Choosing a Job for Your Character

Giving your characters a career can be crucial. Imagine Philip Marlowe if he wasn’t a private investigator or Jason Bourne, if he wasn’t a highly trained secret agent. Without the skills provided by their jobs, neither character would get into the extreme situations we enjoy reading about and they certainly wouldn’t be able to deal with them so adeptly. Of course, having an accountant thrown into an international game of cat and mouse, where the runner-up prize is death, is a recipe for a thrilling book.

¬†Imagine Philip Marlowe if he wasn’t a private investigator or Jason Bourne, if he wasn’t a highly trained secret agent.

Sometimes, a character’s job isn’t central to the plot. For instance, Bridget Jones works in PR or media or something, I can’t remember because it isn’t that important. Her job is just the general, media, creative type of thing that goes with the girl about town image Bridget is trying to live up to. In contrast, in The Devil Wears Prada, the cruel world of fashion is central to the novel and the character arc.

I once saw a French film about a book restorer who becomes obsessed with a man. The opening scene is a close-up of hands, as they manipulate an old book, the gentle snipping of the threads binding the pages, cutting a new cover and restringing the pages. The scene is used to exhibit the meticulous nature of the character. It’s a methodical, quiet and lonely job. We understand a lot about the character from that one scene.

Your writing prompt: Here are some weird jobs that actually exist – dog food taster, dinosaur bone duster (that is someone who dusts the skeletons in natural history museums), crisp (potato chip) inspector, embalmer and golf ball diver.

What does their job say about your character? Do they enjoy it or do they constantly look for a way out? What situations are unique to that job that could spark a story?

Have you been inspired to write? We’d love to read any of your snippets or stories on Writers Anon. Please email, if you’d like it posted up as ‘new fiction’ for comment or post it in comments below.

Photograph: Nancy Rica Schiff/Caters News Agency

Dinosaur Duster – Photograph: Nancy Rica Schiff/Caters News Agency

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