Recently I saw an interesting post by Becca Puglisi about character occupation. She and Angela Ackerman have an online Occupation Thesaurus available for writers. Each entry is an occupation and it includes an overview of what this occupation does, the training required, positive personality traits that might be associated with this characteristic, negative traits, and sources of friction . . . and much, much more.
Her post soon had me thinking about the occupations we choose for teen characters as well as adult characters. In the published books I read, I see a lot of writers and teachers. There’s also a steady stream of librarians. I’ve gotten to the point that my first reaction when I see one of these occupations is to think that the writer should have tried a little harder. Maybe turning to the Occupation Thesaurus would help.
But I think it is also essential to think about what these occupations have in common. Answer – these people all tend to be fairly well-educated and middle class.
If we are trying to portray a wide range of people in our books, this is something to think about. What other jobs might your characters have? Obviously, to write about it, you have to know something about it. So let’s start with the people I’m related to – I could employ a teacher, a writer, heavy equipment operator, a lawyer, a contractor, a nurse, a nurse’s aide, a forensic tech, a cross-country bus driver, someone who paints cars, a mining engineer, an aircraft electrician, a police officer, a volunteer fireman, a ranch manager, and a social worker.
Take a look at that list and you are going to see a full range of educational levels and socioeconomic levels. That’s the great thing about my family. We’re all over the place. As you can see, we have both of the fall-back occupations – writer and teacher. But we also have much, much more. And that’s not even taking into account my in-laws.
When you assign occupations to your characters, think about what the occupations mean in terms of education, time period, and socioeconomic status.