Finding Writing Help In Unexpected Places

Earlier this month, I realized that the characters in my current project didn’t have jobs. The reason this happened is simple: the last time I hung out with these people they were teenagers. One of them had a job and was a college student, but that was it. And it occurred to me that I had no idea what kind of jobs they should even have.

I knew I had a writer, but not the main character. So figuring that out was easy. There was only one other person it would fit, and it fits her perfectly. Hi, her name’s Devon and she’s an alcoholic. 🙂

Then I needed a job for Caden. He’s not opposed to hard work in general, but I knew he didn’t quite have the disposition to be a nurse or EMT, so my coworker who writes nonfiction started throwing out suggestions and somehow barista stuck. He’s certified in CPR and basic first aid, because someone needs to know how to do CPR (haha), but he doesn’t have much in the way of ambition. He’s also traumatized.

Everyone is traumatized.

He’s an outgoing guy, though, and likes to be on his feet, so barista is perfect for him.

Then I needed a job for Esther, our MC. And I realized that I really didn’t know her that well. My coworker asked me what she was like, and I was just like, “Um, well when she was 17, she was smart and quiet and kind of moody.” So she and my sister took turns throwing out suggestions while we all stocked the shelves, and I suggested that she could be a dog walker, and my sister said it wasn’t real job, and I said it was, but it got us all thinking.

Esther never went to college. Caden dropped out. Devon is the only one who finished. So Caden and Esther couldn’t have jobs that you need a college degree for. Plus Esther’s rich, so she doesn’t need to work. She wants to work. Because she needs to not be alone with her thoughts all the time, because traumatized.

My sister suggested that she be a babysitter, and I was like, she doesn’t want to be a babysitter (haha), so my sister was like, she could babysit old people, and I was like, is that a thing? And it turns out my coworker worked as a caregiver some during her college years!

It’s perfect for Esther, and it’s the exact segue way we need to get her from avoidance to confronting the past. I never would have come up with that on my own.

We were able to get jobs for these characters in like 20 minutes. If I was talking to myself, this would have taken much longer. Maybe years. Speaking from experience. And I notice that people who don’t write fiction ask different questions. They’re not necessarily better questions than a fiction writer would ask. Sometimes they are. Sometimes they’re worse. But that helps me think outside of the box and clarify what I need.

Like, I needed someone with first aid and CPR knowledge, but it didn’t occur to me to just have someone certified in CPR. I was trying to make Caden an occupational therapist, and that doesn’t fit him at all. Just like making Esther a dog walker didn’t fit her at all. I feel like if I was on my own, I would have just said, “A dog walker could work,” and moved on. Yeah. It could work. But it wouldn’t be right. I just knew I couldn’t have Esther in an office, and sometimes non-writers, like my sister, throw out things so ridiculous they’re actually helpful. Sometimes.

When she suggested making Caden a nurse, for example, I loved that idea. I couldn’t see him doing it, but considering it helped me get inside his head. And her questioning why I would make Esther a dog walker helped me get inside Esther’s head. Devon was easier. I knew what was motivating her right away. I know why she’s drinking. The biggest thing I needed to understand is why Esther would go back to that house, and somehow, having the right job for her helped me get there.

It’s interesting how things work out like that. 🙂


  • A.S. Akkalon

    These sorts of conversations are so great! I’m glad you found jobs that fit your characters and what you need for them so perfectly.

    But here’s another thought, maybe for next time. What about a character who doesn’t have long term work, or has a job that doesn’t suit them? Something they hate but are too scared to escape? Not right for all stories, but sometimes this kind of conflict can be what you need.

    • Krystal Jane

      I had a character a couple of projects ago who was stuck in a job she hated. It added some nice conflict and served the plot overall. I feel like Caden is hiding behind his barista job though.

  • Tonja Drecker

    Those types of conversations are awesome! I have a few non-writers to throw ideas off of when I get stuck, and it’s amazing how much that helps. It’s hard to get out of our own heads (impossible). Plus, the different points of view bring so much. Now, you have me intrigued by your new story idea, too 🙂

  • Thea Landen

    Now I have to go back and think about all my characters’ jobs and how I arrived at them. It’s funny, at a quick glance, it seems like so many times, their jobs have been integral to the plot somehow, and I didn’t have to give it much thought because it was already part of planning the story. But I know there’s at least one example where a main character just had a generic office job that didn’t matter much. I think at the time I joked that if for whatever reason I needed to go into more detail about it, I’d need to consult my brother-in-law, because he’s about the only person I know that has the stereotypical corporate America-9 to 5-cube farm-file the TPS reports-type job.

    • Krystal Jane

      Farm-file the TBS reports. 😀 That sounds more fun than it probably is. I feel like there are two kinds of story jobs: ones that serve the plot and ones that just need to exist. Usually I already know what everyone does, so this was fun.

  • Michelle Athy

    Sometimes non-writers throw out completely left field ideas and they help SO MUCH. Also, I tend to my non-writing friends’ brains for other information about a story–just like a “Hey, this character lives in Brooklyn. Where in Brooklyn do you think they live?” Those types of questions.

    • Krystal Jane

      So true! I definitely like to get help from my family and coworkers on geographical matters, because they know more than I do and travel around a lot more as well.

  • Jodi Perkins (@Perkjo)

    I’m certified in CPR (it’s required by my district) but strangely I wouldn’t have thought about that either! If I had a scene in my book that required my character to perform CPR, I think I would have fallen into that same trap of pushing him into the health field. Such a simple solution to get from an outside source! I do a lot of brainstorming with my hubby for this same reason. He’s not a writer at all, but he can often approach issues in my manuscript from angles that I would never have considered because I can’t seem to get out of my own writerly head.

    • Krystal Jane

      Right?! I think it’s common for writers to do that. Dan Brown even suggests that in his Masterclass, but he, like the rest of us, forget that people have hobbies or odd summer jobs or simply things they want to do or certifications they want to have. The jobs these characters have literally effect their adult personalities and help me so much with their teenager personalities. I was okay with student Caden’s personality, but I was really struggling with the girls.

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