Writing Practice

Put your characters to work. Use the frame of your narrative or create a new one.

1. If she does not already have one, give your character a job. Write a one- to two-page sketch about your character at work. Choose one of the jobs below if you are stuck for ideas.

• Server in an airport restaurant

• Salesclerk in a lingerie store

• Food bank director

• Hardware engineer

• Salesclerk in a liquor store

• ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher

• Independent filmmaker

• Exotic dancer

• Technical writer

2. If your character already has a job, elaborate on it. Consider how long he has worked in this position; what motivated him to obtain it; whether or not he likes it. Write a one- to two-page sketch.

It sometimes surprises me how few jobs are held in fiction; yet most of us spend our lives at work. When you begin to consider your character's relationship to work, you lend a kind of integrity to your depiction. Your character may not work at all, but how he sustains himself is essential to his being in the world. Your understanding of his relationship to work and sustenance, whether it appears in your story or not, will deepen your revision.

Crime fiction, as I have noted, is the primary exception to the absence of jobs in fiction. Most often, the hero or central character in crime fiction is unraveling a mystery on the job. If you write crime fiction, try writing your hero's backstory. How did she come to be a forensic scientist? Why did he join Internal Affairs?

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