What Job Should I Give My Character?4 min read
It bugs me when writers write stories about writers. I don’t think these stories are bad (there are some amazing ones), but when I pick up a novel I want to learn about something outside of my experience. The whole reason I’m reading is to live as many lives as possible. And a big part of life, like it or not, is your job.
So what job do you give your characters?
If you’re writing certain types of stories, say a courtroom drama, then you’ve narrowed your field considerably and can use your plot to work out the type of careers your characters have pursued. But often it’s not that simple. (And even that example isn’t totally simple. What sort of lawyer? Maybe they’re the judge? Or the stenographer?)
If the plot doesn’t give you definite character career direction, then your next step is to take a practical look at what your character will be doing more generally in the plot. How long a time span does the plot cover? Could your protagonist get that time off work or fit the action in between shifts or office hours? Are there any skills they are going to need later in the plot that can’t look like they come out of nowhere? Stitching a wound, say, or forging a realistic Monet. That might help you to narrow the job choices you need to make.
You could also look at the motivations of your character. What drives them? Social justice? Ecological preservation? Self-preservation? If they are motivated by wealth then could you just plump straight for hedge fund manager? But maybe they aren’t much of a risk taker, so maybe they move into the actuary business?
A job (or series of jobs) can be a way to introduce facets of your character’s personality to your readers. A detective is probably logical and methodical when they try to solve a tricky case. A nail artist is usually sociable and creative to bring in, and maintain, a client base. But that precludes that our characters are actually good at their jobs. Maybe that’s not true?
All jobs involve a multitude of different tasks that can require a broad range of skills. Instead of thinking directly about a certain job title you should draw up a chart of skills your character is and isn’t good at. Particularly skills (or lack thereof) that you want to highlight within the plot. So maybe your hero is a great orator and a terrible organiser. They can stir the troops to battle, but they can’t ensure the food trucks arrive on time. So what does that mean for your plot and the army encampment?
Also, let’s never underestimate the power of a weird or novel job to sell your story to a reader. Who wouldn’t pick up a book about a newt farmer or a professional queuer or a fortune cookie writer?
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