January 4, 2009

Character Occupations

What do your characters do for a living?
This is one of the most important decisions you can make about the people who populate your story.
Write what you know is the adage that gets thrown at writers with great frequency. What I personally know about different type of jobs is on the low side. So where do I go for ideas for the livelihood of my characters?

Look in newspaper classifieds. Almost every newspaper is online now. Every town, city, or country is open for possible job information. If you find something with possibilities follow it to the company site and go to the human resources page. Most will give a very specific breakdown of all duties and responsibilities. Don’t forget to check out education and training requirements. This will give you insight to background information for your character.

Check out job search sites. I have become very familiar with many of these sites and they are a great resource for jobs and the quick breakdown of sub-fields of interest. If you want your character to be a doctor you need to know what kind of doctor.

The Library is still a great source of research for jobs. They used to print small books on specific types of jobs but most of those are gone from the system. But the biography section and the periodicals are still great avenues for both contemporary and historical personalized information.

Have you ever done a personal interview? There is so much information you can find without doing the interview it is tempting to just bypass it. But nothing else can give you the emotional connection like actually talking to the person that does that job everyday. These everyday situations can bring your protagonist or antagonist to life.

In all this fact finding don’t forget to use the imagination that got you into this in the first place. What did you want to be when you grew up? There were lots of different jobs I wanted to do as a child and that list changed as I got older. Did you ever wonder what it would be like to be an astronaut or a ballerina? Now you have the opportunity to play dress up in your writing.

When you have all your information gathered and you are ready to show off your new character you can use their position to help plot your story. Put his job on a scale from one to ten. Make one the worst possible thing that could happen to his job and ten the best thing that could happen.
For a lawyer losing a case could be the worst and winning could be the best. Try taking it a step further. The lawyer gets disbarred and loses the job completely. So starting at that point he works his way back up the scale fighting the conflict, and discovering more about himself along the way. At ten he may decide he doesn’t want to be a lawyer anymore. He wants to be a writer and that is his best thing.

Remember no job is perfect. It is the mundane responsibilities that fill most days on the job but these don’t make for great fiction. So finding ways to turn up the heat and make those responsibilities and obligations intense will keep your readers involved.

What did you want to be when you grew up? And no fair saying you wanted to be a writer.


At January 5, 2009 at 11:50 AM , Blogger Dorinda Ohnstad said...


What I'm wondering is if you wanted to interview someone, how best to do that? How do you find someone (let's say a very busy doctor, FBI agent, etc.) who is willing to talk to you?

At January 5, 2009 at 8:07 PM , Blogger Marilyn said...

I wanted to be an artist and stay single and live in an attic. Yep.
Instead, I married at 18, had 5 kids, and did lots of stuff before I settled down to write--although I wrote all the time since I was a little kid--just didn't realize that was my true love.



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