Character Labor and Plot

It’s Labor Day here in the U.S., and while I am sitting around waiting for a hurricane to decide whether or not to give me a glancing blow, a full miss, or steamroll as a Cat 5 right across the house, I was thinking about Labor Day and how it intersects with writing.

As in, how much of a character’s job is appropriate to include in a story. Many aspects of a person’s work just aren’t moving a plot forward. Most people, especially in the U.S., spend a great deal of their daily lives working. But we don’t read about the workday unless it leads to the meet-cute, or the boardroom antagonists, or the affair with the UPS gal, or the oh, hell, no mishap that puts the MC on the boss’s bad side in danger of losing their job.

That made me look at my stories. Are my characters’ jobs providing the plot with energy or just the thing the character does to earn a living? Turns out I’ve done a lot of both.

For my first novel, Turning Point, and its sequel, the fact that my main characters Brenna and Cassidy are playing roles as actors complicates the underpinning conflict. Shooting and off-camera interactions gain a layer of complexity and confusion for the characters as they react to one another. The questions “am I into her?” and “is she into me?” are filled with doubts about what is real and what is an act.

In the sequel, Turn for Home, I address the acting from the point of view of fans discovering the relationship. So, again, what’s real and what’s publicity for the studio or has to be “handled” is constantly demanding that Brenna and Cassidy be careful in defining their feelings and figuring out how to be together in private and how to be together in public.

For my novella The Queen’s Gift, the main characters’ professions are the catalysts for their meeting. Anne is a young lady being sent across the ocean to England as a lady in waiting to the queen, when Captain Mary Flint, a pirate determined to break England’s hold on the Colonies, captures her. Anne’s lack of understanding of life on the sea and her relative youth compared to Mary, are crucial elements to the plot turns of the story.

In the novella Book’s Pass, Reina runs a whorehouse. This provides a source of the conflicts and confusion with the townspeople and the drifter Emmeline who comes to Reina’s rescue. On the other hand, it matters little to the story why Emmeline was traveling through Book’s Pass. It’s mentioned, but it doesn’t become a part of this story’s conflict. (It might in the sequel though.)

For my third novel We Three, I decided I wanted a job to create the opportunity for meeting, but I didn’t want the characters to be identified solely by what they do for a living. After all, the more interesting plot is what they choose to do when they’re not working, which is swinging.

The meet-cute gets set up because Jess is a bartender at the Tanners’ preferred swing club. Neither of them have met her before that first night because Eric’s been flying a hectic schedule as a pilot so he and Elena haven’t visited their club lately. Also Eric’s quite active sexually in their open arrangement, but Elena hasn’t been looking for another relationship. Instead she’s been looking into what sort of work to transition to since quitting her job with the airline. Even so, it isn’t Eric’s job that helps him meet Jess or even getting drinks, but his hobby of photography. He meets Jess when she’s looking at his photographs among all the photos showing in the club’s art gallery.

The only big plot point that turns on someone’s job is when Eric and Elena decide they should invite Jess to join them at their house and never have sex (again) with her at the club. They make this decision because of one of their swinging partners makes the assumption Jess is a “service” or “perk” of club membership when they see her in a club area out of uniform. Eric and Elena decide they don’t want Jess to be put in an awkward spot. In many ways this means that Eric, Elena and Jess come together despite their professions.

So, what about you? How do your characters’ jobs affect the plots of your stories? Comment here, or tag me on Twitter or Facebook.

~ Lara

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