and return to the mundane.

    Reply

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