Yet, even when a writer is enjoying the cookouts, sales, and pool parties, she never really stops thinking about her novel.
How would our characters celebrate this day? What memories would this holiday stir? What emotions?
Well, that depends on what kind of jobs they have.
When creating a fictional character, few decisions are as important as choosing his occupation. A person’s point of view will always be shaped by his day-to-day work experiences. Still, authors seem to limit their characters to a rather short list of careers. Our fictional worlds have an over-abundance of policemen, waitresses, reporters, artists, and archeaologists.
Sometimes, the choice of career is dictated by the genre. A cowboy romance has to have a cowboy hero. In regency romance, the character’s occupations are going to be limited by what was socially acceptable for nobility at that time. The lead in a mystery or thriller needs to have the necessary skills to bring down the bad guy. Above all else, our stories have to be believable.
But sometimes, common career choices just seem like lazy writing. When the book’s not riveting, I think this author made her heroine a baker because she didn’t have time to research a more interesting profession. Personally, I prefer stories where I learn something. I don’t learn much when the heroine’s a waitress in a greasy spoon.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve abandoned a book because the lead character–and his career– were too clichéd. It’s almost as if the writer is using shorthand. No character development needed. All she has to do is put a uniform on the hero, and we’re supposed to divine everything about him.
Wouldn’t it be more interesting to create an unusual character who is not prepared to fight the bad guy? Then we could cheer him as he struggles to overcome the villain’s unfair advantage. Doesn’t everybody love an underdog? Don’t we always root for the fish-out-of-water?
When choosing a traditional career for his character, a writer risks falling into the cliché. However, with a little extra work, a talented author can always find a quirk or two to lift his hero up out of the stereotype.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this. What careers do you think are over-represented in fiction? Do you see this as a cliché or a genre requirement? How do you take a character in a stereotypical career and break him out of the mold?