Writing the Unchosen One
By Laura Bickle
Many fantasy stories feature a special protagonist – let’s call her the Chosen One. She has preternatural powers, uncanny abilities, or a grand destiny to fulfill. These characters are big characters with big arcs, reminding us on an archetypical level of Joan of Arc. Only she can speak to the Unseen, pull the sword from the stone, tame dragons, or otherwise change the world. The Chosen One is an awesome character with a big destiny, and mastering her power is part of her arc. There’s a great deal of fun in that, in watching the Chosen One grow to fill shoes that are far too big for her.
But there’s also a lot to be said for playing small – writing from the perspective of an ordinary person. In NINE OF STARS, Petra Dee is an ordinary woman. She’s a geologist, a skeptic, unwilling to take at face value the magical happenings unfolding around her. Even though she’s the daughter of an alchemist, she believes in only what she can see and touch and measure…and those are some pretty strange things. Undead cowboys, the alchemical Tree of Life, ghosts wandering the snow…things are only getting weirder for her.
Petra is the Unchosen One of my story. She’s the protagonist with no magical powers to fall back on. When she gets into a jam, she’s got to rely on her wits. More often than not, she’s forced to cobble together some kind of solution to a problem from bits of duct tape and chewing gum. There aren’t any magical get-out-of-jail-free cards issued to her, so the dangers are real and the stakes to her own personal safety and those she holds dear are higher. In that sense, an Unchosen One can be easier for the reader to empathize with than an all-powerful, goddesslike protagonist. I find the Unchosen Ones of stories to often be more believable than their more powerful Chosen counterparts.
The world of the Wildlands can and will continue if Petra fails and gets gobbled by the unnatural creatures haunting the backcountry. This world has existed before her, and will continue to operate without her. If she gets killed, it would be tragic, and her friends and family would mourn her loss. But the world would keep on going, like our world if any one of us were removed from it in an untimely fashion.
Writing the Unchosen One can be a challenge. The protagonist can’t rely on an ex machina solution to her challenges – and neither can the writer. The reader can relate to her, and the author must try hard to make her believable. The world can function without her in it, and the reader knows that, raising the personal stakes.
There’s also the additional wrinkle of free will for the Unchosen One to consider. A Chosen One is bound by duty and destiny to battle the monsters, to fight the good fight. She’s going to stand at the Hellmouth until every last vampire is gone. She’s going to free her people and save her dragons.
The Unchosen One, in contrast, can simply walk away. When the monsters get too terrible, when the destruction is too much, she can hang up her pistols and get the heck outta Dodge.
Or can she?
Are the relationships she’s formed with the people, animals, and creatures around her enough to keep her here, fighting the darkness? This is a different growth arc than the one the Chosen One faces. The Chosen One must evolve into her power. The Unchosen One must grow into her world and her relationships, forming enough attachment to keep her fighting.
I will have done my job as a writer if the answer is “yes.”
Thank you so much, Laura, for sharing your thoughts on writing fiction!
Laura Bickle’s newest book NINE OF STARS released today!
Winter is the most deadly season in Temperance. And it’s not just because of the fierce cold. Evil is stalking the backcountry of Yellowstone, killing wolves and leaving only their skins behind.
As the snow deepens, Geologist Petra Dee is staring her own death in the face, while former Hanged Man Gabriel struggles with his abrupt transition back to mortality. The ravens and the rest of the Hanged Men are gone, and there are no magical solutions to Petra’s illness or Gabriel’s longing for what he’s lost…and what he stands to lose now.
Meanwhile, there’s a new sheriff in town. Sheriff Owen Rutherford has inherited the Rutherford ranch and the remnants of the Alchemical Tree of Life. He’s also a dangerously haunted man, and his investigation of Sal’s death is leading him right to Gabriel.
It’s up to Petra, her coyote sidekick Sig, and Gabriel to get ahead of both Owen and the unnatural being stalking them all – before the trail turns deathly cold.
My review of NINE OF STARS will be coming soon, hopefully. I apologize to everyone for the delay. I have had a bad few months. My Nook broke, my laptop broke, my PC got infected, and I came down with bronchitis. So, I’ve fallen very behind on everything I need to do for the blog, especially because I have been working a lot at my retail job, trying to get through the holiday season. As things quiet down at work, I hope to get back on track and get caught up on my reading and reviews.