Guest Post by Gama Martinez
Gama Ray Martinez lives near Salt Lake City, Utah. He moved there solely because he likes mountains. He collects weapons in case he ever needs to supply a medieval battalion, and he greatly resents when work or other real life things get in the way of writing. He secretly hopes to one day slay a dragon in single combat and doesn’t believe in letting pesky things like reality get in the way of his dreams. Find him on Facebook.
Writers talk a lot about character development, about how main characters change over the course of a story or series, but there’s one thing that often gets left out of the discussion. How does the world change around them, or, since we are talking about the protagonist, how does the world change because of them?
The opening scene of book 3 of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher has Harry fighting off a ghost in the maternity ward of a hospital. To most people, he’s, at best, a fraud so when the police find him there in the middle of a wrecked room, he’s promptly arrested. This is only a minor part of the story. It’s completely dealt with by the end of chapter 2. In book 7, Harry needs to get information from an EMT. The EMT is initially reluctant, afraid that if he talks about seeing things like magic and monsters, people will think he’s crazy and he’ll lose his job. Then, he recognizes Harry as the one who was arrested years before. The following conversation ensues.
“You know that the year before, the SIDS rate there was the highest in the nation? They averaged one case every ten days. No one could explain it.”
“I didn’t know that,” I said.
“Since they arrested you there, they haven’t lost one,” he said.
The EMT isn’t quite willing to accept that Harry is a wizard, or that he fought off an insane ghost, but he accepts that Harry can do things most people can’t. He then proceeds to give Harry the information he’s looking for. It’s such a small thing to connect minor events five books apart, but it shows that the world around Harry Dresden is continually changing and growing.
Your story does not exist in a vacuum. Your characters are the center of the story. If you have a world-shaking story, their actions will ripple outward. How will they affect the accountant that works on Main Street or the blacksmith who has been working the forge all his life? How do others see the characters? Here is a snippet from the beginning of Darkmask, the forthcoming book 5 of my Pharim War. The protagonist, a fifteen-year-old boy named Jez, is inspecting his soldiers. One of the soldiers snickers at being led by a boy so young only to be disciplined by the captain of the squad, a man named Bezar who has a significant amount of hero worship for Jez. The captain then apologized for the soldier’s behavior.
Jez waved off the apology and tried not to let his unease at the captain’s reverence show. There were four types of soldiers in Jez’s army. Most simply followed orders. Some, like the man who had been caught snickering, didn’t take Jez seriously. Others had heard stories of what he had done and had flocked to Korand when they had heard that Jez was building his forces. Then, there were those like Bezar, who had seen.
In this case, the Jez’s actions in the previous four books have caused him to develop a certain reputation. In some cases, that reputation is exaggerated, but in some cases, it’s not. Different people react to that reputation in different ways, and when Jez is building an army, how people see him has a real tangible effect. Both those who think highly of him and those who see him as a fraud will be watching him closely. His successes and failures will affect how the see him, and those changes will ripple to the next book. I’m probably never going to write a book that focuses on Captain Bezar, but a few paragraphs later, I establish that he used to be a soldier in the capital city and that he saw Jez in action. This is more than just giving backstory. This is illustrating how the hero of my story has changed the world.
If the actions of your hero are to truly be meaningful, the must have an affect on the world around them. Don’t put your heroes in a bubble. Consider the consequences of their actions and integrate those consequences into future stories. When they are interacting with other people, as yourself if those interactions are affected by what the character has done in the past. Unless your character is world famous, most of the time, the answer will be now, but by occasionally making the answer yes, you can make your world seem more alive.