People of the Shadows

I love this image.

I love this image.

A year ago I started a segment called “Inside Idasia,” addressing some of the facets key to the world of The Hollow March. Religion, Politics, and a touch of good old fashioned geography, to paint a few pictures (and I really do need to set down and write out a few more of those, with At Faith’s End just around the bend, but silly me, anytime I find myself wanting to write about my world, I find myself inherently writing more for the world. Short stories: my anti-drug.)

Well, that’s all fine and good for worldbuilding, but today I thought we would take a few moments to address another key facet of that gem: the fellows in the shadows.

“Let’s get out of here before one of those things kills Guy!” ~Gwen, Galaxy Quest

For any book, we tend to know our characters. They drive the story. They set us on the path. They’re the fellows in the spotlight! Good-good, very good. But what about the other guy? You know, that fellow actually doing the work, fighting the battles, offering life and limb to the king sitting back on his horse and musing on the morality of war. I suppose in Star Trek terms, they would probably be called the Redshirts. Poor, sweet redshirts.

Spock using the Vulcan nerve pinch on a doomed...

Spock using the Vulcan nerve pinch on a doomed redshirt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Your heroes have trainers. Your kings have soldiers. Your armies have blacksmiths and tailors and who knows how many other people there to keep the greater machine going. Even the farmer is key, though his screen time is likely faint, for the food he provides that keeps hero and army alike moving through the motions.

These are the figures that add layers to your stories, dear friends. Even the people we don’t see should be key to the tale—we should know they are there, and be able to piece out what they do. It adds layers to your world to have the personality there. The society. The living, beating heart of your creations. Not everyone can save the world, but everyone—young, old, mother, father, son, daughter—plays a part in its continuation.

I’m not saying you should stop the pace of your book entirely and slap us with the biography of every Tom, Dick, and Mary Sue that happen to be crossing on the trail, but there should be fleeting glimpses of the world beyond your characters. Let their eyes see it, fleeting, unconcerned perhaps, but let those glimpses in—the light it can shed on your world, even in the span of a sentence, can be telling.

Essentially: make your world feel lived in. Your main character is there to drive us forward, but let us know there is more than his own soul. After all, if we never see traces of the thing he/she’s fighting for, then how do we feel the connection to that fight? Make their world our own.

Gryphon gargoyle, Bryn Mawr college

Did you know that in The Hollow March gryphons are not only alive and well, but utilized as beasts of burden and scouting steeds? Do they play a huge role critical to the story of the plot? No. But they are there, lurking, moving, pecking at the dirt for grubs and grass and the like. Glimpses appear. Nonchalant entrances into otherwise focused scenes. But just those glimpses tell us something we would not have pieced together of the world otherwise. (Also, there will be more of them in the upcoming At Faith’s End. A few faces may even be eaten—but you didn’t hear that from me.)

Insight—it’s a beautiful thing, no?

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