Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: Interesting Character Occupations
Jobs really matter. Often the first question when you meet someone is: “So, what do you do for living?”
Profession is not the only thing defining us. But when reading a book, the character’s job adds a fascinating extra layer to their personality.
Getting glimpses of the professional side of the hero or heroine makes them more real, and grounds them to the world. This is especially important if you write fantasy or sci-fi in a setting that’s not the Earth.
Work can be a great source of conflict when it clashes with personal values, or there is competition from the colleagues. Bitchy boss was the plight of Anne Hathaway’s assistant character in the movie The Devil Wears Prada.
Boss trouble caused friction also to detective Jack Slater (played by Arnold Scwartzenegger) in Last Action Hero. Jack got constantly yelled at by his boss for breaking the rules.
Some genres rely on the character’s occupation, like legal thrillers and detective novels that feature P.I.’s or police officers. Interesting work places also work as a back drop for the story, like in Erin Morgenstern’s fantasy novel The Night Circus. Another bonus of the work place is the work mates who make great recurring characters for a series.
One of the masters of showing the character at her work is romantic novelist Nora Roberts. I have read almost 100 of her books and I can recall only a handful of repeated occupations. In my opinion, this is one of the reasons to her immense popularity.
Cool examples of character jobs
Bounty Hunter: Stephanie Plum, Janet Evanovich’s popular heroine, is plunged into the bounty hunting world totally unprepared after losing her old job as a lingerie buyer. A fish out of water element makes the first books of the series really memorable.
Magician/Thief: In Honest Illusions by Nora Roberts Roxanne Nouvelle and her family run a traveling magic show. And as a side business they steal jewelry from the rich. The thieving part isn’t very realistic but the magic tricks revealed are fun. This is one of my favourite Roberts books.
Wedding Planner, Pastry Chef, Wedding Photographer & Florist: There’s just something magical about weddings. I bet that wedding planner or something wedding related is high on many romantic women’s list of dream jobs.
Nora Roberts’ Bride Quartet series features four childhood friends running a wedding business. The four books show you a lot of weddings and how they are prepared. Now, this isn’t Nora’s strongest series but even a decent Roberts book is still certain entertainment.
Masochistic Courtesan/Spy: Jacqueline Carey’s Phedre no Delauney is Chosen of angel Kushiel and pain is pleasure to her. In her homeland Terre D’Ange the strongest maxim is: “Love As Thou Wilt”, and courtesan is a respected profession. Phedre is trained as one and uses her bedroom skills and wit to ferret out a conspiracy threatening the throne.
Surgeon/Soldier/Slave/Bridge Carrier/Magician: In Brandon Sanderson’s epic fantasy novel War of the Kings, Kaladon, a trained surgeon and soldier, becomes a slave and is forced to carry bridges to cover chasms so that armies can pass and fight their enemies. This is highly fatal job as the other side shoots the bridge carriers with arrows. Unwilling to give up, he starts to train and inspire his fellow slaves to better their lives.
Musician/Magician/Swordsman/Kingkiller/Innkeeper: Kvothe in Patrick Rothfuss’ Name Of The Wind is a jack of all trades. His story has two layers, the present when he is an infamous hero hiding as an innkeeper, and the past as his life’s story he’s telling to a chronicler.
In the roleplaying circles Kvothe would be called a god moder or munchkin but Rothfuss’ writing is so good that he avoids becoming a Marty Stu. There are more than enough trials and tribulations in his life to evoke sympathy.
And on to you. What do you think of books that feature the character’s job? Do you find some occupations especially fascinating?