Yo Novelist -- Give Your Character a Job
Midwest Small-Town America
I remember a number of years ago, thinking that I was severely handicapped as a novelist because I had not traveled extensively. Nor had I worked at a dozen or so different jobs as had someone like western novelist, Louis L’Amour. What a guy, that Louis (or Louie, as he was lovingly called).
All I knew was Midwest, small-town America. I can remember being embarrassed that for a number of years my address was Rural Route Two, Small-Town, Oklahoma. In my mind’s eye I could just see that New York City editor rolling on the floor laughing when my manuscript envelope showed up on his desk sporting that return address. It took a few years, and a few sales, for it to dawn on me that my address didn’t matter a whit when it comes to author success.
Nor, I also learned, was travel or extensive knowledge of other places necessary. Nor did I have to know all about every occupation in order to give my characters a job. At the time, most of what I knew about working was being a housewife and mother.
Occupations Missing from Novels of Beginners
Years would pass before I concluded that I wasn’t alone in my feelings of lack. The truth is that jobs (occupations) for characters seldom show up in the novels of beginning writers. This is unfortunate. And I believe the reason is exactly what I alluded to at the outset. They hedge due to lack of knowledge. Also due to lack of appreciation of how much a character’s occupation and profession can provide fertile ground for an added dimension to the story.
Research and Interview
Believe me, the author need not know everything about a profession to attach that profession to a main character. Especially in this day and age of the Internet when research is only a mouse click away.
Another way to research, and one with more emotion and authenticity, is to find someone in the field of interest (that you’ve chosen for your character) and conduct an interview.
The Ostrich Boom
A few years ago I freelanced projects for a veterinarian. The project involved such things as blogs, articles, and press releases. Meanwhile, I learned a great deal about the life of a veterinarian. This particular vet is somewhat of a maverick in that he pioneered a special leg surgery for ostriches. (In case you were not aware, there was an ostrich boom during the 1990s when prices for the birds and the eggs skyrocketed.) During the height of the boom, his specialty took him all across the U.S. and overseas as he taught and lectured about the surgery he pioneered.
Now, I don’t know how you look at such things, but to me, it sound like story material. Do I have plans to use it tomorrow? Probably not, but it’s now stored away just in case.
High Class Restaurants
In another freelance project, I ghostwrote a book for a property and casualty insurance agent. For over 25 years, this agent had built his business around restaurants. He is known in the restaurant industry as the go-to agent for coverage. He said he followed that direction because he loves people in the restaurant business. Plus he loves to eat out! What a combination.
Now it might be that one would think the insurance agent's occupation would be boring subject matter for a novel. But not if that agent were familiar with every high class joint in a four-state area. Think of the possibilities.
The Added Dimension
So! Think back through your plotting ideas. Do your characters have jobs? Professions? Occupations? Can their work define who they are? Define their lifestyle? Define their personalities? Define conflicts and challenges?
My admonition to you is, put your characters to work so your readers will meet them at work. And see if there doesn’t emerge an added dimension in your novel that was previously missing.
Try it and see!
And meanwhile, keep on writing!