Tuesday Tropes: Walking the Earth

The weary traveler. The nomad. The loner who roams the earth, rootless and searching for adventure. Whether walking across the earth or the galaxy, it doesn’t matter. The traveler has no ties, no home, no job, and for whatever reason, they’re on the great journey to Nowhere. A popular format for television series and sandbox games, the Walking the Earth trope offers a lot in the way of possible adventures and serialization. While it’s possible to do it well, however, it’s easy to do it really bad.

A beer, your brother, a sweet ride, and Hell flashbacks? What could be better!

A beer, your brother, a sweet ride, and Hell flashbacks? What could be better!

Why it’s bad: Like I said, Walking the Earth isn’t a bad trope – not by a long shot. It creates limitless possibilities for adventure in your story, and it’s a great way to keep the story moving. However, there comes a point where your audience may lose interest, especially if there’s no central, overarching plot. Even with a huge plot arc, though, you still run the risk of repeating yourself, your stories, and going exactly where your character is – nowhere. You might even start to contradict yourself as you run out of ideas and try to find new ways to wow your reader.

How you can fix it: A plot arc isn’t necessary, but it can definitely be helpful, especially when it comes to the one thing WTE needs in order to be successful: a well-timed, satisfying ending. I’m not going to tell you how to write an ending – that’s a post for another day. But the best way to make WTE work well is to have an ending that leaves your reader with some reassurance and finality. This doesn’t mean your character stops traveling; your story could end implying that the character is going to go on and have even more exciting adventures. The point is that the story you want to tell – the character story that you feel is most important – gets told, and you don’t dilute it with pointless drabble because you don’t know where to end. For books at least (video games are a whole ‘nother story), you need to finish at the right time to make this trope work for you, otherwise your readers will grow tired.

Bottom Line: If you’re starting to run out of ideas, stop. If the main plot has come to a conclusion, stop. The entirety of a person’s life is a story, but that’s probably not what you’re trying to tell, nor what your average reader wants. If your character is walking the earth, you could talk about them forever, but that doesn’t mean you should.

One comment on “Tuesday Tropes: Walking the Earth

  1. Robert Grant says:

    WTE characters hardly ever have an arc and hardly ever need one. The arc of most WTE characters comes from those they effect wherever they happen to ‘pit-stop’, that’s why they are often known as ‘travelling angel’ characters, they help those around them to have some kind of revelation whereby they change and grow so that, satisfied, the WTE character can continue their journey. Occasionally, if the WTE character has a backstory, then the people he/she meets will help explore some aspect of that backstory via ‘theme’ but not always.

    It’s a classic trope for TV shows (Kung Fu, The Hulk, Highway to Heaven) as it allows for the classic week-in/week-out “same but different” storylines that TV shows need to survive, but countless movies also use this model (Crocodile Dundee, George of the Jungle, True Grit (the Coen version) Chocolat, Mary Poppins) and the ending is always satisfying because the characters that need to change do change but the protagonist WTE character is already “practically perfect in every way” so they don’t need to change, they need to move on and help someone else, someone new who needs help – same time, next week…

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