The “chosen one” trope is inherently familiar to anyone who picks up a books, goes to the movies, or binge-watches the newest TV show. It revolves around the idea of destiny and wondering if the main character truly has a choice to follow their destiny or not.
But what happens to those who survive their destinies? And how do those climatic moments really impact the character? These questions – and more – are central to Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth, an adult science-fiction/fantasy book that follows a group of protagonists, in their mid-20s and early-30s, who defeated their bad guy 10 years prior.
Chosen Ones is a creative and thoughtful book (with a sequel releasing in 2021), and it was a great pleasure to talk to Roth about the book, the world-building, and the major stakes at work in the story.
The Young Folks (TYF): In your own words, can you please explain what Chosen Ones is about?
Veronica Roth (VR): Chosen Ones is about a group of people who saved the world from a dark lord figure known as the “Dark One” when they were teenagers. Now they’re coming up on the ten year anniversary of his defeat, and they’re still dealing with the repercussions of that struggle, both psychologically and in the world around them. And of course, there’s room for more than one big adventure in a person’s life…
TYF: Where did the idea for this story come from? What was it influenced by?
VR: I grew up on a steady diet of “chosen one” stories, as I think anyone who enjoys science fiction and fantasy did. The most significant ones for me were Lord of the Rings, Dune, Harry Potter, the Animorphs series…and on the movie and TV side of things, The Matrix, Buffy, Star Wars. What they have in common is that they feature a character (or a group of characters), often young, who is set apart by destiny for a huge, world-saving purpose. I gravitated toward those stories even before I knew what a trope was. But what I always wondered about was–what were the hours, days, even years, after the “big battle” like? Not just the events that followed, but the psychological and emotional impact of that battle? How do you move forward with your life when you’ve already achieved the biggest thing a person can possibly achieve? Those questions led me to this book.
TYF: Why did you decide to write a sci-fi superhero-meets-fantasy story? What inspired you to dive into a parallel world?
VR: I usually sit more on the science fiction end of the science-fiction-and-fantasy spectrum, so when I realized I wanted this book to involve magic, I was a little intimidated. I haven’t really trained myself to use the fantasy part of my brain as a writer (even though I love reading it). So I guess it just felt natural to make the magic system, for example, lean a little more practical than mystical, or to pull parallel universes into the mix. I still wanted the story to feel somewhat grounded, too, and making an alternate Chicago, where magic has proliferated the world and altered society, felt like an exciting way to do that.
TYF: The book follows a group of individuals, in their 20s and 30s, who saved the world 10 years prior. Why did you decide to focus on what happens after they save Earth?
VR: That was where the meaty emotional stuff was, to me. Sloane and her friends are famous for the worst thing that ever happened to them. And not just famous, but celebrated wherever they go. There was something horrifying in that for me—being famous for killing a man, even if that man deserved it, and especially having done it when you were just a teenager, just a kid. These are the stories we devour and celebrate, but they’re also stories with some uneasiness to them. Who are these adults, who believe so strongly in destiny that they will put a child’s life on the line? What happens to these young people who never learned how to be normal, after we’re done with them? As you can tell, I had a lot of questions, and questions are always fertile ground for storytelling.
TYF: Genetrix is such a fascinating world. What was it like to create an alternative Earth and what inspired it?
VR: It was a big challenge. I have a very standard level of knowledge about the recent past, and building an alternate history for a parallel world means knowing a lot about our history. So I had to do a lot of research. I read declassified government documents about MK Ultra, I watched videos on the history of modern computing, I read up on the Space Race, the development of SONAR technology, Chicago architecture, design, fashion, art. I researched before writing the book, while writing it, while revising it. It was a lot of fun, and a lot of work.
I think the key to most of the world-building was figuring out a point of departure–a place where the two universes diverged. I chose the Space Race, I think, because I was already watching documentaries about the moon landing and about the deep ocean, for whatever reason, so it felt like a good place to split the timelines. And from there, you have to question a lot of things– how computers would have developed (or not developed) if we had magic, or whether minimalism would have even happened, things like that. The alternate universe in Chosen Ones is just a world built on my answers.
TYF: The use of newspaper clippings, book excerpts, and more really help the reader dive into the worldbuilding and story. Was that a decision you always knew you wanted to include or was that added later?
VR: I started out only planning on including one: the misogynistic celebrity profile that opened the book. I wanted to show these two parts of Sloane very clearly: the prickly, sour, public-facing part of her that just wants to be left alone, and the vulnerable, struggling part of her. Using that profile felt like a good way to do it. But from there, I realized that a good way to reveal the backstory of our chosen five–which is necessary for understanding where they are ten years later and why– was to make use of these articles. That way I didn’t have to use flashbacks, which I am wary of because of how they can kill a story’s momentum. The documents were the hardest part of the book and the most fun, at the same time.
TYF: Lastly, you work a lot with this idea of prophecy and fulfilling the chosen one/savior role in unconventional ways. What inspired you to look at these classic tropes in different ways?
VR: I mean—I love the chosen one trope, for better or for worse. And I especially love prophecy because it changes the way tension works in a story. You’re not concerned with what happens but with how it will happen, and what it will cost the character along the way—and that’s fascinating to me.
About the Author:
Veronica Roth is the #1 New York Times best-selling author of the Divergent series (Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiant, and Four: A Divergent Collection), the Carve the Mark duology (Carve the Mark, the Fates Divide), The End and Other Beginnings collection of short fiction, and many short stories and essays. She lives in Chicago.