In this post, we look at the concept of The One in storytelling. Specifically, we look at the way of The One for writers.
In my last post I wrote about Characters & The Rule Of Two For Writers.
This post is about one thing and one thing only. The One. No, not the Jet Li film, but the trope that will outlive us all. Sometimes, it has been called The Chosen One, but in reality that can be misleading.
The Way Of The One – For Writers
What Is It?
The One, The Chosen One, is a way to narrow a story. It is a method of writing that concentrates primarily on the protagonist and their special role in the plot.
One way to write a story is simply to focus on the protagonist and their quest.
To do this, you commonly give them a special, unique quality or ability, or even an object. This could be intelligence, super powers, or a magic sword. Having this makes them The One person in your story who can resolve your plot.
For example, you have Harry and Voldemort; Luke and Vader; and of course Sheldon and Leonard.
Everything else in the story after this becomes an accessory and can be discarded for time or simplicity’s sake.
So Why Don’t I Call This The Chosen One?
The Chosen One trope is more specific. Harry Potter or King Arthur are good examples of this.
- They are marked by fate in some way. This could be Harry’s scar, or by being deemed worthy, or by wielding a magic sword.
- Only they can fulfil a destiny. This could be by defeating an evil wizard or sorcerer.
- They have all the trappings of the hero’s journey. A mentor, a party of companions, etc…
- They are weak, but become strong. Generally, they have to earn their power.
- They must stop being selfish to succeed at their fated task. Arthur must become king, Harry needs to learn to be a leader.
This is great and you can use it to make an amazing, simple story like Star Wars.
However, you can use The One in a few other ways.
Illusion Or A Fake
The idea of The One can be an illusion.
- For example, it could be a mantle passed down from hero to hero. This is common in comic books. See the various iterations of The Flash character for example.
- Or, in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn: The Final Empire the protagonist Kelsier creates a legend around himself to ferment the idea of rebellion.
This style opens the plot up to a variety of resolutions. It can create real doubt for the reader as they might not know how the story will turn out.
Sometimes, it can be fun to subvert an idea. Note: this usually only works with comedy.
- For example, a common The One trope in Japanese fiction is a hero sent to another world (the Isekai genre) to fight a demon king. They are usually given some special power to do this. In Konosuba, the goddess in charge of this task is bored and lazy so she just sends thousands of unqualified people and gives them a catalogue of random abilities from which to choose. It’s not a serious novel, but it is fun.
- Another example would be The Magicians television series, not the books (The Magicians by Lev Grossman). In this version the protagonist, Quinton‘s story arc is learning to deal with the fact that he is not The One and that he is just as expendable or as valuable as the rest of the cast. In the books, there is a happier, more fairytale-style ending where he does save the world and gets the girl. I like them both, but the TV series might have a bit more of an emotional punch.
- Finally, a great subversion of the trope is The Highlander. This movie is about a group of immortals who can become more powerful by killing their own kind. The goal of the antagonist is to be the only and most powerful immortal. This forces the protagonist into a ‘The One situation’, even though he would quite happily not mind being one of many.
It is also possible to tell this story on a small scale. It does not have to be about the fate of the world. There doesn’t even have to be action and adventure.
You can tell a fascinating story about the best baker in a rural town and how they strive to be The One true master of the cinnamon swirl.
- The 2000 film Chololat based on the book by Joanne Harris has this sort of feel.
- The manga series Yakitake!! Japan is about a boy with magical hands who wants to be the best baker in Japan.
Not The Protagonist
The One does not need to be the main character.
Some of the best stories have been about people in the shadow of ‘The Chosen One’. They might just be supporting roles, but if you tell the story from their point of view it becomes entrancing.
- Space Sweepers is a movie about people who clean up space junk. The main cast is just a rag tag crew until The One, a girl with some special world-changing powers, comes into their lives.
By not telling the story from The One’s perspective you can drastically shift the tone in a good way.
The Last Word
Using The One or playing with the idea of having a Chosen One can be great but it can also be clichéd. This is also a mistake most fist time writers make. Specifically, they basically make a Mary Sue protagonist representing an idealised version of themselves.
The best way to avoid this is to read extensively in your genre. Read one hundred fantasy books and you’ll be so sick of Dark Lords and Chosen Ones that you’ll know just how to write them, or just how to turn the story on its head.
Regardless, I hope this was helpful. What is your favourite The One story?
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Top Tip: Use our Character Creation Kit to help you create great characters for your stories.
More Posts From Christopher:
- Fictional Languages: The Good, The Bad, & The Lazy
- 4 Things Writers Can Learn From Star Wars
- 5 Books I Think You Should Buy On World Book Day
- Writers Talk 8 | My Year Of Writing
- Writers Talk 7 | Dialogue
- Writers Talk 6 | Fantasy Sub-Genres