What Does Your Hero Carry With Her?

In case you aren’t YET a fan of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series, and you aren’t aware that the newest book, Changes, has been on bookstore shelves for a while, I’m here to let you know about it. I’ll also mention that I haven’t read it yet. It’s just come out in hardback and, while sometimes I don’t buy hard-cover booksbecause I’m cheap trying not to break the house budget by spending all our food dollars on book, that’s not why this time. I’m not buying it yet, because I, my son, and my husband reread and reread the Dresden books, which means I will be storing them all for decades. If I bought hardcovers of all the books I was going to keep and reread, I’d run out of space. Like tomorrow. Not to mention, when I truly want to disappear into a book, to just curl up and escape, I really like a light, bendable paperback that doesn’t break my wrist.

So I’m like #3,282,619 on the hold list at the library, and meanwhile, I’m rereading the series to catch up. Again.

And I’m realizing something new. Harry  has stuff.

He’s got magical powers, too, but that’s beside the point. No, he’s got several things that he takes pretty much everywhere with him. I’m not going to get them all, but some are:

  • His wizard staff, which he has carved himself and which gets beaten up and scarred as he goes along
  • His silver pentacle necklace, left to him by the mother he never met, which he can use to bring magical light into any dark situation
  • His blasting rod, which helps him fine-tune his sort of brick-bashing power
  • His black leather duster, given to him by his ex-girlfriend (now disappeared out of his life after she was bitten by vamps and turned into an ALMOST vamp who loves him to much to be with him).  He magicks the duster so that it resists stuff like fire and bullets. Pretty much beats Kevlar hands down.

He also picks up a foo-dog puppy along the way. How cute are these?

Okay, back to the stuff. You can see that each of these items has some symbolic meaning. Butcher does this all much better than my list shows–each of these items is a tool that, most of the time, he uses to accomplish some piece of magic. Yes, sometimes a staff is just a… (couldn’t resist!) But here’s the thing, somewhere in each book, at least one of those tools takes on extra meaning, and–when this happens–Butcher packs the tool and the whole scene with an beautifully emotional wallop that makes the reader sit up and say, “Wow.” And “Oh….”

I want to do this.

Dresden has a lot of things that help him out, but Changes is something like Book 12 in his series. I’m looking for one item, one thing with room for that kind of emotional punch. I’ve been playing with the idea of a photograph in my WIP that will seem to tell one story and, by the end of  the book, reveal a truth that hits my hero hard. On the one hand, this feels a bit trite, but look at my descriptions of Butcher’s symbols–the way I’ve written them, they read as pretty trite, but in Butcher’s stories they feel anything but. So once again, it comes down to craft–it’s only cliché if you let it stay that way. Whether I have that level of craft yet…well, that’s the $10,000,000 question.

Step one, though?

This is a scene I’ve already 1st-drafted, and the photo was nowhere to be seen. It may be too late in the story for an intro, and I may need to find an earlier spot to seed that picture. Or it may turn out that the photo doesn’t work, that I need to dig further, past my first idea, for something that has more inherent meaning, more possible layers. For now, though, I’ve done what’s important. I’ve taken the idea, the initial piece of stuff, and I’ve given it to my hero.

Let’s see what she decides to do with it.

What does your hero carry with her? Why? What meaning does the object have at the start, and how does that meaning change over the story arc?


  1. I’m asking myself this question alot these days. Not just for Pops or for Kelsey but for all my characters as I realize how much more I need to flesh them out more. And of course blogging part of the story is changing my characters and plot up a bit.

    Will continue to ponder your question.

    A photograph sounds like powerful stuff to me! But then I love the old black and whites.


    • beckylevine says:

      Joyce, I think you did it beautifully in Blue with the bottles–and you can see that, I’m guessing, by how the kids at school focus on those bottles, on the color blue, in their art about the books. Ooh…sending you a thought offline about Kelsey!


  2. P. J. Hoover says:

    Oooh, great question. Thanks for getting me thinking. Now I have to figure it out.


  3. Jeanie W says:

    My main characters have been, for the most part, going about empty-handed, and with good reason. But this post has just sparked an idea that might add a poignant element to one central character. Thanks!


    • beckylevine says:

      Yay for idea sparks. I’ve been thinking about this with the MG book, too–thinking it might be a way to add layers, amp up stakes!


  4. Dawn Simon says:

    I haven’t been reading the Harry Dresden series, but I’ve just added them to my TBR list.

    I really like this post. You’ve given me something to think about. And I think your photo idea sounds cool.


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