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.
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.