Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Fresh Produce Section


John Roddam Spencer-Stanhope.
Penelope.

Well, we really, really, truly know there aren't any.
Fresh plots, that is.
And it doesn't really, really, truly matter.
Because lots - if not most - people like apples (or pomegranates) or pommes de terres.
I believe I make a good apple pie, for example, but the basic ingredient is still apples. Plain old apples: adventure with love sugar.
What may tickle the judge's taste buds are the spices and the delicacy of my crust.
One such spice is occupation.
We realize that the occupation of the major characters is relevant to reader's suspension of disbelief, as in one expects a cop, a fireman, a soldier, a spy, a body guard to be involved in dramatic events. A case of expected strengths.
Conversely, a nursery school teacher, a sweet little old lady, a mild-mannered florist, set up delicious anticipation as to how these perceived unwordly innocents might deal with rank villainy. A case of unexpected strengths.
So does a combination of unlikely protagonists. Barbara Hambly thrusts an air-brush jockey artist punk from the fringes of the biker world and a Ph.D student into one of her series. They consort with a 60 year old sorcerer and a teen-age queen mother.
However, like the gun on the mantle piece in Act I, these occupations (or hobbies or talents) must have relevance to the plot. They must be used to advance it. They cannot just sit there and preen like paragraphs of useless description.
My heroine is a forensic consultant in occultology: the identification and analysis of occult-related material, events, practises and beliefs.
As a novel occupation it might well be too obscure, but it does allow her to see things as they are and not through a veil of superstition.
What are some unusual or peculiar occupations found in your favourite fiction?

From Dracula's Guide to Childrearing: The 2:00 AM feeding:
"Listen to them - the Children of the Night. What sweet music they make!"

24 comments:

MissWrite said...

Dracula's guide to childrearing. Too damned funny!

Occupations, oh what a headache. Can mundane be interesting? You sweat that. Is the extraordinary too overdone? You sweat that too. Sigh, I guess they gotta do something to put bread (or blood in Drac's case) on the table. :)

Erik Ivan James said...

In one of my WIP's, my protag is a Manufactures Rep...sales. That occupation allows me to put him in the multitude of places/circumstances required for his variety of experiences which develop the plot.

Muse said...

Fresh plots and flesh pots. Heh.

Not only a tongue-twister, but perhaps the title to a new guide to writing romance or erotica? Or gardening?

Bernita said...

Courtesy of my new grand-daughter's mother, Tami!
Yep, sweat buckets.

A very useful occupation, Erik! "Experiences which develop the plot..." - you got it.

Hmmm, "flesh pots", Muse?
Or horror, perhaps? A variant on human skin for book covers?
The gardener didn't just use the bones of his victims for bone meal fertilizer,he was into re-cycling in a big way?

archer said...

a nursery school teacher, a sweet little old lady, a mild-mannered florist, set up delicious anticipation as to how these perceived unwordly innocents might deal with rank villainy. A case of unexpected strengths.

I haven't thought of that, but it's true. I remember the narator's early line in Bartleby, that he's an "eminently safe man."

Yeah, work. Other people's daily grinds. Nothing is more interesting. I think partly it satisfies our "what if I really HAD grown up to be a fireman" stuff. I always wondered, myself.

Dennie McDonald said...

it's all about the spin - Cinderella is still Cinderella until you through in a half naked man and give her a house cleaning business (yep - read one like that!)

Bernita said...

I had archaelogical ambitions, Archer.
Fact is, even the most exciting jobs have long periods of boredom between fits of panic. Fiction, fortunately, can leave those long hours out.

Think that could be a delicious re-make, Dennie!

Ric said...

Morning. I'm still around - was waiting for something I could contribute to the discussion.
WIP - computer geek at a security company - allows logical access to stop action cameras, GPS devices and and other technological goodies to figure out where and how the heroine disappears at random times.
I personally like writers as the protaginist - something I can identify with!!!!!!!!!

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Yanno...I like this post a whole lot! This is a page that I'm adding to my plot folder. Yes, there are only 39 recognized plots, but variations to old themes with a cool or bizarre occupation can be the new spin on an old top!

Robyn said...

An unusual one I liked- I think I've mentioned it before- had the heroine as a secretary to a Henry Higgins-type phonetics professor. She had spent so many hours, so many years transcribing his notes and listening to his tapes of people that she developed an ear for voices. If she'd heard a voice once, she could remember it and disect it phonetically, giving essentially an expert identification. She gets into the action when she hears bank robbers from under a table and can identify them.

anna said...

always always I learn something from your blog.
Thank you Bernita
(love the dracula guide!)

Bernita said...

I think that's really clever, Ric. Of course, I think the plot basis is really clever and fresh, too. The "left behind" pov.
The occupation may not be so unusual - but the use of it is!
Personally, I dislike writers as characters, because I want greener grass, I suppose.

Happy anytime, Bonnie, to trigger a use or idea!

Bernita said...

That fits exactly, Robyn.

Thank you, Anna. I learn a lot from my comment-ers.
Think I shall encourage her to expand that Guide.

Julie said...

You have such a way with words.

My brain is malfunctioning and I can't come up with a great occupation from a book, but I do love it that Phil's occupation in Groundhog Day is a weatherman -- a mundane job perhaps, but as it turns out rather relevant to the plot. Forgive me for resorting to pop culture.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Julie.
I don't think of "weatherman" as that mundane a job actually. Has lots of plot potential too.

Steve said...

The things that can be made with apples. If you like the fruit, you'll try it. If not, you'll look for something else. I guess it hard to get a hard core Romance reader, interested in SF.

Bernita said...

Steve, there's a discussion today on Romancing the Blog (www.romancingtheblog.com/blog) about that very thing.
They claim that Romance readers are more open to other genres than almost any other group...that the reverse is actually true - that it is harder to get a SF reader to try romance.

SassyJill said...

Actually I like characters to have normal, if not boring, jobs. That way they connect more to everyman, even if they go through some outrageous events. What tickles me is to know that I could be that character and have all those exciting things happen to me.

Jeff said...

In Stephen King's book, On Writing, he points out that people love to read about a character's occupation. He said he didn't know why, but they do.

I think most people, myself included, like stories about ordinary people forced to deal with extraordinary circumstances.

Steve said...

Bernita, I read the discussion. Interesting, I would have thought the opposite. Learn something new every day.

December Quinn said...

I loe the way that job ties into the plot, Robyn!

It is sad, isn't it, Bernita, that romance readers will try so many things but other genres tend to be not as open-minded? Especially about romance--I'm always amazed by genre authors who pick on romance. Like, uh...you write genre, too, buddy. (Although I love genre, so I'm certainly not denigrating any of them.)

I've written: a hematologist (way fun, because she was a science geek so I could throw in all sorts of Star Wars/Star Trek/general geek references); a Yoga instructor (the cowritten book, it's a nod to my CP/WP who is a Yoga instructor); an image consultant, and currently a therapist who also happens to be psychic, so she's a bit of a cheat. I have plans to write a female park ranger one of these days (spooky romance in the woods!); a nurse (but not in a medical romance); a legal secretary; and a customer service rep.

Bernita said...

A valid point of view, Sassy and Jeff, though I would question the assertion of "ordinary people" - which does not explain the popularity of vampire and were stories.
That the reader should be able to relate in some way to the character - even if only by a shared fantasy - I don't question.

Steve, I don't know whether the claim is accurate or not. Writers are voracious readers but they do not necessarily have the same take as the pure reader.

So right, December. Very rigid thinking from the supposedly open-minded, and in my take,a fundamentally stupid one.
All those occupations have a certain outre potential, not quite in the common way. Good stuff!

writtenwyrdd said...

One thing I've noticed about a character's job is that, unless it becomes an integral part of the book's plot, it informs the character's personality and opportunities more than it

In one of my failed novels, the protag is a structural engineer, which is how the vampires lure her into their fold. However, it also tells something about her personality. Other than that, the job doesn't really enter into the work as a necessity. But I have to agree with Steven King, readers do seem to like reading about character's jobs. My guess? It's probably because we want to pretend to be someone else, try on that pair of shoes, that uniform.

Bernita said...

And then, Writtenwyrd, we have Arthur Hailey, for example, in whose novel "Hotel" the occupation ( or the industry) formed the structure of the entire plot.