Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Why Choose a Career by Syndi Powell



Why Choose a Career by Syndi Powell


One of the things we writers ponder as we start a new story is about careers, usually those of our characters (though we may be reconsidering this writing gig if it's a particularly difficult story we are telling). We wonder what does our heroine do for a living and how does that affect who she is, what she thinks and says? Does his career shape who he is or does he rather influence the effect of his career? Does the job make the man or vice versa?

Then if you choose a career that you know little to nothing about, you have to research what that job entails. What kind of hours does it involve? Is the heroine able to set her own schedule or does the job dictate where she is and when? What kind of training and education was involved in the career and how did that impact the character? What kind of money would they make and what locales would be likely to employ such a worker?

Sometimes, publishers and editors will ask for stories with certain kinds of careers. Perhaps they've seen enough chefs and would like to see more firefighters. Or they want less military heroes and more business entrepreneurs.

Currently, I've been researching several careers: Border Patrol agents, ER doctors, labor and delivery nurses, sports agents and family lawyers. They each have their own unique qualities. They attract certain characters. I try to find a justification of why they have that particular job. After all, they didn't fall into it by accident. They chose to become a Border Patrol agent for a purpose: keeping the country they love safe. Or maybe she had a favorite grandfather who died because he didn't get medical care quick enough and thus turned to emergency medicine. Maybe he always rooted for the underdog and chose family law because he wanted to give a voice to children who were often silenced. These choices influence who they are and what they could be.

Often times in the research period, ideas about the character will come about because of something I read about the career. Perhaps the job is often one that ex-military will choose once their service is over. Suddenly, she's got a background in the Army.

There are several resources for researching careers. Some of my favorites include my local library's career resource center that includes books and magazines as well as online quizzes to determine what career is best suited for a particular personality. I also read biographies of people in the field I am researching. I will talk to professionals in that field if I am able to, usually picking the brain of a family member who has that job. The internet is a great resource, especially if I have a question about a trivial part of the job. Or I will draw on my own experience in that field. In "The Sweetheart Deal", the hero is a bank manager. Since my day job is a bank teller, I could accurately describe that world.

Are there certain books you've read that have had a career that you would never have considered? I knew nothing about bounty hunters until Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series. And the peek into the fashion magazine industry in "The Devil Wears Prada" was definitely eye-opening. What kind of careers do you like to read about? Is there any that we haven't seen that you would find interesting?



26 comments:

  1. Hi, Cyndi! I love fashion., but an interesting twist on it was costume design that I used as a heroine's career in one of my really early books. I red Edith Head's biography, an some articles by Cecil Beaton, who did the work in My Fair Lady. I happened to work with the man who did the costumes in only one movie - Bye Bye Birdie - and quickly decided that wasn't the life for him. Ann Margaret has a very lively dance number at one point in the movie, and he said he had to remake the belt she wore every night so that it would be ready for the next day's shooting. I guess the very active dance number tore the belt holes to shreds every time. (We worked at The Bon Marche together) It was an interesting glimpse into how UNglamorous glamorous-looking jobs can be. Great thing to know for creating and motivating character.

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    1. I READ Edith Head's . . . Somebody make me reread before I post!

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    2. That is a glamorous career choice that obviously has its unglamorous side. Wow.

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  2. After working with family lawyers for 20+ years, I'd rather not read or write about them, Syndi. :) I loved "The Devil Wears Prada."

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  3. I love learning about a new and different career when reading a romance. I think the careers help make each story different.

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    1. Sandra, I agree. I think that a career has a lot of influence on someone. Especially if 1/3 of your life is spent in it.

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  4. I love this article. I often choose careers that I'd like to do if I wasn't a writer. Or a career in something I did and liked. Many of the books I've written have something I've done. My first book had a pilot hero and a woman who worked for the FBI as a researcher. I was a researcher once for an insurance company. Nothing as glamorous as the FBI. And while I've never actually flown a plane, I have a lot of pilot friends who helped me with the details.

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    1. Having friends who can give you those details is wonderful since they can add flavor that those of us outside of the career know nothing about.

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  5. I just turned in a book with a post office worker (not sexy or glamorous, but still a much needed job). If I had to go back to the beginning, I'd want to be an FBI profiler (or researcher and sit next to Shirley - we'd laugh all day)

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    1. I can't wait for this one. I WAS a P.O. worker for 30 years--it's close and personal for me. :-) I like reading about most careers, although my own tend toward the un-glamorous and never-dangerous.

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    2. Oooh, what would we be if we could go back? Now that would make a great story.

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  6. Syndi,I also think our character's careers add the meat to a story. I cut a lot of articles out of our newspaper, thinking I may one day want to write about a character with a career that looked interesting. My first RWA chapter used to have speakers come in and talk about their careers. Not all were high concept, but all were interesting when told by someone working in that field. I'll have to look back over my books and see if I have more characters in jobs I know personally about. Great post.

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    1. That's a great idea to have speakers discuss their careers. Love it.

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  7. The bank manager career strikes me as an interesting one with lots of possibilities for conflict, etc., and I can't recall reading a lot of books with a hero or heroine in that role. Great idea, Syndi!

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    1. My boss was convinced that I modeled the guy after him. Ummm.... No. LOL

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  8. Hi Syndi!! I bought The Sweetheart Deal. ( :
    I loved The Devil Wears Prada. It gave me fantastic insight into the fashion world, a field that I never thought I'd be particularly interested in, not unlike Andi. It seems that most of the romance books I read have protagonists as bakers, flower shop or B&B owners, book sellers or something of that nature. Of course many are amateur sleuths too since I read my share of cozies. I'm fine with those so long as the overall story keeps me interested. I think those professions are good, for me anyway, because when I read sweet romance I want the story light, tender and romantic; without too much focus on a stressful job that could detract from the romantic aspect. I expect to find more intense careers in other genres like suspense novels, thrillers, mysteries or contemporary fiction books. Overall, I think any profession can work if it's written well. Since I love animals it might be nice to see a dog groomer, zookeeper or dog/cat whisperer. ( :

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    1. A dog/cat whisperer. Hmmm.... light bulb!

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  9. I usually seem to lean toward a career that I know little about. Like one character was a doctor and one was a news reporter...and one was a cat burglar. I think it's because I love research. lol

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    1. I'm intrigued to discover how you knew about being a cat burglar, Patricia. LOL

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  10. I like reading about people with careers or hobbies I've know little about. I've learned a lot that way. I think books are a little more realistic than television about careers. The people in offices and hospitals on television don't seem to spend much time actually working.

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    1. Beth, I agree what you say about careers on television. Unless it's a show like "ER", characters usually have a job but you rarely see it.

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  11. I love researching different careers for characters. Except sometimes I get too excited and want to quit my own and start a new one. Luckily, the husband is always around to tell me no, lol. All I truly know anything about it teaching, but someday...

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    1. I don't think I've ever wanted to quit while researching a career, but never say never. You never can tell what the future might hold.

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  12. I think we need a caption for your photo :)

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    1. The picture is of my cat Diva watching cat videos. I love how it looks like she's the one doing the writing instead of me.

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