Setting The Stage
Most of us have had to take a job we weren’t that excited about to pay the bills, whether that meant working in retail or flipping burgers. The kind of part-time gigs that don’t always make it onto our official resume. Some of us, however, have worked odder jobs than others.
Giving your character an unusual job is a quick shortcut to compelling character development — not to mention a great way to give your plot some interesting twists and turns. It may require a little research on your part to find out just what it’s like to be a phone sex operator or a museum taxidermist, but the reading and interviews will be well worth your time.
What unusual jobs could your character try?
Of course, “unusual” is in the eye of the beholder, but when we think about characters in fiction, how easy is it to default to the occupations we’re most familiar with? If you work in a very formal office environment, maybe your character should be a yoga instructor or fine artist. Think outside the box.
Here are just few of the more unusual jobs your character could try, ranging from the slightly strange to truly bizarre:
Hand Model – You don’t have to be a supermodel for this job – you just need to have an attractive set of hands. Be careful, because a broken finger or a nasty callous could put you out of work!
Porn Star – I know you’ve heard of this job before, but have you ever considered writing a character who has sex on screen? Could be interesting exploring how their day job affects their off-screen relationships. What happens when mom wants you to settle down and have some grandkids?
Human Statue – Maybe you’ve seen a human statue before, working as a street performer or as part of an event. The only real qualification for this job is being able to stand still for long periods of time without cracking a grin. It’s harder than it sounds.
Human Billboard – Most human billboards spin signs or walk up and down a busy street wearing a sandwich board. But the truly dedicated might auction off prime sections of skin where companies can tattoo their logos.
Mystery Shopper – Yes, you can actually get paid to shop. All you have to do is report back to the organization you’re working for what your impressions were of a particular store. You might be working for a market research company or even a store that wants to secretly see what its employees are up to.
Test Subject – If you’re willing to volunteer as a human guinea pig, there are plenty of drug and clinical trials out there looking for volunteers. Just remember: these are new drugs, and it’s your character’s job to figure out what the side effects are. Have fun!
Egg/Sperm Donor – This is actually a lot more work than you’d think – you have to be screened for hereditary conditions and you have to be in the peak of reproductive health. And there might be unintended consequences down the line, if your character donates to an unscrupulous sperm bank and ends up having dozens of biological children in the same town…
Chick Sexer – It’s not what you think…these are the farm workers who figure out if baby chickens are male or female! It’s not for the faint of heart, since the males are usually killed.
Golf Ball Diver – Ever wonder what happens to those golf balls that get stuck in water traps? Occasionally, the course will hire someone to collect them all off the bottom of the pond.
Professional Mascot – You could write about a professional athlete, but never forget all the hardworking support staff that help make the team a success…like the guy in the giant bear suit.
Pet Food Taster – This is a real job, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. It takes a special person to go to work and eat dog biscuits all day.
Vomit Cleaner – Yes, theme parks hire people to clean up all the puke underneath the rides. It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.
Reality TV Star – This material practically writes itself. Just watch an episode of Survivor or Jersey Shore and imagine your character suddenly stuck in the middle…dealing with those people!
How To Use This Prompt
Fiction writers: Pick a weird job you’d like to know a little more about — and do a Google search on it! Find out everything you can: typical salary and working conditions, first-person narratives, even how-to guides that will tell you how your character might have gotten started in the biz. Then write a scene that shows what a typical day at work for your character looks like.
Nonfiction writers: Think back on some of the stranger things you’ve had to do for money and write a reflection. What are the little details of the job that outsiders just wouldn’t know about? What moments of unexpected humor (or horror) did you encounter over the course of the job? What did you love about the job? What did you hate?
Write a short story, an essay, a poem, or even just a paragraph or two based on this prompt. Then feel free to share what you’ve written in comments, post a link to your piece on your own blog, or submit it for our site!
And if you’d like more prompts and can’t wait until next week, check out our free e-book, “A Year of Inspiration: 52 Writing Prompts from the Renegade Word.”