Are You Overlooking This Easy Way to Make Your Story More Interesting

Are You Overlooking This Easy Way to Make Your Story More Interesting?

This week’s video uses an example from Christine Jeffs’s Sunshine Cleaning to show how you can use your character’s job to make your story more interesting.

Video Transcript:

Over on Twitter, my daily #writetips have been focusing on the importance of making your protagonist’s career a conscious decision, since it can influence your story in so many ways.

But one thing I haven’t yet touched on over there on Twitter is how your character’s job can actually end up being an insanely easy way to add an extra layer of interest to your story. This is true even if your character’s job only enters the story in an oblique way. But, of course, it’s even more pertinent when the job will have an important impact on the plot.

Christine Jeffs’s Sunshine Cleaning is a good example. Stripped down, this is just a simple story of two sisters struggling to find purpose and focus in their lives after the suicide of their mother when they were children. It’s really not a story we haven’t all seen dozens of times. But what makes it work, what made it hold my interest at any rate, was the choice of the sisters’ occupation—the titular Sunshine Cleaning Company, which despite its chipper name is actually a biohazard removal service. This is just a fancy way of saying that they go in and clean up gory, stinky crime scenes, after people have shot themselves and each other, among other cheerful scenarios.

That’s not a job we see in your everyday, garden-variety story. Fact is it’s not a job many of us have even consciously realized was a job. So it has an instant interest factor.

Throw in the important fact that it neatly ties back in with the theme of the sisters having to work through their own junk about their mother’s graphic and traumatizing death, and it nicely rounds out what might otherwise have been a very run-of-the-mill and highly forgettable story.

So in choosing your character’s career, stop to think about how you can take advantage of this opportunity to bring extra color and interest to your story in a relatively easy way.

Tell me your opinion: What new and interesting elements does your protagonist’s career bring to your story?

Are You Overlooking This Easy Way to Make Your Story More Interesting1

 

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Hi!

    Another awesome post! I never really about it much, but my protagonist in my WIP has a career that is very important to the plot. He is mayor, and another election is coming up and he running again, however he is suspect #1 for a murder investigation, which throws him completely out of his Normal world! Although, when you mention that the protagonist’s career will influence the way they handle certain situations, I never thought that very much. Looks like I have something else to work on when I am editing!

    Thanks again for a great post!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      A mayor suspected of murder – that’s one of those great juxtapositions that can lead a story in some really wonderful directions.

  2. Amalia Zeichnerin says

    All the jobs of my five main characters are vital to the story in some way or the other, because their specific knowledge, training or abilities helps the team along on their expedition.
    “The protagonist’s career will influence the way they handle certain situations” – that’s a good point.
    One of the main characters e.g. is a soldier and he is all about security and “no one is left behind”, another one is a scientist who is always sceptical and “the voice of reason” and there is the inquisitive reporter who is causing trouble because of her curiosity. In such ways I am trying to let their professions influence their actions.

  3. In both of my novels, the characters were all young people still in school and I reflected the stories around that fact. However, one career I found very interesting was the father in Lionel Shriver’s book “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” Scouting locations for advertising billboards sounds cool.

  4. I think a lot of dramedies work this way. Most character stories, broadly, we’ve seen a number of times, and consequently what can make them distinctive is context. Occupation is an element of context. The last screenplay I finished is about a guy in the midst of a quarter-life crisis reconnecting with his sister. In terms of plot summary, that’s not terribly exciting, but this happens in the midst of a Bigfoot-hunting expedition. And that’s distinctive enough to make the story feel original.

  5. thomas h cullen says

    The protagonist’s profession as a story-improvement device does indeed perform its function in The Representative – quintessentially so:

    It’s Croyan’s precise intention to not fulfil his professional role.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      This is a good point. Sometimes it’s the character refusal to fulfill or enter his occupation that’s even more important than the occupation itself.

  6. In the current WIP, hero is the right-hand man to an emperor’s little brother. they’re on a fact-finding mission to a planet their father annexed, and there’s been a bit of a civil war going on ever since. Because of his occupation he was kidnapped. It’s also keeping him and his girl from reconciling. She wants him to leave, and he believes he can’t.

    Occupations tend to play a strong role in my stuff, even if it’s not in-your-face. In my novel releasing next week the hero’s occupation made him what he is. Without it, and what he learned about life and himself while he did it, he couldn’t do what he has to do.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Congrats on the novel release! That’s always exciting.

      • Susi Franco says

        Talk about epiphanies !! I must cop to not having given this element the proper weight in my writing choices. Annnnnd that would be why you’re my Patron Saint of Writers. 🙂 I have to re-tool things here; I was so involved with the plot and character arcs etc that I totally overlooked the depth an interesting occupation would equip my character with. Thank you, Ma’am~ 🙂 Lots to mull over and experiment with.

  7. This post came at a perfect time. I’ve been considering the past few weeks my heroine’s career choice.

    Thanks!

  8. I wrote a short story in which the MC character appears to be a rich, cold, and beautiful 1920s flapper girl … until about six pages in, when you discover she’s a witch who robs wealthy houses with her coven, not for the money, which she has plenty of, but because she gets bored and she’s a kleptomaniac. Also, I thought that setting it in Jazz Age NYC gave it an air of elegance, which mixes well with the idea of a rich girl’s preparatory masquerading as a coven.

  9. In my story, I wouldn’t say the characters’ jobs define the story (except for a couple characters, included my MC), but they did shape the plot. At a certain point, I realised if I wanted my plot to be tidy and coherent, I needed to know exactly who would be in the speakeasy and when. So I wrote down the speakeasy roster and reshaped the entire story around that roster.
    No, I don’t think readers will never realise that, but it was imensely useful for me while writing.

  10. In my current one, it is all about my characters choice of profession. She has lived a really isolated and poverty stricken life in a small town with and alcoholic and abusive mother. Now, after gaining an opportunity, she doesn’t hesitate to jump straight in a career in smuggling 😉
    Since she has suffered so much in her prior life, case of conscience doesn’t even bother her. She have a notion that the world which has done so many bad things to me, doesn’t deserve my sympathy. So you can say she is a kind of psychopath.

  11. Very interesting video. I never considered how my characters’ jobs impacted the theme of the story. What a simple, easy idea! I can’t wait to implement it in my writing (and I’m adding “Sunshine Cleaning” to my To-Read list).

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s actually belongs on your To-Watch list. 😉 I saw the movie. I think it was an original script, not an adaptation.

  12. I can totally agree with this, and even though I didn’t directly consider it, I can read through my story and see how occupations affect the personalities of all characters. My MC is a soldier in the middle of a war, yet my story isn’t about the war, but about the action, adventure, and exploration to new and forgotten places. His experiences greatly affect how he relates to other people, and sometimes other major characters on his team have to step in and help him, those whose experiences haven’t been so traumatic. He comes off as sarcastic and combative and it isn’t always well-recieved.

    I appreciate the post, K.M.! Thank KDP for pointing me to it.

  13. Sunshine Cleaning was written by Megan Holley. Christine Jeffs was the director. In the context of your point I just felt like Megan should have been credited for the interesting job/story choices made.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I generally credit movies to the directors, just for convenience sake. But you’re right: this particular story decision almost certainly belonged to the writer.

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  1. […] Are You Overlooking This Easy Way to Make Your Story More Interesting?, from Helping Writers Become Authors: Whether or not your character’s career plays a major […]

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