I was thinking last night, lying in bed, waiting for sleep to claim me, about continuing items, events, relationships, and things (props) in series as a part of world-building. I’m not talking about the overreaching plot arcs: the serial killer who taunts the hero for multiple books until the hero finally tracks him down, or the killer kidnaps the hero’s boyfriend (Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta); the temptation of a dark coin tied to a fallen angel buried under the floor of a basement (Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden); the quirks and fears of a superior investigator that keep him tied to his grief (Monk). Not those kinds of plot arcs. I’m talking about the life-style-arcs that give immediacy to a character, and that make the reader feel like he knows the character personally, an old and valued friend. These are important to a writer, as way of creating reader relationships with any character, but especially with a series character. They need to be carefully crafted to make the character more real. There’s a proper name (isn’t there always) but for the sake of this post, lets call them life-arcs and props.
In my own RL (real life) I have continuing life-arcs. I paddle. I have tendonitis in my elbows from typing and jewelry making. I see a massage therapist once a week for a painful session of tendon-fascia breakdown. I eat smoothies for breakfast every morning, with herbs blended in them. I drink a lot of tea, both iced and hot. I have a prop that I carry everywhere with me—an insulated, drip-resistant sippy cup with a straw. It doesn’t sound like much, but I have to keep the arcs going in order to live a comfortable life. When one of these arcs breaks down, my life changes in unpleasant ways. When I don’t paddle, I forget to exercise. When I don’t make jewelry, I don’t do things that lift me creatively. When I miss a massage appointment, I ache (like now. Goddess Di’s been out of town, and I haven’t seen her in 2 weeks.) When the blender broke some 13 months ago, still under warranty, I didn’t get my smoothies for over 6 weeks, so didn’t get enough fruit. I didn’t go hungry, mind you—I ate healthy cereal. But I didn’t get enough fruit and my body protested. When I don’t drink tea, I am drawn to colas, which are bad for me. When I forget my sippy cup (filled with iced tea BTW) I get thirsty. These are life-arcs in my own life that have to be maintained. As a writer, I have to maintain my character’s life-arcs and props throughout a series as well.
Jim Butcher uses several life-arcs and props, like his car (an oft-repaired VW beetle) his relationships with MAB (evil queen) and the old guy (Ebenezer, I think? who calls him Hoss) and Molly, his apprentice. His dog is an ongoing series life-arc. His magical implements and his shield bracelet are important props to him and to the readers. His talking skull is a vital part of the book. The readers love all these and wait for mention and use of them.
In my own work, Thorn St. Croix is a vegetarian. She eats a lot of beans, nuts, and peanut butter for protein. She has to keep them on hand to replenish her caloric usage during fighting and spell-working. A life-arc in any particular book might be that she is getting low on PB. She also is not a classically trained magic-wielder, so her spells sometimes go wrong in disastrous ways. In one book, a spell she cast accidentally worked as a love potion on the small town’s chickens. The story needed a moment of comic relief and it gave me one. She is a very scarred, exceptionally short female, which means people react to her in unusual ways, and she has to have ladders in her kitchen to reach the top shelf. She carries a prop—her amulet necklace. And yes I made one for myself. J
Jane Yellowrock has Bitsa, her bastard rebuilt Harley. She is a tea drinker (okay that I stole from my own life. So sue me.) She has a big mouth. (Ditto for me.) And these things make her more than just a character to readers, they make her real. This morning, Joe (fan and jewelry maker/lapidary) IM’d me a virtual cup of tea on Facebook. They know Jane, so in many ways, they know me.
Anyone here know of a loved character’s life-arc or memorable prop that is a special favorite? Want to share? Have you remembered to make life-arcs for your characters? Even if you are writing a standalone, you need them. Share them with us? Share how they make you feel toward your characters?