With some of my novels, I didn’t really have a choice because the storyline decided it for me. In ‘His Leading Lady’, for example, the hero had to be a theatre director/producer and the heroine an actress. In ‘Dream of Paris’, I needed both to be teachers.
In other cases, however, I’ve had to make decisions. When I first wrote ‘Changing the Future’ (many years ago and never published), both the hero and heroine were teachers, and the story was very different to what it eventually became. Once I dug it out of my box of old stories, I decided to move the heroine into a college, and to give her a background of television journalism instead of languages. In the original story, the hero had been a geography teacher, but I wanted to ‘upgrade’ him to a geologist. What kind of geologist? Well, that Icelandic volcano with the unpronounceable name was disrupting air transport at the time, and made me decide to reinvent him as a volcanologist – and I must admit my research for this story taught me more about volcanoes than I’d ever known before. His occupation also led to the fairly dramatic scenes in the latter part of the story.
When I first conceived the idea of 'Her Only Option', set in Egypt, I had more decisions to make. Originally I thought about two passengers on a cruise ship, but that wouldn’t work because after the week’s cruise, they would both go home and the story would no longer take place in Egypt. From there it was a fairly easy progression to a cruise ship tour guide and an archaeologist, and it was the occupations of these two that was to provide an integral and conflicting part of the story.
When I first started writing ‘Irish Inheritance’, I knew my heroine was an actress and my hero was an artist. What I didn’t realise immediately was that the Victorian love story they would gradually discover would also involve an actress and an artist. This may sound weird, but as the lovers in the past gradually revealed themselves, I actually had a heart-stopping moment when I realised they were also an actress and an artist!
With ‘Irish Intrigue’, I had an actress again (yes, I know, I have a thing about actresses, but she had already appeared in 'Irish Inheritance' as a would-be actress!), but I had to decide what occupation my hero was going to have. I went through various possibilities in my mind. Hotel owner or manager? Farmer? Pub landlord? In the end, I decided (or maybe he decided?) he was a veterinary surgeon - and again that involved a lot of research, including the whole of one Sunday afternoon spent watching YouTube videos of foals being born.
In my current WIP, I wanted the hero to be the taxi driver who had featured in ‘Irish Intrigue’ but I needed him to have another job. I invented a whole scenario where he had been a university lecturer, but then decided that wouldn’t work, and now he’s an undercover police detective. As for the heroine, at the moment she is an American forensic scientist who has ditched her job to go to Ireland – but that’s not yet set in stone and could still change!
So – how important are your characters’ occupations to the development of your story? Are their occupations an integral part of the story, lending extra dimensions to the plot?
Or would your plot be more or less the same even if you changed their occupations? An interesting exercise might be to think of one of your stories, and think of how much it might (or might not) change if you changed the hero’s and heroine’s occupations!