Monday, December 8, 2008

Get A Job

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For some reason today I started thinking about the different jobs I've had. The first I remember, I had to be in eighth grade or so, I worked at Carmen Manor Convalescent Home in Chicago. My duties were taking trays to the patients' rooms. One patient, who had Parkinson's Disease, I spoon fed. I had no idea that many years later I'd be doing the same for my own mother when she fell ill to the same disease.

During high school, I worked at House of Chan in Wilmette, Illinois, with my good friend, Barbara Chinn. We made egg rolls, won ton, even pizza. We packed rice into containers. We took phone orders and brought the food to the customers and counted change the old-fashioned way. During the evening hours, I always got great meals as part of the job. Much later, Bob Chinn, her Dad, started Bob Chinn's Crab House, an extremely popular restaurant in Wheeling, Illinois.

As part of my tuition at Immaculata High School, I remember dusting the music room with all its metal chairs I had to go over with a cloth. Very dull work. I was glad to get through each day.

Also in high school I worked for Tony the Tailor in Chicago. I took in clothes and phone orders. I sewed hems on men's trousers. I don't know how I did that right, since I can't do it now. Tony would custom fit clothes for men and women. One day a customer came in and he was doing a fitting for her upstairs. For some reason, I thought she had left and I made some remark about how I'd never liked that woman. How mortifying to realize she was still there!

In high school, I took shorthand and typing and dreamed about being a secretary, which I did become. I still am, many years later. It's the day job that pays my bills. Writing is my current dream, which I do out of love, not as a job.

That's a bit about my jobs.

When you write a novel, make your character work. Pick jobs that reflect how you want readers to perceive your character. Even if you're writing a romance about a person with a large inheritance, a job in some way is still involved, such as living up to expected standards and performing and/or attending certain functions.

If you're writing a comedy, think of a job that lends itself to funny mishaps, such as a cab driver, a waitress, a wedding planner. If you're writing about a serious character, you may wish to make him or her an engineer, a lawyer, a CEO. Or, you can bend a serious job into a funny one and vice versa for contrast.

Another option is to have your character lose a job and go on unemployment. Or, that character may be someone who enjoys living off the system. That's a job in itself just to survive.

So, if you haven't already, get a job for your character.

Morgan Mandel is also at:, &

Morgan Mandel


  1. This is an important topic, because trying to get too clever or unusual can backfire. I recently read a mystery novel set in a funeral home, with a main character who was almost slapstick, and the combination simply didn't work for me. I think it's okay for your character to have a normal job, even if he's superman. ;)

    I wonder, though, how many writers live vicarious lives through their main characters. Do you?


  2. Living vicariously, even for a short while, is the reason for books or movies.

    Morgan Mandel

  3. Interesting post, Morgan. I'll certainly think more about character occupation in future novels.

  4. Excellent advice. :) Sometimes authors forget jobs and you wonder why the people get to wander around aimlessly without want for food or shelter. Yeah, and how do you pay for that...

  5. I would add to that, give your character a realistic job. I can't stand those stories where people are waitresses or store clerks and get to spend all sorts of money on clothes, cars, vacations. It happens even in fantasy - those wandering farmer's sons need to eat, darn it. Mutton stew and shoe soles don't come for free!

  6. Realistic jobs - Yes, you wonder how people afford the high life in books when they don't have high paying type jobs.

    Then again, people living the high life on borrowed money is probably why our country is economically challenged lately.

    Morgan Mandel


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