Monday, 3 June 2013

Don't Quit Your Day Job

You know, I've been looking for a job for a while now. Unfortunately "I write really well" isn't something you can put on your resumé expecting to get a lot of callbacks. The world isn't that awesome, just yet.
But I'm not here to complain about how nobody wants to hire me, because it would get really depressing. Instead, I want to talk about jobs and writing. I don't mean "How to get a job as a writer", because for the most part I don't know. If you want to know about that, type those words into Google and ask an expert, because today I'm talking about why you shouldn't get a job as a writer, if you want to be a good writer.
The Word of the Day is: 'JOB'.

Job /job/ n. 1. A piece of work done for money. 2. The unit or material being worked on. 3. Anything one has to do; task. 4. A position of employment. 5. Colloquial An affair; matter: To make the best of a bad job. 6. Colloquial Robbery, or any criminal deed. 7. a good job, Colloquial A lucky state of affairs. 8. just the job Colloquial Exactly what is needed. 9. the devil's own job A very difficult experience. ♦v.i. 10. To work at jobs or odd pieces of work. ♦v.i. 11. To buy in large quantities and sell to dealers in small lots. 12. To let out (work) in separate parts, as among different contractors or workmen. ♦adj. 13. Of or for a particular job. 14. Bought or sold together: a job lot.

[I'm including this just because my Dictionary thinks it's so old-fashioned that it's funny.]

Job2 v.t., v.i. Australian Colloquial To hit; punch: Shut up or I'll job you.

You know what? I hate Stephen King. I have said it before, and I'll say it again: I don't like him at all. I'm not going to go into details about that now (it could take a while) but one of the things that I dislike about King other than the fact that he's a ghoul and an alcoholic, is that he is a bad writer.
See, one of the things that he does wrong, which a lot of amateur writers get wrong, is that he doesn't know what it's like to not be a writer. Even the bad writers realize that writing is about drawing from your experiences, and this often results in what is known as the Mary Sue, which is reprehensible writing, but it can be enjoyable and at least it understands the concept. Because, even if you're writing fantasy, your life experiences affect how you write, and you can draw from real-life experiences to make your writing more real.

It's not just writers that do this, many artists do this, especially comedians; Many comedians start out doing relatable comedy, talking about their life. But the thing is, if you live a particular lifestyle, such as being a famous comedian then your comedy can tend to lose touch.
For example: Adam Hills. I choose him not just because he's a fellow Australian, but because he manages to be good despite this flaw of professional comedy. When he first started out, he was telling jokes about being an Australian, and his leg. However when he became famous, he started meeting other celebrities like Lady Gaga; the Muppets; the Queen & Nancy Cartwright, and started telling jokes about that.
Having never met the Queen, or any of the other Muppets, I can't relate to that. Thankfully Adam Hills always manages to stay humble, inoffensive, truly Australian & the greatest anecdote-based comedian I know. But this is a flaw inherent in "funny because it's true" comedy, in as much as it is a flaw in writing fiction.

See, even Stephen King has cottoned on to the fact that you can only write about stuff that you know so, of course, Stephen King does that. But the problem is, he has only ever been a writer (it seems), so when he writes about about living life, he writes about what it's like to be a writer. This is not only a good way to lose touch with the average lifestyle but it's also a bit self-serving. Just look at the number of Stephen King's main characters that are horror novelists or famous writers:
Bobby Anderson (The Tommyknockers); Bill Denbrough (It); Thad Beaumont (The Dark Half); Mike Enslin (1408); Richard Kinnell (The Road Virus Heads North); Scott Landon (Lisey's Story); Samuel D. Landry (Umney's Last Case); Anthony L.K. LaScorbia (The Plant); John Marinville (the Regulators); Ben Mears (Salem's Lot); Mike Noonan (Bag of Bones); Morton Rainey (Secret Window, Secret Garden); John Shooter (Secret Window, Secret Garden); Edward Gray Seville (The Breathing Method); Paul Sheldon (Misery) & Jack Torrance (The Shining).

Those are just the ones that I found listed on Wikipedia, but when you take into account the number of these characters that are also alcoholics this just turns from a comedy to a tragedy.

So that's why it's a good idea to get a job other than writing, if you want to be a writer. Because it's okay to write some stories about being a writer and playing with the stories and inherent meaning in that, as there's a lot of mileage that you can get out of that tank, but if that is your entire bibliography I don't think you've lived a very interesting life.
You've got to get out and experience livelihoods, and a great way to do that is by getting used to the culture of a workplace. For those of you that think that's too difficult, in the very least you need to visit different workplaces and talk to the people. I have volunteered at my mother's nursing home, and it was an amazing experience. The drama, comedy, adventure, romance, intensity & heartbreak in every element of that workplace is astounding.

So there's my advice to you there, but there's another aspect of jobs and writing that I'd like to talk about, which is "Protagonist Occupations".

See, I like the real world, it's a fascinating place. But the problem is, I don't really like writing stories about simple, real-world problem. Even ones that I will never experience myself.
I once saw a book written by a guy about how he climbed a mountain. I'm not saying his effort is meaningless, I'm sure it was really hard, but if I wanted to know what it was like to climb a mountain I would do so. To me those kind of books are, essentially, just reading about stuff that I could do if I really wanted to, but am not currently doing. Even stuff like biographies about being a rockstar and getting addicted to crack. If I so wished, I could do that. If I was passionate enough, I could even do that well (can you get addicted to crack 'well'?), but I don't want to do that. So I don't want to read about doing that, and I don't understand why other people do.

However, I love magic and science fiction, stories about crazy people & interesting interactions between unusual people. Now, I can't really organize for stuff like that to happen in my life, so I have to read or write stories about that kind of thing, if I want to experience it.

But the problem is, I like to set my stories in the real world, or some semblance of it. Sure, I can add elements of unreality, but it leaves me in an awkward position, because in the real world people need jobs. People like to do pleasant things like eat, live in a safe environment & own possessions. So usually, I need to give my characters jobs. But the thing is, having a job and being a protagonist don't always gel so well together, because jobs take up time, whilst being a protagonist is often a 24/7 operation which provides little to no money.
So when I write a story and I'm designing a main character, I often have to find a job that makes sense for them. This is a lot harder than it sounds, because unlike Stephen King, I like to be original, so I like every character to be something different. Since I find this such a pain in the arse, I'm going to help you all out with my little guide towards jobs for main characters or . . .

THE A.W.N.'s GUIDE TO PROTAGONIST OCCUPATIONS:

If you want to write a story wherein the character's job has no influence on the story, then feel free to send them on holiday. Also, some stories have no need for job worries, such as post-apocalypse stories or . . . basically any story not set in the real world. For those stories, this guide will be completely useless, and I don't know why you're reading it.
But as I understand it, if you're writing a story with a main character with a job, then protagonist occupations can be put into four categories, each with their own advantages and disadvantages for your story, but each being a potential option for your piece of fiction. If you'll allow me, I will give you the rundown.

The Unemployed
This can barely be called an 'occupation' since your character will not get paid for it, but it does occupy one's time so it scrapes in on a semantic technicality. The main one for this one is 'student', but it does go as far as 'homeless man'. The entire point of 'the Unemployed' is that they don't have an income, and when it comes to stories, this has a few advantages as there is a lot of drama in having little to no money. You can even have your character struggling to get job for even more drama. This also has the advantage that your Unemployed character can walk away from their life pretty easily. If aliens land, then your character can run off on adventures with them (or fight them) without any worry of losing their job, since they don't have one.
But the major downfall here is the same as the advantage - they don't have financial independence. Unless your character is homeless, this means there are going to be people that know them, support them or bug them to pay their rent. They may not have a boss hanging over them, but that is nothing compared to the parents, family, friends or associates that are responsible for all their bills. And if they are searching for a job, then there's an inherent risk in finding a job, which means you'll have to then deal with one of the other categories of occupation.

Examples: University Student; Failing Artist; Drunken Hobo; Inheritance Scab; etcetera.

The Retiree
Although this is for those older characters that have retired from a long life working, 'Protagonist Occupation' also includes any hectic office job; entrepreneurial work & any job that is 24/7. Nursing would be the main one here, since that's a pretty demanding job. "Why does nursing and office jobs count as a retiree?" I hear you ask. Simple, it's because a nurse would have to quit their job in order to be the protagonist. Of course, if you're writing a story about the dramas of nursing then it wouldn't, but then you wouldn't need a guide about picking a protagonist occupation would you? And it goes without saying that a detective doesn't need to quit his job if your genre is mystery or crime drama. However, if aliens land, then there is some understanding that your protagonist will be otherwise occupied, if they wanted to run off on a grand adventure, but they have to get to work by six o'clock.
This has the benefit that your character can very easily have disposable income & they often get to come to the playing field with a qualified skill. But this has two potential downsides. Firstly, your character will probably have to lose their job, quit or get fired and you'll have to manage that (if you do it right, you can get some drama out of it but it does tend to feel like padding). The other downside is that you risk making your character look fickle or spurious, quitting a solid job to go on a high-risk adventure. Also, if you go the proper retiree route, there's a good chance that your character should be quite elderly (not necessary, but it's good to look into) and also means that you'll need to construct for them a well-rounded personal history if you want them to be believable.

Examples: Chief Executive Officer; Geriatrics Nurse; War Veteran; Workaholic Accountant; etcetera.

The Weekender
If you want your character to have a solid job that they can keep, then you do have some options. The Weekender is the character who has a job which gives them a lot of free time. This is usually stuff in a creative industry, the main one being author. These independent contractors have money and can work whenever they want. So long as they get stuff done, people won't bother them, but it does depend on the job you choose.
Any part time job can serve as a 'Weekender', any simple retail work, really. But this does often require your adventure to work on a schedule. If aliens drop in to invade the earth, and your character decides to fight crime in between shifts, this can stress the suspension of disbelief, although it does allow for the aliens to attack them at work, adding more drama to the situation so it's not all negatives. We've already discussed the downsides of authors, but there's also other all-around issues for independent contractors and those in a high-paying, dollar-a-word commission jobs. If your character spends more time adventuring than doing their job, it does look like they're getting off the hook easy, but that's often something readers can ignore. But that can be amended if your character's job is related to their adventure. Nancy Drew was a journalist who wrote stories about the mysteries she solved, but that's not your only option. These days, you could even make your character a professional Youtuber that makes videos about their adventures. But the downside is that there aren't that many kinds of jobs like this, so you're scraping the bottom of the barrel. Honestly, there aren't that many downsides to this, except that, from a broader writing perspective, this option isn't always available during an alien apocalypse or a world war.

Examples: Architect; Post-Modern Artist; Famous Sportstar; TV Reporter; etcetera.

The Adventurist
When you want your character to have money, but you don't want them to be your average worker and can't think of a good job, well you can always just make one up. The Adventurist is the character whose job is to be a protagonist. The best part of this is that you can make up anything you want! If your character is a real hero, you just say that what they do is a service, and they can ask people for money, can't they? It's a great solution, since it frees up your character entirely to go off adventuring (not to mention, this category covers superheroes, mad scientists & monster hunters, so already it's pretty awesome).
It seems like there's nothing that could go wrong with this . . . but there's no such thing as a free lunch, so as cool as this may seem, it's actually really hard to pull off.
For one thing, you can't just say "he gets paid to adventure". Going back to our alien invasion idea, if your character's job is running around with a shotgun killing aliens, then who is paying them? You have to decide, and find something that makes logical sense, Do they get commission from the individuals they save? Maybe they're paid by the government? If there's no benefactor, you can always go the more convoluted route and have them 'find loot' on the bodies of their victims like Dungeons & Dragons. And if you're really desperate for cash, you can have your character steal stuff and sell it on the side (such as black market alien technology). Of course the downside with all of these is that there's a distinct possibility that you will undermine your character's heroism if they only do their good deeds for a paycheck (especially if their pawning stolen goods), but it all depends on the context of your story. This one can also cover certain jobs that can be quite adventurous, such as being a policeman or a soldier, but the downside to those is that your character often has to 'follow the rules'. This is also true of any government-funded Adventurist, (or even a character with a strong moral code). But most of all, the downside with this is that you need to justify it, and it's so easy to get wrong. Creating an entirely fictional occupation, especially if it's a large organization, can require a lot of world-building and effort on your part & even then, I can guarantee that people will find mistakes. But if you can pull this one off, then I say GO FOR IT! Because this is definitely the most interesting option.

Examples: Medical Diagnostician; Time-traveller; Consulting Detective; Psychic; etcetera.


Well, that's about all from me. I posted this late because I had a lot to say, and not enough time to write it all down, so I apologize for that but I couldn't help myself. Relating these two ideas togEther, I'm starting to wonder how easily a comedian could be a protagonist. Has that been done before? They'd definitely be a weekender, but it would make for good characterization.

Until next time, I'm the Absurd Word Nerd - getting the job done.

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