I was thinking about this as a friend explained an RPG he had been playing. He brought up various skills of his character that weren’t really adventuring ones. They helped there, but he did it mostly to get new gear and money. We’re talking blacksmithing, potion making, gardening, fishing, and other things that I don’t really remember. He sent a lot of info and it got a little garbled. Still, this got me thinking about what heroes will do besides their adventure.
First, you have to keep in mind that we can’t really go into details here. People don’t want to see your hero repairing shoes for multiple chapters in order to make enough money to continue traveling. That’s boring. Yet, it does get strange when they are never in need of supplies and funds. In Legends of Windemere, I didn’t really explain this because there were hints. Sari had a stealing thing and could entertain with dancing while the others were occasionally seen helping around a city. Maybe I should have done more, but nobody ever questioned the money issue. This could just be a nitpick for this adventure since a job would detract from the plot. War of Nytefall had a better sense of it since Mab was a thief and Chastity ran a business. Yet, nobody ever became concerned that money kept showing up when they needed it.
The truth is that this is really window dressing. Sure, you can put a real world skill on your heroes. This opens up a lot of doors for them to make money, but readers won’t be interested in this. You can use this as a way to show what the characters will do once they’re done or reveal part of their previous life. Readers do get curious about what the dreams and aspirations are for a character. A declaration with no proof of it being possible can be weak, so experience in the desired field can help. For example, the orc warrior knowing how to finger-sized glass sculptures is a quirk that is worth showing. It isn’t worth spending chapters on though, so keep it as an occasional thing. This can be a sign that he wants to leave battle behind and create things that are delicate. Perhaps a desire to live a life of tenderness and being gentle after fighting for so long.
These side jobs can help in connecting with readers and other characters too. Everyone can relate to the more mundane skills even if it’s not one they specifically know. It shows that the time and effort has been put into learning something fairly common. We all do that at some point in our life. It’s called school. Of course, we don’t really see the training unless that’s where they start. If a hero is called to action from a butcher shop, we can safely assume he or she knows how to cut up some steaks. In fact, you could have it that they use this skill after fighting a monster that they happen to know is edible. You don’t have to show this beyond them talking about making money from it. I’d go as far as to say that giving a skill set that allows heroes to utilize defeated creatures can be a safe explanation for a steady cash flow. Gives more a reason for them to be in those types of battles too.
You might be wondering if there’s a point to even considering this. There could be no point to this at all because it’s an extra. I look at side jobs as an added dimension to a character that shouldn’t be focused on for too long. Point it out, utilize it if possible, and then go back to the real story. Others may want to make it more of an obsession of a hero who doesn’t want to be on the adventure. More may think it shouldn’t be touched on at all because it doesn’t relate to the adventure. It’s another one of those author choices that can never be right or wrong as long as the choice works.
So, what do you think of side jobs for heroes?