Monday, 18 April 2011

Occupational Hazards?

At one time, it seemed to be the norm that a hero in a romance novel had to have a glamorous, high profile or ‘macho’ job (think Italian count owner of vineyard, head of multi-million corporation, special forces operative etc).  When a heroine was actually allowed to have a job (other than a nurse, secretary or governess), then it had to be something supposedly ‘feminine’ like interior or fashion design, florist or librarian.

Today’s heroes and heroines don’t necessarily have to be at the top of their profession. They can be cops or doctors or lawyers.  And in fact, heroines could have those same jobs.  At least now we have some kind of occupational equality in romance novels.

However, my dilemma is that I don’t know anything about these kind of occupations.  Having spent almost all my working life in a High School environment, I don’t have a clue about other jobs.  I know I can glean some basic information from research or reading autobiographies but this still doesn’t give me the ‘inside’ information that lends authenticity.  And I don’t know any lawyers or PR/advertising executives or hotel owners etc etc etc.   

So what do I do?  Use my imagination and hope I’m not completely wide of the mark?   Knowing how unrealistically TV shows and movies often portray teachers and life in schools, I worry that someone reading my book will wince in the same way and say, as I have often said, “Well, THAT would never happen.”

‘His Leading Lady’ (my June release with Whiskey Creek Press) is set in London’s West End theatre world.  What do I know about professional theatre?  Nothing!  At least, not from an insider’s POV.  I drew on my experience of amateur theatre, did quite a lot of research and am now keeping my fingers crossed that it sounds reasonably authentic. 

So – I’d be VERY interested to know how other writers manage to give their heroes and heroines occupations about which they have no personal knowledge or experience.


  1. I was lucky enough that my career path has taken me all over the map and I usually draw from personal experience. However - and I come across this frequently in traditionally published work - a lot of authors just guess. I cannot tell you how many times I've read a book that was set in a location I'm familiar with or involves a job (or task) that I've done countless times where it was clear the author had never visited the place nor performed the task themselves. Research. Ask friends. Trust you instinct. In the end, give it your best shot - it's all any of us can really do. :)

  2. Thanks, Jeffrey! I'm going to deal with locations when we get to the letter S (for settings) and will quote some of the errors I've seen about places with which I'm familiar!

  3. Good question! I'd say, you finally have to find someone with that particular occupation and try to get your answers by questioning and/or when your script is finished, you ask the person to read your book according to facts of his/her occupation! I don't have any other ideas!

    Karin @ Nofretiris Dream Of Writing

  4. Hi Karin
    Thanks for visiting. My problem is that I tend not to know any people in the jobs I want to use in my novels! Television (documetary, I mean, not drama which may be inaccurate) is one of my main sources, plus reading autobiograpical articles/books.

  5. A really good point, and one that some writers go to extraordinary lengths to address (was it Patricia Cornwell who went to work in a morgue, in order to write her books about a pathologist??!) I think all you can do is research the work in question, maybe by looking in on Internet forums, where real people have online discussions about day to day issues with the jobs they do? Just a thought, and I think it's commendable that you are taking such trouble to get it right (I've read lots of things and even see things on TV, where the writers / production companies clearly haven't bothered!)
    Good luck and best wishes

  6. I contact people in the profession I'm writing about. Most are willing to help. Some, not so much, but then you move on.

    My two favorite things about writing: R & R...No, that's not rest and relaxation, that's REVISIONS and RESEARCH! I love learning about new jobs and the people who do them.

    Great post.

  7. I am blessed to be surrounded by many people of different trades, so when I need to write about a certain profession, I can write without being way off. However, I often times write about young people (probably because I am a young person), so I usually don't have this dilemma.
    Good luck!

  8. I have a book called Careers for your characters a writer's Guide to 101 Professions From Arhitect to Zookeeper, by Raymond Obstfeld & Franz Neumann ISBN 1-58297-083-1. It's written for the Amercian market but it gives you a starting point. You could look at the job's market to get some ideas about Education requirement, salaries and what the jobs entails.

    Hope this is of some help.

  9. A real-life doctor might pick up a romance novel only to find that the author has mangled certain medical terms or even the job description of her doctor character. The real life doctor might be inclined to put down the book. i think research is very important if you want your work to have a little bit of authenticity.

  10. I talk to people in other professions. I meet them at church, book clubs and even the gym.

  11. Karla - thanks for the suggestion about Internet forums, hadn't thought of that! Easier than actually going to work in a morgue -eek, think I might have changed my character's job!

    Toni, I like your R and R!

    Emily, maybe you should make notes now on all the people with different professions, you never know when you might want to write about their jobs!

    Jamara, many thanks for the info about the book, that sounds like it could be really useful. And yes, I've looked at job adverts to give me some ideas, at least they can give you the basics.

    Nutschell, agree that authenticity is very important. I've read (and seen on TV) so many inaccuracies about teachers and schools, and would hate to make similar errors in my books about other professions.

  12. This is one of the reason I'm glad I write fantasy set in medieval worlds. I can invent occupations all I want but I'm careful not to try and place my main characters in careers like blacksmiths where I might actually have to know something.

  13. LOL, Susan, that's definitely one way out of the problem!