Jobs have great significance to our lives in the real world, so why shouldn't they have great significance in fictional worlds? It seems wrong that so often in epic fantasy, a character's only job is "going on a quest." Shouldn't they have some visible means of support, unlike the bard in this essay by Mallory Ortberg? Jobs give people routines, they run the economy of a world even if they only appear in the background, and they have all kinds of consequences for characters and the world in general.
I was joined by Glenda Pfeiffer, Reggie Lutz, Che Gilson and Brian Dolton.
Brian said even if your skill is flintknapping, you should be able to do something useful to support yourself. Glenda asked about science fiction worlds where every job seems to be done by robots. Is it possible to have a world people don't actually work? A society where there is a large idle population won't work if it's a capitalist economy, but in a more socialist society, perhaps it would work. The key would be making sure that the output to individuals of their means of survival would not be dependent on their work function.
Brian showed us some books, one entitled Making a Living in the Middle Ages, and suggested research on medieval industries.
It's not just about keeping people in your world busy. Many people's identities are tied up in their jobs, and their attitudes are often informed by their jobs. Ask yourself, "How do people get jobs in this world?" Do parents train their children in the family business? Do young people become apprentices (which often happened by the time they were 10)? Do you get to choose your job, or is it chosen for you?
Does your world have labor laws? Does it have a workday, or weekends? Does it have child labor? Glenda mentioned that her mother worked 9 hours per day, 6 days per week. Is there such a thing as "leisure work" like writing or other pursuits that don't involve the hard labor required for subsistence? Are there workers like priests or scholars or others who are supported by the physical labor of a larger community? What is the role of trade and bartering in the community? Specialization of functions arises once a community becomes larger than a single family size. Even larger groups can lead to the development of things like money. A monopoly on money, such as that possessed by company stores, causes trouble for the community because it limits their ability to move outside the closed economy.
Think about what kind of job your main character might have. Do we have to have so many assassins? How practical is killing people for a living, given the local population size? Do assassins also have day jobs? What about thievery? How practical is a thieves guild, and how would it work within an existing economy? Bandits exist depending on the existence of law enforcement. Is it practical to have a world where everyone is a pirate? How much destruction of property can a local economy actually take before it stops functioning? Where are the pirates' ships being built and purchased so they can be stolen? Vampire is not a job. What about smuggler? That implies the presence of taxes or tariffs to avoid, legal systems, etc.
Unless your character has been dropped into this world by aliens or magic (or the author) their means of supporting themselves will fit somehow into the larger economy.
Jobs affect people's bodies. Not everyone is gorgeous. People who work in the sun get affected by it; people who work with knives and swords get scarred.
What do the rich people want to look like? Where do they get their money? Land?
Poor people have jobs. It's just that those jobs don't pay well. Reggie spoke about her own experience living in a mountain town; she would need three jobs to live on her own. The conditions of poverty are not uniform, and in fact do vary widely. Some famous musicians have been desperately poor.
Artists and musicians - do they work for patrons? Do they produce based on their own visions, or what they are asked to do? The latter was more common in real life. Brian mentioned the painting of Susannah and the Elders by Artemisia, who initially painted this rape scene with the woman enraged and holding a knife, but then painted over it with an entirely different vision due to pressure from a patron. See this article here.
We talked about specialist jobs. Mentor assassin? (how do you get taught to be an assassin anyway?) Scholars are an interesting case. We often see them portrayed as coming up through a single institution and then teaching there, but far more students pass through a university than can reasonably take faculty positions! Che said that going for tenure at Hogwarts must be hell. There are universities in our world where you can't get a job there until a member of the faculty dies.
How does education support employment? Is the relationship direct? We spoke about a specialty school in my Varin world intended to train manservants, with particular attention to what might happen if a person didn't get the manservant job. What are the alternatives for people in your world?
Thanks to everyone who attended!
Remember, tomorrow's hangout will be with special guest author Haralambi Markov, who will talk to us about his worldbuilding and his new Tor.com story coming out tomorrow, "The Language of Knives." Join us Wednesday, February 4, 2015 at 10am Pacific (1pm Eastern, 8pm Bulgarian time) for the discussion!
Here's the video: