Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Where do your characters work?

First, a bit of a personal note: I am sick. I have bronchitis. Ugh. But after almost a month of being in a fog, and two weeks of truly awful with periods of can't-get-out-of-bed, I can breathe again. My thanks to steroids, antibiotics, nebulizer treatments and Sunny Delight.


If you're writing fiction, your character probably needs a profession. Sometimes the genre dictates the job - if you're writing hardboiled mystery, chances are your main character is a detective, either police or private (and that's as it should be :-). If you're writing medical thrillers, your main character is likely a doctor. But if your genre doesn't decide for you, where should your character work?

It's tempting to write what you know here, and give your character a job that you're familiar with. That can work, if you're careful to stay out of Mary Sue (or Gary Stu) territory. Eventually, though, there will come a time when you'll want to branch out and work with something new. How do you choose a job for your character?

There are, of course, typical professions that most people are familiar with. Lawyer, bank teller, hair stylist, grocer, counselor . . . folks we generally interact with on a regular basis. These types of jobs have the advantage of reader identification. A familiar profession is often a good choice for a character to whom extraordinary things are going to happen (such as assassins, werewolves, or other general mayhem), because the reader can empathize with the ordinary person the character had been before the craziness started.

It can also be a lot of fun to give your character a more exotic profession - something readers would not be familiar with, but would enjoy discovering brought to life through your character. Here's a sampling of the "occupations inventory" in one of my favorite writing reference books, The Writer's Digest Sourcebook for Building Believable Characters:

amusement park ride operator
armored car driver
bagel maker
baseball player, minor league
boat charter operator
circus performer
dating service operator
drive-in theater owner
guide, backwoods hunting
junk dealer
messenger, bike
movie director
palm reader/psychic
radio station owner
reviewer, movie/theater
swimming pool designer
tree surgeon
waterbed dealer

There are many more on the list, but this might get you started. For more specific, fascinating and fun jobs, check out this article from Boston.com - and have fun employing your characters!


s.w. vaughn said...

Well, I thought it was interesting, anyway. :-)

Marta Stephens said...

It is! But let's not stop with the main characters. I love developing secondary character and coming up with what they do for a living and how it's going to work into the plot. :)

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

What a great way to come up with new twists on stories - some of these are exciting. Imagine having a new character who's a TREE SURGEON! Ha! Climbing trees all the time, finding clues in the bird nests. Good post, S.W.!!

Alan M. Toback said...

A ? ... If my suspence story starts out with attorney getting killed, next focuses on wife to find out 'why', the rest of story is about detective she hires to find out .... now who would be primary character? Secondary ? .... Alan Toback

Marta Stephens said...

Alan, the POV character is the primary. From whose perspective are you telling your story?