Take Your Character to Work Day: The Urban Fantasy Job Market, Part II

Think about your favorite novel, TV show, or movie. Then think about how much time the characters spend at work. Unless it’s a detective novel or medical drama, the answer is probably ‘not very much’. The character who never seems to actually be at work (where most of us spend at least 30% of our day) is such a prevalent device that it’s been taxonomized by TV Tropes. At its worst, the trope means we never see the characters at work, never see any evidence of a work schedule, or in fact, any indication of how the character is able to pay for groceries, let alone their bar tab.

Part of the problem, I think, is that we as a society assume that most day jobs are inherently boring. The other part is that we often don’t know the nitty-gritty of what goes on at other people’s workplaces. The more specialist the job, the more prominent this effect. I’m a data scientist, and even close friends probably couldn’t tell you much about my day-to-day work; for all they know, I spend the hours between 9am and 5pm laughing maniacally as I stroke my greyhound (I’m allergic to cats).

As it turns out, a lot of jobs have great potential for plot-driving conflicts, even if the tasks are not inherently interesting. For example, a janitor emptying the bins in Generic Corp’s head office could stumble across an unshredded note and learns something momentous (is Generic Corp headed for an Enron- style financial meltdown? Are they breeding dangerous supernatural organisms in their Generic Evil Biotech Lab? Is someone high up the Generic Corp chain of command having an ill-advised affair with an intern? The possibilities are really endless here). Alternately, it would be interesting to see characters use their supernatural abilities to enhance their performance at a ‘mundane’ job– what about a graphic designer who could psychically tell what their clients really meant by ‘pine tree blue’, or a pest control agent who could just ask the roaches and racoons politely to take their business elsewhere, or an empathic middle school teacher who could soothe a class full of teenagers, or a telekenetic construction worker, or whatever else you can imagine.

The key step here is research. Pick a random job title out of a hat and do a bit of digging on what that job entails. Find someone to interview about what it’s like to be an army chaplain or a petroleum geologist or a city bus driver. People are generally happy to talk about their job, especially if you tell them you need their expert advice for a novel or a screenplay. So get out there and do some research, and see what amazing plot ideas surprise you.

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