So you’re not a full-time writer; you have a day job. Do you long to write a bestseller so big that you can quit and dedicate that time to writing? Well, think of the opportunities you’d miss. Not only does your day job keep you fed, the bills paid, and your family insured, it can also provide you with story ideas.
Anywhere people congregate there’s some level of tension and conflict, and isn’t that what we strive for—tension and conflict on every page?
DISCLAIMER: NONE of what I’m about to share has anything to do with my current co-workers. These people behave with the utmost propriety. Either that, or I’m not in the loop…yet.
With that said, I’ll start praising the day job.
Your day job can help you give your characters careers. My paid and volunteer jobs have helped me understand business, charities, personnel management, information systems, retail, health care, banking, and education. I know how exhausting it is to work 100 hours in one week and, thanks to an unfortunate stint as a dishwasher, I know what it’s like to be fired.
Your day job may give you knowledge of actual crimes. Because I’ve held several audit positions, I know how my villains might embezzle money, how they might cover it up, and how they’re going to get caught. I know where a burglar might hide during store hours so he can ransack the joint during the night, and I know how someone once stole a million dollars with a simple phone call.
Your day job can help you create interesting settings. I’ve travelled with some jobs, so I can describe the intrigue of Washington DC, the desert beauty of Phoenix, and the charm of New Orleans, just to name a few.
You can create composite characters using your colleague’s most interesting quirks. This brings to mind the woman who tried to arrange a divorce for her son, although the son had never actually indicated that he wanted a divorce. There was also the seventy-year-old bank teller that single-handedly foiled a robbery with her stubbornness.
You can give your characters romances, flirtations, and illicit affairs. There are always rumors about this one – rendezvous in the file room (cliché), liaisons at the Christmas party (yawn), a romp in the employee parking lot during office hours (now we’re talking). Or how about the couple (both married, not to each other) who got in on in a conference room, photographed their naked selves and then (here’s where people tend to go wrong) sent the photos to each other using the company e-mail. Imagine the conversation when those two got to their respective homes…“Honey, I got fired today, and that’s not the bad news.”
Granted, some of what I’ve shared are rumors, and the stories have probably been embellished, but they’re still entertaining. And if the stories are entertaining, you can revise them to create entertaining fiction. This way you can have your characters doing things that might not even cross your mind.
So, pay attention, become a good listener, and make room at the lunch table for the person in-the-know. Be thankful for that day job. When you work from home, you’re limited to your own imagination. When you go off to work, you have the benefit of other people’s imaginations too.
Please hit the comment box, and let us know what ideas you’ve gleaned from your day job to use in your writing. But be discrete – I don’t want to out anyone on the blog.