Worldbuilding: A Trail of Flashing Sneakers

If you recall America’s Dumbest Criminals, you may have seen the bit I’m thinking of. Guy running from the cops at night, around buildings and through back alleyways, losing them time after time, yet they always found him again the next time he started moving….

When they finally caught him and he asked how? “It’s your light-up sneakers, dude.”

So what trails do your characters leave behind them? Death, destruction, criminals caught and cases solved? Flowers growing from footprints? Something else?

In a dramatic thriller a la Jack Reacher or James Bond, this may not be important. They’re supposed to be larger than life and leave people stunned in their wake. But in any other story – what if the bad guys are tracking them? Or maybe not the Big Bad, but an unrelated Antivillain with a cause who has this sudden pesky objection to people leaving slaughtered goblins or Xenomorphs all over the place. And then of course there’s the classic, track down the psychopath by minute little clues adding up. The trail your characters leave behind can ultimately lead to their downfall, and even drive the entire plot.

Speaking of those goblins… how do you properly dispose of monsters? This is noted as a Problem in folklore about dragons; they tend to be venomous before and after death. But what about other monsters? Should they be buried? Incinerated? Eaten? Does griffin taste like chicken?

(Someone has to have tried it, right?)

This is a particularly worrisome question when you’re talking worlds that have demi-human or humanoid enemies like orcs, goblins, and kobolds. All of which often eat humans, in many fantasies. General rule of thumb says in any realistic world, it’s a Bad Idea for humans to eat humans, and eating anything that did eat a human doesn’t seem like a good idea either. Think prions, parasites, nasty curses. And who knows what kind of bacterial infections a Xenomorph could carry?

If you survive a massive orc or alien attack, something has to be done with the bodies. Whether or not you get into that will likely depend on how much gritty realism you want in your fantastic fiction. And possibly on whether or not you want a clean-up crew as interesting story characters, a la the guys that clean crime scenes in real life.

Or you can stick to the subtler trails, like articles clipped out of newspapers, books taken off shelves, and internet searches. If your bad guy knows what trail your characters are following – or creating – he has a better chance of figuring out what they might do next, and thus making their lives very unpleasant indeed.

Worse, he could make sure a reporter gets snoopy about that trail – and since the heroes are more likely to be visible and hamstrung by pesky little laws against assault, that could be a heck of an obstacle to work around.

So think what kind of trails your characters leave behind them. Arson? Villains slain? Acts of loving kindness?

…Hopefully not light-up sneakers.


5 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: A Trail of Flashing Sneakers

  1. What if their flesh has magical properties? There’s one anime right now that is based on “eat demon flesh, either die horribly or become [higher level] demon yourself.”

    If it’s got magic properties– is that because some groups will kill you for selling it?

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Reminds me of “how does the Winter Soldier know where the heroes are going to be in the second Captain America movie?”, specifically the attack on the bridge in DC when Steve and the others plan to stop Project Insight as bloodlessly as possible. *He* doesn’t know where they’re going to be, because *he’s* not in charge. The Winter Soldier’s handlers run all the routes, trace the leak to the source, and tell him where to go. *He* just gets to choose how messy the job is going to be – sometimes. In cases like this, circumstances and/or his handlers do that for him, too.

    :innocent look: What? It’s not like Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff, or Sam Wilson are *easy* to take down, y’know…. 😀

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Like the scene in LotR, where the Rohirrim burn the pile of orc carcasses (and the Fellowship is afraid that Merry and Pippin were included in the pile). Tolkien may not have been _graphic_ about the thing (compare with things like Helsing), but he also didn’t shy away from considering such questions and showing that there were answers in-setting.

    And as to magical body parts, just look at Sigurd and the dragon’s heart/blood/etc. That has both “magical properties of the body part that go to those who eat it” _and_ “people will kill for these things and to keep the secret”.

    And in Mother of Learning, there’s the variant “magical body parts don’t inherently transfer their powers to the consumer, but there are magical ways to process them to produce similar effects in the consumer.” (separate from just the standard “potions produce magical effects”, tho it has that too)

    Liked by 3 people

  4. This Curse Is So Awesome explains that magical other dimensional beasts have beast tides, instead of killing each other, because they give each other the runs if they eat each other.

    The heroes weaponize this.

    Yeah, some Chinese humor is earthy.

    Liked by 1 person

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