A job is something we all do, right? We get up each morning, and whether it is school or work, we head out of the house each day to perform actions that either help us intellectually or monetarily or just survive. For some of us, the job comes to define us as we begin to identify as the job title, we read and intake information that deals with what our job is; so why is it that most characters are terrible at their job?
A job is probably one of the most important things in the life of a human being and yet fictional characters time and time again suck at theirs or just magically have money from a dead relative. Not only is that a played out device, it’s also just plain lazy on the part of the writer, because I know I would love guilt/emotionally free corpse money. This isn’t to say that this doesn’t happen in real life, but if it happened at the rate it does in fiction, extended family wouldn’t exist and this would make a fantasy world in which holiday gatherings aren’t that awkward.
Cutting out dead-family-money, most characters live in impossible to afford places doing jobs that wouldn’t allow you to live in the shittiest shanty in all the land. Yet, they do, all the time, especially college graduates. Those assholes typically live in the ‘hovel’ they lovingly call their floor wide flat in the ‘rough’ part of Irvine, California.
We’ve all watched these pop-culture spewing falsehoods, known as ‘characters’ and have forgotten them time and time again on TV and film. These characters have no sticking power because they are essentially selling a lifestyle that will keep you eating Top Ramen into your 30’s… that isn’t to say that has happened to me… I just love Top Ramen, okay?
When you are creating a character for your piece, please keep in mind that their job is very important because it tells a lot about the character without them having to say anything:
Librarian: Loves books, order, peace, and cardigans
Mechanic: Messy genius or moron, a lover of trash talk, and cat calls
Blogger: Underachiever, hates life, feels important by using their image everywhere (…okay, I may have a problem)
Of course, these are stereotypes, but they are for a reason and that’s because these jobs usually attract a certain kind of personality. The people that take on these positions can buck the public opinion as being the librarian who always wears wrinkled clothes or the mechanic that quotes Shakespeare; but no matter what, these jobs say something about the character.
In many instances writers tend to put their characters in shitty jobs while their true desires are repressed behind the security of a paycheck. This is something we see all the time and it’s usually because it is the easiest way to show character progression, but let’s face facts, even if they hate their job, that character should have probably become good at their dead end job. Most of the time we see the character sucking at their job because it isn’t what they truly are good at… then I ask why hasn’t that character been fired from their job as a mid-level manager who can figure out Excel?
Don’t just assign your character a job because you either see it as a cool job or one that everyone would universally loath. Why? Because you are a being an asshole to your audience in two ways:
A. You are showing your audience that you too can get that dream job with minimal effort, when in reality the only reason that jackass got the gig was because a family member was best friends with the president of the company. You setup an unrealistic world that people just fall into thinking is possible, but then turns out is complete bullshit, and they go home, drink all the NyQuil, and miss next weeks Game of Thrones because they’re dead.
B. You are shitting on a job that someone actually has and goes to everyday. They may even be super happy with their position in life, but because you arbitrarily chose your character to be a janitor, and show that job in the worst light possible, because you hate the idea of using a plunger in a shit filled toilet, you are telling that viewer/reader that their job sucks.
I’m not saying that this blog will change the world or anything, but for the love of all that is holy, give them a job! The worst offender is the character that just does things without a care in the world while they live in San Francisco as a poet! You think I am making that up? Go watch So I Married an Axe Murderer? and tell me what Charlie does for a living in that film.
I love that movie, but that is a huge damn hole!
My final note, thought, whatever, is this: Jobs, or lack there of, are important to a character; so don’t just assign a job to the character and never bring it up again. Don’t give them a job that they suck at unless that plays into the story. Stop being lazy with this small, but very informative piece of information!
Give a damn, dammit!