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. 🙂