I have a pet peeve when it comes to storytelling. Actually, I have several, but I’d like to talk about one in particular, and that’s the one I call the “Chosen One” motivation.
Now I should be entirely clear, because many stories use the “Chosen One” as a plot point; my problem is not with the plot point, but with the motivation. Just to explain, here’s a breakdown of what the Chosen One plot point is.
The Chosen One plot point boils down to simply this: a character, for some reason or another, is (as the name implies) the “Chosen One.” He is the only one who can or will defeat the Dark Lord/fulfill the prophecy/save the planet/lead the rebellion/[insert other heroic action here].
Usually this is accompanied by a prophecy of some kind that foretold his or her coming and ultimate triumph. Again, my problem is not with the plot point itself, per se. Many good stories use this to great effect. Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter are two that jump immediately to mind.
My pet peeve is what I call the “Chosen One” motivation. The Chosen One motivation is something entirely different. If you look at those last two examples I listed of stories that have “Chosen Ones” there’s at least one thing they have in common. In both Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter the Chosen Ones have exterior character motivations for taking on the Dark Lord. They don’t take on the Dark Lord because they’re the Chosen Ones, they take him or her on because there is something driving them to do it.
Maybe it’s because they chose to get involved themselves, out of a sense of responsibility. Maybe it’s because they have a personal vendetta against the Dark Lord, as in Harry Potter and Star Wars.
But none of these characters take on evil because they are the Chosen One.
This is where my pet peeve comes in. Many stories use the fact that their main characters are the Chosen Ones as motivation for them to take on the Dark Lord. The logic goes something like this: they are the Chosen Ones, so they are now taking on the Dark Lord.
Frankly, this to me seems plain lazy. Instead of ensuring that there’s a real reason the main character is doing what he’s doing, they simply use the fact that he is the main character as the motivation.
These situations lead me to ask this question of the main character: why not just outsource your Dark Lord killing? I mean, it’s going to cost you a lot to take him on yourself, so why not just hire someone else to do it? This motivation rips me out of the story, and my interest wanes quickly.
I find myself falling prey to this on occasion, and so this post is for my benefit as well. I need to ensure that I’m giving my characters real motivation, and that’s oftentimes incredibly difficult. At the end of the day, though, it’s worth it, because if I do it well, then the main characters can’t outsource their problems. And once there’s a problem they have to solve themselves–well, then, we have a story.