As different each of my WIPs is from the next, there are quite a few common threads woven between them. Nearly all of my stories feature dancing at balls or in assembly rooms, family tensions, a fair bit of sass and wordplay, the exploration of grief's complex and nonlinear nature, and what one of my friends has deemed the trademark of any Regency romance I write: handsome gentlemen wearing cravats and drinking brandy.
And if there is one type of character you are likely to encounter across my WIPs, it's the workaholic.
Character professions tend to play significant roles in my works. Zach's bookshop is the site for a number of important moments in his romance with Eve throughout Bound to the Heart. Marcus's work as a blacksmith in Forged in the Salle certainly contributed to his physique (sorry, not sorry), but it also puts him in a front-row seat to the coach vandalism running rampant through town because he's doing a lot of the repairs. William and Miranda taking up farming after he is disinherited by his father causes some conflict that makes their marriage a bit rocky in Against His Vows, but it also helps them find themselves after their lives are turned upside-down.
In all honesty, the newest of my ongoing projects—tentatively titled A Measure of Healing—marks the first occasion that neither protagonist is a member of the workaholic ilk!
So why do I gravitate towards writing characters who habitually get so caught up in their careers? I guess it's my job to break it down in this week's post.
We all know what it's like to be bogged down with work. Whether it's assignments for school or the daily grind of our jobs, it's a feeling we have all experienced one time or another.
One thing that can make a book so enjoyable to read is being able to connect with its characters, including their struggles and day-to-day vexations. We can empathize with them as they're fielding calls at the office, nearly missing the train to work, deescalating a tough customer situation, or come home from work drop-dead tired only to have to do it again the next morning.
This relateability also makes it easier to write characters who are overloaded by work. Been there, done that, no desire to own the T-shirt.
Most of my writing this year happened in the breakroom at the day job. Doing full-time hours limited the time I could work on various projects and by the time I got home where I could focus on them, I was too burnt out to give them the attention they deserve.
Creating characters who also have difficulty finding that essential work-life balance and cannot easily pull their minds from their day jobs has become cathartic. That "glad it's not just me feeling" that makes the connection feel more human.
Personality And Perceptions
Some professions have particular traits associated with them. Librarians are often perceived as no-nonsense and reserved, ready to shush you with a finger to the lips at the slightest sound on the premises.
You may also find these professions have, for lack of a better term, subgenres within them. Elementary school teachers are often viewed as kind and patient, and maybe even family-oriented or that they love children. Teachers at the archetypal catholic school might be considered more strict; we've all seen portrayals of nuns slapping students' hands with rulers or punishing them by standing in the corner facing the wall. And then you have the college professors who have a reputation for being more chill and laid-back.
For some, their personality draws them to their line of work or makes them a good fit for it. Those who are more outgoing and enjoy busy environments might like being a server at a restaurant. If they're a healer or compassionate with a strong desire to help others, they could peruse something in the medical field. Or they grew up loving games like Monopoly and now work at a bank.
Your character's personality might also be reflected in their career, and it could give readers an initial impression of them. The DMV employee that is slow-going in everything they do. The hairdresser who loves to hear the latest gossip from clients and talks through relationship issues with them. This familiarity can help your characters come to life.
That's not always the case though.
Your character may work at a strip club and be perceived as promiscuous when in reality she likes to curl up on rainy days with an oversized sweater, a hot cup of tea, and a classic novel like Jane Eyre or Little Women. Or they're a librarian who likes to blast rock music on the way to and from work and stays out at bars until 2AM on Friday nights.
Flipping expectations on their heads can make for compelling, complex characters that will stick in your reader's mind.
Life Outside Of Love
As a historical romance writer, my characters' love lives are at the heart of every story, but I also enjoy diving into other things they might have going on. This is what I refer to as the "Life Outside Of Love Rule," which I've gone into more detail about here.
Suffice it to say that giving my characters individual conflicts outside of their budding romances enriches the story, and one's job can certainly be one way to make their life a tad more complicated.
Your character might be conflicted between picking up an extra shift or staying an hour late and agreeing to plans with their crush. They could be in a date and struggle to take their mind off of work, or their love interest might start worrying about their commitment to the relationship when they prioritize their career one too many times. Your characters might also find it hard to get together if one half of the new couple works mornings and the other is scheduled for evenings or nights. Or they might be coworkers who fight their mutual attraction because company guidelines forbid relationships between employees and then need to keep the flirtation on the down-low so no one finds out.
Having a work-life balance is vital, but it doesn't always seem feasible. This can put a strain on any relationship, especially one that is still getting its footing. Now imagine factoring in other responsibilities like children to care for, family obligations, volunteering, hobbies, maintaining platonic relationships while making the time for a more intimate one—it's a lot to handle.
And that's one of the things I love about "Life Outside Of Love" in general.
It's no secret that I love sinking into the depths of research. Comes with the territory of writing historical romance, I suppose.
In the earliest stages of planning any story, characters are one of the first aspects that come to mind—and their potential career path is quick to follow. But then again, I knew Marcus was a blacksmith before I had settled on his name!
Researching these jobs can take a few routes, a lot of it comes from reading both fiction and nonfiction texts on the given subject or binge-watching videos on YouTube. If you're lucky, you might be able to visit places like Colonial Williamsburg where artisans demonstrate their skills and methods one would have used centuries ago.
Sometimes, there can even be a hands-on element at play.
As I've mentioned in past entries, Bound to the Heart originated as a piece of my project for a travel course during college. I spent the semester studying bookbinding and printing, eventually taking a crack at it myself by binding the first draft as a physical book. Adding this element to the project made the research process more intimate because I could get up close and personal with it. Though not everything I learned along the way made it into the next draft, e.g. not using upholstery pleather for the covers because it ended up springy and too hard to close, many of the tricks I picked up enhanced the details during edits.
I'm expecting to have a similar experience if I ever get around to the story about an architect that's been floating around my head for a few years now. If anything, it will feel good to finally put my tech school years and AutoCAD training to writerly use.
The ins and outs of a profession can be fascinating. Even though it can grow tedious and mundane for those who work in those fields, learning about the trades my characters are involved with makes for an interesting few hours spent.
Whenever we meet someone new, it doesn't take long for the question of, "So what do you do?" to arise. Most scenarios see us answer not with hobbies, at least not immediately. Instead, we talk about our job or career—and we do so in a way that attributes that noun to our identity. "I'm an attorney," "I'm a graphic designer," "I'm a contractor" and so on.
I'm absolutely guilty of this. My favorite thing to do is write, and that's ultimately what I want to do professionally. But I tend to group it in with other hobbies like gaming and makeup.
Our jobs become part of who we are, so it feels only natural that it's among the things I consider when creating my characters.
It doesn't stop there, though! What our characters do for work can be a launching point for other elements like their central goal, conflicts, and their relationships both platonic and romantic.
Whether it's just a small part of the story or at its core, including your character's career can add another facet to their life.