Beyond the Typical Contemporary Character Occupations
~ By Claire Boston
The suggested topic for this blog was common contemporary vocations; doctors/nurses, military, business mogul/secretary, cowboy and I have to admit when I saw the list I groaned. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a good romance with those occupations, but I do get a little tired of them. The romances that really excite me are those that step away from what’s normal or common. I love learning little things about other people’s lives and jobs when I’m reading.
One romance that sticks clearly in my head is Nora Roberts’ Chasing Fire about the fire fighters who parachute in to fight fires. It was exciting, fresh and new and I loved finding out more about the whole fire-fighting process.
When I’m brainstorming what occupation my latest hero and heroine are going to have, I ask myself two things:
- What does the story need?
- What do I want to learn more about?
Story is important and if you want your characters to be able to go gallivanting across the globe, then they can’t have a 9-5 job or major responsibilities – unless of course they pay the consequences of the gallivanting later. It also needs to fit the setting – a swimming teacher in the middle of the Arctic might not work.
Sometimes you need to be a little bit flexible. I had to adjust the type of company my characters worked for in my latest book, Break the Rules. Originally the idea was sparked by reading a true account of some miners being stuck underground for two weeks after an earthquake. I wanted my characters to work in safety on an underground mine in Western Australia, which is where I live, but my publisher wanted the story to be set in the US. I’d already set a series in Houston, so I looked at the industry in the area and decided an oil refinery had as much use for safety advisors as a mine did, and so while the vocation didn’t change, the setting did.
Another thing to think about is changing the tropes of romance. I know the male business mogul/female secretary is a really popular trope, but I grow weary of it. Why can’t the heroine be the billionaire? So instead of complaining about it, I did something about it. In the second book in The Flanagan Sisters series, Change of Heart, my heroine is the software billionaire. I had so much fun writing her, and though her secretary is male, he isn’t the hero (though he may be for a future book).
I think the key to writing strong characters is the ability to have fun with them and really explore what is important in their world. This could mean that you get to explore what interests you and what you enjoy. I don’t need to tell you that one of the best things about writing is being able to explore places, occupations and cultures that you might not otherwise have an excuse to explore. Sometimes this very research can give you a story that you never would have thought of writing. In my Flanagan Sisters series I wanted to explore ethnic diversity and I made the sisters half-Hispanic, half-Irish migrants from El Salvador. This opened a whole different world to me. Before I knew it I was researching unaccompanied child migrants from Central America which became a key thread in the whole series. If I’d stuck with the common occupations and my default white character, I wouldn’t have found this different and fascinating subject. So next time you’re thinking about character, consider reaching for the obscure jobs, or putting a twist on common tropes. I think your readers will thank you.
Claire Boston is the best-selling author of The Texan Quartet. In 2014 she was nominated for an Australian Romance Readers Award as Favourite New Romance Author.
Claire is proactive in organising social gatherings and educational opportunities for local authors. She is an active volunteer for Romance Writers of Australia, as a mentor for aspiring authors and the reader judge coordinator.
When Claire’s not writing she can be found in the garden attempting to grow vegetables, or racing around a vintage motocross track.
Claire lives in Western Australia, just south of Perth, with her husband, who loves even her most annoying quirks, and her grubby, but adorable Australian bulldog.