I earned an MFA from Wayne State University in Detroit. I've published over a dozen short stories in various magazines and e-zines. My novel, "The Dragons of Hazlett", is now out, and I have two new novels which will be published by Mundania Press, LLC this year and in 2011.
Creating convincing characters is obviously one of the most important skills a writer can work on. Even plot-driven stories need characters who are realistic and engaging. Details are important; you don't want to simply tell the reader what your characters are like, you want to show them as well. One way to do this is to closely consider their occupation. And by this, I don't mean to just write what they for a living, but also show the readers how the characters' jobs affect them when they are 'off the clock'.
One thing that I've noticed in real life is how much people are defined by the jobs that they do. Even when they are not on the job, they still act in ways that are related to their professions. Consider the follow examples:
I was helping a friend of mine, who is a nurse, supervise a group of small children on a field trip. Before we left, my friend advised the children to, "empty their bladders." I laughed and told her that it was such a 'nurse' thing to say! But it was true. Someone like myself, who does not work in the medical field, would have told the kids to 'go potty' or 'take a bathroom break'. But my friend, being a nurse, unconsciously reverted to her nurse parlance.
I have another friend who is a waitress. One night, we were working a charity event held at a local restaurant. I, who have never worked in a restaurant, wasn't sure what to do, but she stepped right in, seating customers, making sure everyone had a menu, and directing the rest of us to fill water glasses. This same friend will always clear the table and fetch refills when a group of us go out for coffee (though we never ask her to do this!)
My friend is married to a journalist. The funny part is that he speaks in headlines. One day he came into the house and said to me, "Well, I opened the church doors for a murderer this morning!" Then he elaborated on the story, giving me a classic example of a 'inverted pyramid' style of a news story. Because this man has written leads for news stories all his working life, this habit has infiltrated his speech
Finally, I have a neighbor who is a police officer. Not only is he far more observant than I am, he also acts as a crossing guard whenever we take the kids down to the corner bus stop. Again, he doesn't realize that he is doing this; it is simply such a part of him to be protective. It is an automatic response brought about by his police training. I am sure that if I brought it to his attention, he would be surprised.
So you see, knowing what your character does is important because it will give clues as to what kind of person he is. Even if your character isn't employed, he or she will be interested in something! Just like gardeners pay attention to other people's lawns and car lovers seem to notice the make and model of every vehicle on the roads, your characters will pay attention to those things that are important to them.