Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A suitable job for a woman?

What is the right job for a heroine, or hero for that matter?

Compared with getting 50,000 – 100,000 words plus on to the page to make a book, that one sounds easy – just chose something and go for it.

Hmmm. Yes.

But …

Something that they can do without it interfering with the plot, that sounds interesting and they can do well? Plus that poor harassed author doesn’t have to go hunting too hard in the local library to find out exactly what a particle physicist does to earn a crust?

Maybe not quite so easy.

I remember attending a hilarious talk by saga writer Jessica Stirling, loosely entitled Ten Things I Hate About You, which dealt with some of the petty gripes that drag you out of a story. One of them was the heroine (or hero) who has a job, but never seems to do it. The air stewardess who never has to grapple with jet lag or work rotas and the lawyer who never opens a book. This one stuck in my mind, when I have forgotten the other nine, as it is one of my favorite petty gripes too.

Jane Austen didn’t have this problem as love, romance and husband hunting was the job for a woman when she was writing. The rest of us have to juggle with keeping the protagonists solvent while making sure they never miss the chance for that romantic tryst, search for buried treasure, hunt for serial killer, hot clinch on the beach, etc.

Self employment is an option, or the long suffering assistant who runs everything while hero/heroine is doing something far more interesting. (I think it’s time we had a book about how the long suffering assistant finally gets a love life.)

It’s easier if your hero/heroine is a policeman/doctor/private investigator where the job is an integral part of the story, but it doesn’t take much to keep me happy, and it can be done in subtle ways – maybe the heroine can be found reading the trade journal of her chosen profession, or someone calls the hero for some professional advice.

On the practical side, as a writer, including long chunks of description of a job is probably as much of a turn off as no mention at all. Unless the story demands it I tend to chose jobs that centre around things I like to do, like cooking or gardening or things to do with the arts, where I might have to research how a professional does the job, but I do know how to cook a steak or plant a pansy.

So – a suitable job for a heroine? Is there something perfect – and inheriting a fortune from Great Aunt Ethel doesn’t count. Actually don’t get me started on that one, as that is another of my pet gripes, the sudden inheritance/lottery win, right at the crucial moment. Life ain’t like that, or mine isn’t anyway.

As a reader is there a book where you have really loved the job that the hero or heroine does and learned something from it? As a writer is there a job you have chosen for your leading player that has worked really well, or turned out to be a real pain?


Terry Odell said...

I'm not all that picky about jobs for either hero or heroine, but I recall a workshop on scenes given by Kathleen O'Brien who made it clear that eventually, you're obligated to have SOME kind of scene that shows your characters dealing with their jobs.

As long as the author makes it seem 'real' I'll buy it. I can't think of any jobs that spoiled a read for me. And I love learning absolutely anything. Just make it fit the story, and PLEASE don't overload me with details to prove you know what you're talking about. I don't need 3 pages of rock-climbing gear descriptions.

My heroines?
Sarah owns a gift boutique, but it's the cop hero who deals with the crime stuff.
Colleen was a cop, but quit and is living on her disability pension when her book starts -- but that's part of the point of the book: running away doesn't solve anything.
Kelli is an environmental consultant, but she's able to get legitimate time off of her project (which was almost completed when the book opened) to run from whoever is chasing her.
Frankie is a single mom who works 2 jobs, but since one of them is part-time and the other is as a teacher, setting the book during Spring Break gave me more time for her to deal with the crises I threw at her.

I definitely try to make sure the jobs work within what happens in the book.

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

My favorite job for a heroine was my motocross racer. I did a ton of research and her job was integral to the plot. The hero actually turned out to be her sponsor (he inherited her) so that drove a lot of the conflict.

Evonne Wareham said...

I know the feeling, when you get much too much detail, I'm not sure whether that is worse than nothing at all.

Your favourite heroine sound like it was fun - not sure I'd want to be 'inherited' either, so no wonder there were sparks.

Savanna Kougar said...

Good topic and question, Evonne. Since I rarely deal with contemp ordinary jobs for my heroines. Hey, no problem. Not actually true, since you have to create the world and what the heroine is all about in that world. Often fun, yet no easy task.
Before agreeing to be the Baron's slave lover, Lady Sheridan is her own woman, owning her stable and riding in competitions, also teaching, as well as keeping their lands financially solvent. As part of their agreement she continues with her stable, and now trains to ride in the war sport of the Braverth to save their lands from corporate takeover.
Wheras, my heroine, Sun Rocket tracks down the bad shapeshifter cats to keep the galaxy safe from her kind. However being accidently beamed aboard the hero's ship, well, her lioness kickass side comes out fiercely, but it's to help save them the attack of a vicious enemy.
My heroine, Sedona, in When a Good Angel Falls, is 61 years old and on the run from the Darth Vadar-type oppression in Winter 2012. Her job, save Earth for humanity.
In my current wip, the heroine is a dancer. It's an OtherWorld erotic romance novel, so being a dancer as she is, is different than our world. Think Flashdance and Belly Dancing performed in top end nightclubs.

Terry, so cool how you create the jobs/careers of your heroines and heros ~ perfect for your stories!

Anitra, I love action job of being a motorcross racer! Something I'd like to do in another lifetime.