Thursday, April 15, 2010
Characters Have to Make a Living, Too!
You know what your main characters look like. You know what makes 'em laugh. You know what ticks them off. You know what makes them swoon.
But do you know what they do for a living? Before you start writing, of course.
Whether you are a pantser or a plotter (I think you're born to be either one, btw), your decision about your characters' career paths can reveal a lot about them.
People don't usually stay in a profession that doesn't suit their personality. It's like that in real life, and it's like that in book-life, too. In fact, readers are sometimes demand that a character's personality and his job match more tightly than it does in real life.
For instance, a shy retiring hero wouldn't make it as a cold-calling traveling salesman. And a boisterous talkative heroine would go stir crazy stuck in a research library.
Now, if part of the conflict of the plot is between the hero and his job, then I go for the disconnect.
If the job is just icing on the cake, I need to match job to personality better than a Garanimals outfit.
Jobs, of course, depend on the setting, and the characters' education levels. I wouldn't ordinarily put a neurosurgeon with a busy practice living in a rural small town.
But a job can ram home a character trait of a person. Is your heroine a helper type person? A people person? Does she empathize with other people? Is she a crusader? She'd pick a career based on the things she's good at.
So as I'm planning a story (oh, yeah, I'm a plotter all the way, baby!), I usually turn to an online career quiz, like the one at Career Path
It's not always foolproof, but quizzes like this help me get to know my characters better. It also helps to know how tied down my characters are during the day - my heroine can't be having picnics on a weekday afternoon with my hero if she's a school teacher.
Unless it's a field day, and the hero is a principal or a parent or the new-to-town single superintendent ...
Blast. I have to go write down another story idea! While I'm gone, why not share how you put your characters to work?