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Creating Careers for our Characters

by Lisa Jordan

Last week I requested career options for the hero in my next book on my Facebook author page. While reading through my fans’ posts, I was amazed by the diverse occupations they suggested-boat builder, hospital administrator, youth pastor, zoo manager, etc.

Meeting someone for the first time, one of the first questions you may ask is, “What do you do?” His or her response creates an instant impression-whether you want it to or not-and prompts you to ask follow-up questions. And if you continue talking with that person for an extended amount of time, you will see a glimpse into what makes this person tick.

The same goes for our characters.

Your characters’ professions offer first impressions and reflect their identities-who they are, how they see themselves and how they see others. Their occupations will shed light on what they value, what causes they champion and how they view the world.

When we create careers for our characters, we need to understand their identities before we can determine what they do for a living. Otherwise, we won’t know how to portray them on the page.

Giving a character a typical occupation is very easy to do, and it simplifies the writing process for us. But, by staying in our comfort zones, we risk boring our readers.

If your character’s career isn’t dictated by a specific genre, consider stepping outside the box and changing it up a bit.

Fire fighters and police officers are admirable occupations, but they’re overused in fiction. Additionally, occupations tend to be confined to gender-expected roles. What if you made your heroine the next city police chief? Or perhaps your hero owns and operates a childcare center.

Sometimes, though, your character’s career is tied directly to your genre or to your plot. A suspense novel will have characters in law enforcement. Then it’s up to the writer to be creative and not cliché with those roles.

Give your character a career that will teach readers something about that particular job and invite conversation after they finish reading your book such as a coral farmer or video game tester.

I use two resources when creating careers for my character:
Careers for Your Characters: A Writer’s Guide to 101 Professions from Architect to Zookeeper by Raymond Obstfeld and Franz Neumann.
• U.S. Dept. of Labor-Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov)

As writers, we need to create characters our readers can identify with, but we can challenge ourselves to create unique, creative career opportunities for them.

Your Turn: How do you create careers for your characters? What cliché careers can you twist and add to your novels?

LisaJordan2x3Headshot Represented by Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such, Lisa Jordan is an award-winning author for Love Inspired. Her debut novel, Lakeside Reunion, won the 2012 Carol Award for short contemporary romance. Her second novel, Lakeside Family, is a finalist in the 2013 IRCA short contemporary category. Visit her at www.lisajordanbooks.com.

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6 Responses to Creating Careers for our Characters

  1. Reba Stanley says:

    Lisa:
    Thank you for your post, I found it very helpful and interesting.
    I usually try to make my characters have a career or job that is not cliche’ or non interesting.
    Creating jobs for our characters is, for me part of the fun of creating the character…not to mention while doing reaserach on that type of work I learn somehting along the way.
    Reba

  2. Melissa Tagg says:

    Fun stuff, Lisa! I enjoy picking out careers for characters… :)

  3. I really like this article. Very good points. Thanks for this savvy advice.

  4. This is great, Lisa. I have a hard time picking out careers for my characters, so your thoughts here help.

    BTW, I confess to copying you. I was struggling with finding a career for character and put it out there on FB. I got some great responses. :)

  5. Grace Linde says:

    This is something I unintentionally did with my story! My main character Michael is a begrudging swordsmith making weapons for the gladiatorial games in the late 30s AD. The teaching of Jesus makes him even more adverse to his work, which shapes his character into one of compassion and integrity, an anomaly in Roman society. His occupation is the catalyst that gets the plot rolling! Didn’t realize the character’s career was so important….

  6. Somehow I missed your FB post! Going now to correct that…and look to see all the occupations your followers suggested. Great post, Lisa.