Characters and Careers

Outtakes 232

Characters and Careers

by Cait Collins

Characters don’t just sit around all day shooting the breeze. They have jobs, careers, and education. But where do you start in researching careers? If you know someone in the profession, make an appointment to discuss the job description, education, salary, perks, lingo, attire and so forth. But if you don’t have access to an expert in the field, there are other sources to help you out.

When I first began writing fiction, I knew I would need handy resources. Writer’s Digest released Careers for Your Characters by Raymond Obstfeld and Franz Neumann a number of years ago. It’s one of the first books I purchased for my library. The volume covers 101 professions providing good information on common careers and some not so common ones. It’s has helped me better define some of my characters. Unfortunately, it doesn’t provide information on jewelry design and gemology. So it’s time to punt.

I started with pulling information from my college geology classes and labs. What equipment did I need for my hero? What would he have in his kit? Would he do some prospecting on his own? What is the process for filing a claim? And as the writer, what did I need to learn to create this character?

My local Barnes and Noble Booksellers provided a number of books for my research. Tom Jackson’s What’s that ROCK or MINERAL? guided me in rock and mineral identification. Smithsonian Nature Guide Rocks and Minerals by Ronald Louis Bonewitz provided information on gem properties and locations. Gemstone Settings by Anastasia Young gave me insight on the types of settings and lingo. I began comparing some of my personal jewelry with the designs in the book so that I could describe the various pieces in my hero’s line.

I then hit the internet to learn what gems one could find in Colorado. I also found fee sights where I could go to pan for gold and sluice for gems and minerals. I may need to make a trip to the state to put my book knowledge to work so that I can accurately describe the panning process.

What do I hope to gain from this research? I will be able to create more dynamic characters, settings and description. And in turn I will hopefully give the reader a really great story.


Check It Out

Outtakes 230

Check It Out

by Cait Collins

I was rather upset by a comment made the other day regarding writers who do not check their facts. I was purchasing a number of books and magazines on gems, minerals, and jewelry making for more information on the career of one of my characters. The clerk commented I must be really into rocks and jewelry. I explained I was doing some research for my new book. Her response was “Thank you. I do some editing and I can’t believe how many writers expect the editor to do the fact-checking.”

Really? I can’t believe writers would put something on paper and not check the facts. I prefer to think that we take the time to learn what we don’t know. For example, would anyone start a story about a doctor and not know the basics of education, office set up and regulations regarding the practice of medicine? Would we be willing to tarnish our reputation just to get the book finished?

We are responsible for what we put on paper. I have a situation in a novel regarding the purchase of several tracts of land with the stipulation the former owners could buy the land back in five years. Only the buy-back did not include the water and mineral rights. Was this possible? Absolutely. How did I learn about this? Book and on-line research combined with discussions with experts in the field. And with on-line resources, it’s easy to do the research.

While we have more up-to-date information at hand, I still prefer books. I purchased a detailed book on gems, cuts, faceting, settings, and designs. While I have done some rock collecting and panning, I need details so that my character is real.

I also believe in experience. Writing a western? Go west. Sign on as a ranch hand, and if you don’t ride a horse, learn. Pick up the cowboy lingo.

Find a fee site and learn to pan for gold. (You get to keep what you find.)

Is your hero a rock climber? Find a beginner’s location and scale the cliff. Become familiar with the rigging and terminology.

Proper research builds better settings, richer dialog, and more exciting characters. By paying attention to details, we portray ourselves as true professionals who take responsibility for the words we put on the page. We make the editor’s job easier and we reduce the amount of editing needed to make a project press-ready. Good research permits the author to put one project to be and start a new work.