Do your characters have destinies? It seems to be fairly common in fantasy fiction, and indeed almost anything where someone has taken the Hero’s Journey a bit literally. Characters come complete with the lingering sense that they are special, the chosen one, the one true pizza delivery boy. Whatever. Is it something worth doing, though? Well, there are arguments both ways, which I will now horribly mangle.
In favour is that it lends a sense of epic scope to the adventure. It tells us quite clearly that this is being played for high stakes, and that not just anybody could do it. It’s a classic trope of fantasy, so you can put in a nod to that by including it, or make fun of it marvellously. It also gives the character the chance to run away from that destiny, only to be led back to it in the classic HJ structure style.
For me, the issue with it is that a grand destiny destroys the idea of the character succeeding through their own efforts. They succeed because they can’t really do otherwise. And because they can’t really fail, there is less of a real feeling of peril that they might. Yes, I know this is fiction, and the promise of a happy ending already does that, but this does it on a level that includes the character rather than just the author and reader. I’ve also blogged before about the kind of message that ‘special’ characters put out, and why I’m not such a fan.
One final worry is what I feel it does to character motivation. A great destiny works fine as a motivation for some characters (everymen out of their depth trying to avoid it and heroes struggling to live up to it both) but what if that isn’t the story you’re telling? Isn’t there a danger that too much destiny will get in the way by telling us who the character ought to be before we know who they are?