Wednesday, April 11, 2012

3 Steps to Creating An Occupation for Your Characters


What a thrill to have Cara Putman here! Last time I interviewed Cara, I misspelled her last name, like, a thousand times. I'm determined to make up for it today!

Especially because not only is Cara Putman (2 for 2 so far) sharing wisdom about writing, she's also giving away a copy of her latest release, A Wedding Transpires on Mackinac Island to one lucky commenter!


Yay for Cara Putman! (3 for 3. Okay, I'll stop now and let Cara talk.)


As writers, one of our tasks is finding the right career for your characters. Not only do your characters populate your story, they fill roles and hold jobs. Finding the right career can be a key piece to getting the character to fit.

Sometimes when I pick up a novel, it feels like the character’s job was almost an after thought.  The author spent time creating an image of the character…whether they had red hair or blue eyes…but waited until pushed to find an occupation. So how can you make this part of writing a bit more intuitive?

1) Interview the character. If she hates coffee, she probably won’t be a happy barista. That might lend itself to some great humor, but might not fit your story. So ask your character what they would love to do. What would they hate? Does their dream job require advanced education they might not have yet? Does a hobby lend itself to a great job? Dig and see what they’ll say.

2) Look for common denominators in your books. For example, a loose element of my brand is that one character is always affiliated with the law in some way. So Audra from Stars in the Night is an attorney in 1942 who gives up her dream (actually practicing law) to make sure her sister is okay. In A Wedding Transpires on Mackinac Island, Alanna is an attorney who just finished a major case and has to go home to help her family. And in my novella in Rainbow’s End, Colton is on his way to law school as a returning student. Each of these is a natural outgrowth of my career as an attorney and a way to prepare my readers in case I ever write legal suspense. Plus, I enjoy legal settings, so it fits.

3) Read non-fiction and watch shows like NOVA with an eye to careers you find fascinating. Then ask some friends who are avid readers if they find them interesting. I have an idea for a World War II series that focuses on an elite group of soldiers with a very unique role. I find the topic enthralling, but that’s not enough. Then I have to see if readers and non-World War II enthusiasts are captivated. When everyone I mentioned this group to asked questions to know more, I knew I was on to a unique hook.

If you can tie your passion to your characters’ careers, you will have created interesting characters your readers will root for.

Stephanie speaking again. Cara, thank you so much for being with us today and sharing those insights about character career choices. To get entered to win Cara's book, leave a comment below either:


Sharing your character's career path (or, if they don't yet have a job, what they might grow up to be)

or

asking Cara a writing-related question.

Conversation is open and encouraged for everyone, but due to the realities of international shipping contests, the giveaway is limited to US residents. 

More about Cara: Cara lives in Indiana with her husband and four children. She’s an attorney and a teacher at her church as well as lecturer at Purdue. She has loved reading and writing from a young age and now realizes it was all training for writing books. She loves bringing history and romance to life. Learn more about her books at www.caraputman.com.


More about A Wedding Transpires on Mackinac Island: Attorney Alanna Stone vowed long ago to avoid Mackinac Island. Although it may seem the perfect place to heal, for Alanna it holds too many memories of a painful past.

But an exhausting high profile case and an urgent plea from her parents have brought Alanna home. Moving into the house next to Jonathan Covington doesn’t help her. Jonathan may have been her first love, but he was also her first lesson in betrayal. Now Alanna must protect her privacy and her heart. Then Secrets and a murder intersect, and she’s thrust into controversy again as tragedy turns public opinion against her and potentially her family.

For years, Jonathan has stubbornly resisted the urging of his family and friends to date, believing he’s already found the perfect woman. With Alanna’s return, he begins to wonder if he’s waited too long for someone who isn’t the right one after all.



42 comments:

  1. I've never really thought about character's jobs before - so far my stories haven't needed them. In my current WIP they do talk about what they'd like to be when they grow up, and we do get a glimpse of my future MC's career in medicine.
    I have a feeling jobs will become a more prominent factor in my next few projects. :)

    Thanks for posting!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Mrs. Putman, thanks so much for doing a guest post. I wondered if I'd ever see you on Go Teen Writers again! My MC is a magician in training. I have a few other characters, but for the most part I haven't struggled with careers in my novel because it's a mid-evil fantasy.
    See you later.
    ~Sarah F.

    P.S. I'm really bummed that I won'd be able to take one of your creative writing classes this year.
    ~Sarah

    www.inklinedwriters.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. hey, Sarah! I know...I just had to take a break from teaching two classes a year at coop. Maybe the next year. A magician in training sounds like a fun career.

      Delete
  3. This was a great post! Thank you so much! I keep switching one of my character's jobs, but I finally decided that he was a soldier, which seems in keeping with his character because he always tries to protect people. My main character is a princess :) Which is a career, sort of, but not one that you choose.
    Thanks again!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Margaret, sounds like you're on the right track. it's not always easy to know exactly what the career should be from the beginning. Love the princess, too.

      Delete
  4. Thanks so much for this post. I really enjoy thinking of jobs for my characters. The one you would think I would pick for one of the Dads in my story would be an attorney because my dad is one, but I chose (for some odd reason) a real estate worker. I picked a teacher for my main character. My mom was one in a class room and she home schools us now. To switch it up I made her husband a truck driver. My uncle is one. I chose things I knew so if I needed to ask them I could. This is an awesome post. Thank you.
    Alyson

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It definitely helps if you pick a career that relates to someone you know well. An instant source of research!

      Delete
  5. I'll ask a question, as I have to many characters to fit just one.

    I know I've heard it multable times, 'Write what you know!' but what if your own personal life experience is limited, and when you write what you know, it comes out as one of those horrid Mennonite written novels? I like writing fantasy and sci-fi, since you don't need to have much personal experiences with those genres, but I really want to write Real Life fiction. Should I wait until I'm older, or proceed with what I don't know?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a great question, Ashley. Remember you can learn through watching other, reading newspapers and books. I also like to watch true shows like NOVA. Watched a fascinating one the other day on art detectives...might work great with a story playing around in the dark recesses of my mind. So there are ways to branch outside of what you yourself have actually experienced.

      Delete
  6. My MC is an aspiring artist. She feels like art is her only way of communication to others around her since she's so painfully shy. Also, in her dark times, art keeps her on the ground, safe and stable. It's how I feel about writing, so I thought I'd be able to convey the emotions correctly and authentically :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love that, Maddie. Very real and deep!

      Delete
  7. Well, I write mostly about teens in . . . interesting situations. My current WIP is about some teens who are forced to train as spies, eventually escaping. For careers, I guess I never really thought about it. In the only WIP I worked on for adults, my FMC was a famous novelist who sort of wrote about her travels and experiences since she was 16, and left home. Meanwhile, my MMC was a lawyer, her dad owned a hardware store, and her mom didn't really do anything. For careers, the MMC in my WIP might become a psycho-analyst for the government, since that's what he's best at.

    I really appreciate your coming today, Ms. Putman. I never really think about occupations, and I do need to give more thought to it, because my characters are going to be giving thought to it, as well.
    I do have a question, though. Do your character's jobs ever seem like a metaphor for the whole rest of the book?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great question, Becki. You can certainly pick occupations that add to the overall theme or metaphor of the book. I don't think I've intentionally done that -- but it's certainly happened.

      Delete
  8. My characters are all under eighteen. So weird. I mean, my minor characters have jobs-- like my protagonist's father, for instance. He's a stock broker, and is also the seventh richest man in the world (sorry, Eike Batista). One of my love interests is a professional rock star. But I've never wondered what a demon-angel hybrid would do if he ever grew up to be, like, thirty or something. I'd imagine he would avoid stepping in his father's footsteps-- he hates the job his dad has. Stock brokers are boring. xD

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If your protags are teens, then they won't have jobs per se. But they will have hobbies and interests. Same type of thing. Sounds like you've got that at work already.

      Delete
  9. I can see why it's often an after thought. I never really thought about it. I mean, my characters have them, but it wasn't thought out. I didn't ask why the aunt is a housekeeper or why the merchant is a merchant. Something for me to think about! Thanks!

    Hm... I really like the idea of connecting the books. Is there any other way to connect them, outside of one character always being involved in a specific area? I know I could always have a character involved in the arts in someway. I just didn't know if you knew of any other ways to connect them.

    Is it alright if your teenage MC doesn't know what she wants to be when she grows up? Mine just knows what she doesn't want to be, she doesn't know who she wants to be at this point. (Rather like I don't know what I want to major in.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rachel, I've connected books by location. Or by relationship. For example my Nebraska WWII trilogy are stand alones connected by Nebraska and the best friend in book one becomes the heroine in book two. And the hero's best friend in book two becomes the hero in book three. But all three can be read separately. A series proposal I have out right now is connected by the historical fact, but takes place in different countries at different times.

      Delete
    2. Cool! I love those ideas. Especially the best friends one. I'm starting to get how you can connect the books together. :D Thank you Cara!

      Delete
  10. I really like your cover :)
    My current WIP's MC is going to grow up to be in fashion design.
    Do you ever have an idea for a career but no plot? I have that and am not surer what to do with it? Actually there's lots of careers I think are fascinating but don't have characters or stories for them yet

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sure. That's when I start researching. At that point, I start looking for challenges that I can add to a story that grow from the career. Sometimes it will come from something I've read or seen. Sometimes it grows from a what-if.

      Delete
  11. Hello Cara Putman!
    I have a question; how can I use the career or hobby interest of my character to help them develop (be more dynamic characters) and do you have any tips on helping choose your character's career/interest that could work with your storyline?
    I have a lot of problems thinking about jobs/interests/hobbies for my book characters. I can create them exactly how they should look, think, talk, etc (like you were discussing in your post) but I'm always struggling when it comes to character's interests! I waver on deciding my character's interest/career path. Being a teen writer, I usually write about teens, but I find it interesting that even though I, as the author in real life, have passions and a career planned out for the future, somehow ALL of my characters lack this quality! Why does it come so naturally to me, and not flow through to my characters? I might be trying to hard to make my characters not like me...is it okay to make a character like yourself?
    Thank you so much for reading (and hopefully answering!) my questions! I'm an aspiring author and I love Go Teen Writer's opportunities to talk with published author's and get tips.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello, Sarah. I think sometimes it's hard to reach that depth with a character until we can step back and dig ever deeper with them. Ask them questions about what they like, what they hate, etc. What have they always wanted to do and why? What would they hate doing and how can you make them do that? It can feel strange sitting down with them and thinking about these things, but there is something that triggers desires. For example, I didn't know I wanted to go to law school until the summer between my junior and senior years of college when I spent a lot of time in the law library working on my honors thesis. But as I thought about it, it made sense because of something I experienced at 11 or 12. Everybody has those kind of moments. Dig down to your characters.

      Delete
    2. Thank you for the answer! That sounds great; its basically like interviewing my characters. I just recently came up with a new plot idea, and I need to start working on characters now that I have the plot planned out. This will really help me out!

      Delete
  12. First of all, thank you for posting, Cara! Coming up with occupations is one of my favorite parts of planning my characters. One that comes to mind is a shy, fresh-out-of-college twenty-something girl who works in an unemployment office - and hates it. Is it realistic to have that kind of situation, where a character doesn't like their job?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Absolutely! We all go through seasons where we hate a job we otherwise like. Others feel trapped in their jobs. So yes, that works quite well.

      Delete
  13. I never thought about thinking through occupations before. My MC goes to collage and sadly I could not figure out what to have her major in. Thank you for the suggestions about how to go about it. Now I will have to give it more thought. Maybe an English teacher...

    ReplyDelete
  14. My MMC(-in-progress) is a thief (but if you ask in other circles, you might get this job description: a dirty, rotten, low-life crook), and the "heroine" of the story is a well-breeded high society girl from a wealthy family - she's never had to work for anything in her life, and she hates that reality.
    Cara, lots of writers have places they go or things they do for inspiration, do you have any "light-bulb" magnets? If so, what or where? (Random question, I know... sorry :D)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My light-bulb places often come either when I'm traveling or reading non-fiction. Something will get the what-if juices started...

      Delete
  15. Cool post! I'd never given my character's occupation a whole bunch of thought before, but, hey, when a lot of your MMC's are princes, well...;)

    Actually, the FMC of the novel I'm editing is a lady-in-waiting/seamstress. So...:)

    Thanks for the great post!

    ReplyDelete
  16. My MC is still in school...but her parents work in a secret magical protection agency. Although she loves what her parents are doing, she hates the agency because of all the rules and protocol and vows never to work there. When she graduates, she plans to become sort of a magical 'police' agent but a sudden and unexpected series of events in her senior year force her to chose otherwise.

    Do you think it's okay to have a character with a job completely contrary to their personality, and still like it? I'm considering it for one of the other MCs :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sure, and the magical protection agency sounds intriguing.

      Delete
  17. My MC is sixteen and she's an assistant ballet teacher for younger kids at the local community center. I chose this career partly because I took community center ballet lessons *and* helped my teacher with her kindergarten class at the time shortly before starting the story, and partly because I needed a way for her to run into my MMC naturally, and he had a young niece that he helped with. I put the niece in the class the MC helped with, and it just so happened the MMC took his niece to class the week they met. :)

    ReplyDelete
  18. First, thank you to you, Mrs. Morrill for hosting a guest. And many thanks to Mrs. Putman for doing the interveiw and giveaway!

    In one of my stories, my MC is a very talented musical person. She performs in highschool broadway shows, sings and acts in church functions, can play several instruments, and enjoys English country dancing (like in Gone with the Wind, the Virgjnia Reel). She is thinking about acting in theatre (but is skeptical of the atmosphere) or possibly working as an oral translator. She's also a very organized person she is also secratorial type job.

    Another of my MC's is very musical. He's fun-loving, athletic, and musically talented. He is thinking about going into the ministry, maybe a music minister or youth pastor.

    What do you find to be the hardest part of the writing process and how do you overcome it?

    Thank you once again!!

    ReplyDelete
  19. I LOVE how one of your books is placed in Mackinac Island! I live in Michigan, and visited Mackinac Island with my grandparents a couple of years ago. I made some of my favorite memories there. :)

    Character development is super important to me and an under developed character is a huge pet peeve of mine. I was nodding in agreement through this whole post because you made some great points!

    As to the occupation of one of my MC's, he has a sister with a rare disease that scientist are unable to find a cure for. He wants to go into medical researching to be the one to find the cure for his sister. :)

    Thanks for coming and hanging out with us, Mrs. Putman!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Clarebear, you're our winner! Congratulations!

      Delete
  20. thanks for the chance to read this fabulous novel...

    cara, how do you chose your character's names?

    karenk
    kmkuka at yahoo dot com

    ReplyDelete
  21. Mrs. Putman, thanks so much for the interview and giveaway!

    When writing, finding a career for a character is actually one of the most difficult things for me. Anytime I think of a career that works with the story, it's usually pretty cliche. I always seem to think of a perfect career, but then I begin writing and it isn't right...

    Besides writing, I also love to dance so I was thinking of encorporating that into my next character's career. Maybe I can have a girl who is training to be a dance therapist because she wants to help people and spread the joy of dance.

    Mrs. Putman, how can I make the career unique and stand out, but make sense with the story?

    ReplyDelete
  22. Elliot, my main character n my story, Take Me as I Am is 14, so obviously, too young to have a job in the story. However, I do put references to him enjoying cooking in the book so I think he would become a professional chef.

    ReplyDelete
  23. My main character, Danielle is only fourteen but has a special interest in joining people's lives together. Danielle is also very close to another major character, Chester who is a young orphan boy. I Believe she would have a strong future interest in becoming a social worker or participating in an adoption agency. My entire plot is based on Danielle being given a special assignment dealing the souls on the other side. She chooses to quit this job, ending her visits to the other side, which may be a reflection of her slightly wimpy character. But I agree, especially in my story, the jobs that your characters have are vary important details or even plot lines! Thanks for this post!

    ReplyDelete
  24. Most of my characters are high school age, so I don't usually give much thought to their jobs (nor their future jobs and dreams)... but I definitely will from now on! In a lot of other books, I've found that many of the characters jobs don't fit them at all. It's definitely a very good thing to pay attention to; you wouldn't want an adventurous character to be content with their job at a call-center!
    Also, how do you determine whether your "brilliant story idea" is a dead end? I've written COUNTLESS first paragraphs to a story that I'm certain will be my "big break", but that's often as far as it gets... the first paragraph. I know it's not always possible to entirely avoid dead end stories, but any advice on when to let it go?
    Thanks!
    -Cassidy

    ReplyDelete

Home