Guest Post: How to Choose Careers for Your Characters

This week’s guest post comes to us from writer Sarah Rexman. She’s writing today about the importance of choosing your characters’ careers.

 

How to Choose Jobs for Your Characters

What your characters do for a living can mean much more than just passing dialogue in a party scene. The professions you choose for your characters can impact their development, become the catalyst for the plot, or just make them seem more believable to your readers.

Here are a few ways you can choose jobs for your characters that go beyond the obvious — doctor, lawyer, writer — and make your story more believable and interesting:

Consider Your Character’s Values

It’s safe to say that an Occupy Wall street protestor isn’t going to hold a job as a day trader. Or that an anti-government activist won’t be working as a lawyer. The job you choose for your characters should match their values.

Consider your character’s values, goals, and interests, and brainstorm all jobs that such a person might choose. If you are having trouble, think of the jobs your character would NOT choose and pick the opposite.

Choose Jobs that Complement the Theme or Plot

Your character’s profession can act as a catalyst for your plot. For example, if your story is a murder-mystery, jobs like police officer, military personnel, or even corporate executive can complement the action. A love story could benefit from the sensual nature of the work of an artist or a musician.

Once you understand where you want to go with the plot, you can make decisions about your character’s jobs that can help you accomplish your goals.

Choose Jobs that Contribute to Character Development

With as much time as you spend at your job, it can have a significant impact on the trajectory of your life, your happiness, and your personal growth. The same is true for your characters. Maybe the job makes him finally realize he wants to quit it all and walk across the country. Maybe a demeaning boss tests her strength and makes her find the courage to stand up for herself.

What jobs can help your particular characters grow and develop?

Think Outside the Box

Don’t go for the obvious. Instead of making your character a lawyer, think of all the supporting roles in the legal profession, such as paralegal, investigator, case manager, jailer, bailiff, legal secretary, and many more. Instead of making your character a writer, consider related roles like copywriter, technical writer, curriculum writer, cereal box writer, and so on.

There are so many other jobs besides those that you typically think of in terms of college majors. Once you get out into the world, there are many supporting roles and jobs that are done in the shadows but that are often much more interesting than those jobs that get more attention. Choose one of those jobs and you’ll add an interesting layer to your story and to your characters.

If you’re still stumped for ideas for jobs for your characters, just look around you. Ask your friends what they do. Read profiles in magazines and newspapers to learn about unique jobs. Watch documentaries. Look at websites and online stores. There is inspiration all around you.

How do you choose jobs for your characters? Share your tips in the comments!

Sarah Rexman is the main researcher and writer for bedbugs.org. Her most recent accomplishment includes graduating from Florida State, with a degree in environmental science.  Her current focus for the site involves researching new websites.

 


2 comments

  1. Alan says:

    I think that making a major or even minor character is badly overdone. Some years ago, I read a pushcart prize anthology. In every story, the main character was a writer. One story had the main character a bartender, and I was glad to see that until I read further and found he was tending bar to support himself while studying to be a writer!

  2. mary brady says:

    It has never occurred to me to create a character who had an ordinary job. I’ve had a ‘sheriff,’ once, but that’s as normal as I ever got. I’ve written about junkyard owners, mortuary night watchmen (my first boyfriend did that), con men, burglars, drug dealers, suicidal Japanese 20-somethings, & petroleum chemists.

    Why would anyone write about a lawyer?

    MerryB

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