Warning: There are spoilers to things published and completed long ago, and to very commonly known stories. I just feel like I should put this up in case you haven't been on the internet in the past century.
Grace here! This is the third installment of a series called "You Want to Go Home and Rethink Your __________", which is basically a place for me to rant about where people go wrong, and suggest ways to stop going wrong and start going right.
The Rest of the Series:
You Want to Go Home and Rethink Your Redemption Arc
You Want to Go Home and Rethink Your Love Triangle
Anyway, this time I'm going on about the idea of a Chosen One. Partly because I have a lot of questions for those people who must deal with this special person, and those who decided that they are indeed the Most Special Person Ever.
Let's start by looking at the basic plot that accompanies this trope:
A teenager or child is living their normal life, surrounded by normal people. This life can be rotten (Harry Potter, Anakin Skywalker), or pretty nice (Frodo Baggins). Something or someone comes into their life (Qui-Gon Jinn, Hogwarts, The One Ring) which pulls them into something they didn't ask for ("Yer a wizard, Harry!", The Jedi, a quest). Their situation being unique in some way or another (birthed by the force, Voldemort, owner of the Ring), they become the person on which everyone else depends, and must complete some kind of task with a select group of people to help them (defeat Voldemort, bring balance to the Force, destroy the One Ring of Power). They win, but their lives are forever changed (becomes a famous wizard, becomes a Sith Lord, is unable to find rest in the Shire).
And I have described about half of all works of fiction, right there.
So what's wrong with this story? I mean, a little lowly person is suddenly faced with a huge responsibility, undergoes massive character development as they handle this responsibility, and forms tight friendships along the way. Who they really are as a person (or Hobbit) is revealed, and all the fluff and show is burned away (literally, in Anakin's case). That's good, right? It's an amazing and inspiring character arc, right?
Yes, that's all fine and well, but just think for a moment.
Are they really the ONLY person in the ENTIRE GALAXY who can solve this problem? Are you SURE? There is NO ONE ELSE AT ALL, no one more EMOTIONALLY MATURE, who could take this problem and handle it SMOOTHLY with little to no angst and instability? Are you ABSOLUTELY POSITIVE? (I'm lookin' at you, Qui-Gon Jinn)
Yeah. That's my biggest problem with this trope. I mean if the One Ring is actually sentient (which is implied) and actually chooses someone, then sure. Maybe that person IS the only one who can solve your problems. But on the other hand, it's a ring. It's a solid gold object which does not have arms, legs, teeth, or the ability to fight you in any way. Anyone could take it. They might not do as well as Frodo did, they might do better. I don't know. But the point is, Frodo was not the only person who could have taken the ring and gone on the quest.
And Harry Potter, yes, had a part of Voldemort's soul inside of him, and yes, it was an accident on Voldemort's part, but why didn't Dumbledore defeat Voldemort before all of that? It's implied in the books that Dumbledore is powerful enough to keep Voldemort out of Hogwarts, so he must be tough enough to at least stand a chance. Why don't all the schools get together and fight this guy? Okay, so Voldemort can't die before all his horcruxes are destroyed, but I'm sure there's people out there who wouldn't have too many qualms about killing ANY horcrux, human or otherwise. There's got to be more than one way to handle this situation.
Last but not least, Anakin Skywalker. First of all, the kid is a slave on Tatooine, and his mother claims she just randomly got pregnant one day. Claims. Qui-Gon Jinn, a character with a resounding reputation for making questionable decisions, decides that this child was conceived by the Force, and snatches him up (after selling a ship to buy parts for that ship and then betting that same ship on the racing skills of an eight year old boy) to take him back to the Jedi Temple to be trained. The Council doesn't like this decision, but Jinn plays the "will of the Force" card, and none of them decide to question his application skills. Then this child, who was technically too old to begin training anyway, is assigned to Obi-Wan Kenobi after Qui-Gon dies, because Force forbid the last wish of a man the Council never liked anyway be disrespected. Anakin grows up as an emotional rollercoaster who doesn't listen to Obi-Wan and breaks the Jedi Code 24/7, turns to the Dark Side, and basically begins the "Skywalkers are a messed up family" storyline.
Now Star Wars has a lot of other problems (the prophecy, for example), but that's a rant for another day. The problem I have is that the Jedi Council, which respects control and logic, and Yoda, who sees the Dark Side in the boy's future, throws caution to the wind and decides to take the advice of someone they haven't let on the Council because of his terrible advice. And then they raise this boy, telling him the whole time that he is the Chosen One and the strongest Force user in the temple. Now what about that plan could possibly go wrong?
Okay so that was a rant. Now let's look at how to make this Chosen One thing a little better.
1. Make sure your Chosen One really is the only person who can solve your problem.
This is going to be difficult, but if you want a Chosen One, he must be the ONLY one. Otherwise there's no point. Maybe he's the only one willing to do it (this is an argument in Frodo's favor), or maybe special circumstances make other people incapable of doing the task. Maybe by some freak accident your character is the only person in the world who can survive the bite of a massive snake which is killing everyone. Maybe your character is the last of their kind, and their "kind" had some special power. I'm sure there's a way to make your person the only person available for the task.
2. Give your character realistic coping skills.
If I were under the amount of pressure that Harry Potter was, I would probably be a stressed out puddle. If I discovered I had to take a ring which was devouring my mind all the way to a huge volcano while fighting an evil dark lord who was trying to get the ring so he could rule the world, I would hide under my bed and never ever ever leave my house again. Or speak to wizards, for that matter. I'm sure there are people who, when faced with such a task, push down their doubts and high stress levels and deal, but where are they? Because I haven't met any. If you want your Chosen One to have a very strong and determined personality, that's all fine and well. Just make sure that they deal with their problems realistically, whether that means "grin and bear it" or "panic attack".
3. Add a sign from above.
We're told that the Force chose Anakin Skywalker. Heck, the Force created Anakin Skywalker. If this were done a little better, it would have lined him up perfectly as the obvious Chosen One. In Moana the ocean chose one person to restore life to the islands. If you have a deity or group of deities in your story, there's nothing stopping them from having a say in the matter. Of course you'll have to think of good reasons for them to want that one emotionally unstable and angsty teenager, but it will be a little easier. Remember, Qui-Gon's "it's the will of the Force" shut up the entire Jedi Council and made Anakin the center of attention. If all else fails, a clear sign from the heavens would probably be enough to convince the rest of your characters, if not your readers.
As a side note, what if there was some really complicated series of events that had to happen to one specific person, and if those things happened that person was destined to save the world? And then what if you had a really bumbling character who completely unintentionally had those events happen to them? I would read that.
4. Have your character volunteer, or bring the task upon herself.No one can argue with your character making herself the Chosen One because she wants to do it. I mean, who are you to deny that person their quest? Katniss is a good example of this. She became the face of the revolution because she's the one that stood up and made her voice heard. While he was put under a lot of pressure, in the end Frodo did volunteer to take the ring to Mordor. If you're having trouble justifying why one particular person is the only person who can solve a problem, why not have the person just up and choose it herself? This is even better if everyone else thinks it's a terrible idea and Ginny should absolutely not try to take on the entire galaxy, but Ginny wants to do it, so why would they argue? At least it's not their necks being put on the line.
So there you have it. How to make your Chosen One less questionable. I hope this helps. This post has been very long, unusually long, in fact, so here are some cute hamsters for reading my rambling all the way to the end.