Wednesday, May 20, 2009

5 Reasons Characters' Careers Matter

Raymond Obstfeld and Franz Neumann, authors of Careers for Your Characters: A Writer's Guide to 101 Professions from Architect to Zookeeper, list five reasons the professions of your characters matter.

1) Establishing credibility. A professional who's believable (i.e. a well-written cop) will allow the reader to "check their skepticism at the door."

2) Character. The profession implies a lot about the character and spares the reader pages of pace-hindering narrative. Readers can instantly apply their pre-conceived ideas about occupations, even if those notions are later turned on their side—as the convict with a heart of gold.

3) Setting. The setting of a character's profession (a law firm, a forensic office, a cattle ranch) adds rich details.

4) Plot. A character’s profession may be the main catalyst for the story’s plot. If she's a detective or a lawyer, then there will usually be a crime. If he’s a teacher, there will usually be a conflict with a student.

As the old adage says, “If a gun is hanging on the wall in act one, then somebody better fire it by act three.” If your character is a fireman, then a fire must be pivotal to the plot. There must be a reason for your character to have that particular profession.

5) Theme. A story’s theme is often directly related to the protagonist’s profession. Obstfeld and Neumann give this example: a lawyer may seek order in life because she fears the chaos that human emotions sometimes produce. As a result, she may repress her own emotions and therefore be closed off emotionally, unable to form relationships.

People read novels for many reasons. One of them is to learn about unique jobs. Give your characters unusual careers and allow your readers to experience professions they’d otherwise never know about.

~Roxanne Sherwood

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