Introducing…the Occupation Thesaurus!

Let’s say you’re at a party, and you meet someone new. The small talk begins. If you want to learn more about them, what’s one of the first things you ask?

“So, what do you do?”

Asking this question can accelerate the getting-to-know-you process because the answer often tells you something about who that person might be. Nobody likes cliches, but careers can draw certain personality types. To test this theory, ask a handful of people what predominant traits an accountant, or preschool teacher, or artist might have. There are always exceptions, but many people within a given field share certain traits, passions, and abilities. True, the job may not be one they necessarily like or would have chosen for themselves, but that information can also tell you something about who they are and are not.

A career is one of the things that defines each of us, and the same is true for our characters. But as with most important aspects of your character’s life, a career shouldn’t be chosen randomly. Their job can play an important part in the overall plot and their character arc by helping them achieve outer motivations (story goals), providing natural sources of conflict, and allowing them opportunities to succeed and fail, grow and change, and learn about themselves.

character occupations, career research, character development character buildingThis is why Angela and I have decided that our next thesaurus at Writers Helping Writers will be about occupations. A certain amount of research is necessary for someone to authentically write about a character’s career, especially if it’s not one the author has personally experienced. So each entry will highlight a specific occupation and will contain information that you, as an author, might need to know, such as…

Required Training. How will your character go about becoming an athletic coach, astronaut, glassblower, or auto mechanic? If he’s already living his dream, what training did he have to go through?

Helpful Skills and Personality Traits. Every job includes areas of proficiency and personality traits that enable the person to succeed. Physical strength, dexterity, knowledge of higher mathematics, being able to sing or play a musical instrument, organization, charm, ambition—each of these can make a person much better (or really awful) at various jobs. Knowing which abilities and traits to give or withhold from your character will enable you to help him succeed or cause necessary stumbling blocks that can provide structure for your story and propel him or her along the character arc.

Sources of Friction. When it comes to sources of conflict, there are two biggies for most people: family and work. Workplace friction can be internal (feeling unappreciated, doubting one’s ability to succeed, being jealous of a co-worker) or external (having a boss who plays favorites, not making enough money, experiencing harassment on the job), and is often caused by the people we interact with on a daily basis. So knowing these possible sources can be especially handy when you need to amp up the tension in a scene.

Impact on Basic Human Needs. If you’ve been around Writers Helping Writers for any period of time, you know that we’re kind of obsessed with psychology and how it can be applied to characters. We’ve talked a lot about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and how the needs that are missing in our characters’ lives should be a driving force in their decision making. Many times, a character’s job can cause a void in one of these important areas. Exploring this can help you see how the career you choose for your character can shore up your storyline and drive him toward the overall goal (or individual scene goals) that can keep your story on track.

We’re very excited about this thesaurus because, along with providing the foundation of research required for a slew of possible occupations, it also will explore how these jobs can contribute meaningfully to the plot and the character’s inner growth. We hope each entry will give you ideas on how to tie together the important elements of your story so they’re all working in tandem with the character’s inner and outer motivations, propelling them forward on their journey to wholeness and contentment.

We could use your help with something, though. In researching occupations, it quickly became clear that we’ll never be able to assemble a comprehensive catalogue of entries. One resource listed over 12,000 careers to choose from. So…not even close, lol. We want to showcase a variety of jobs, including the popular ones many authors will need and the not-so-common ones that can challenge you to think outside the box and pursue possibilities you might not have considered.

This is, hopefully, where you come in. If there’s an occupation you’d like to see us cover, would you please tell us in the comments? If the career you’re interested in has already been mentioned, do still include it; this will show us which ones are really popular and could increase our chances of writing about it. We have to take a lot of things into consideration when choosing which entries to include in a thesaurus, so we won’t be able to write about every occupation that comes up, but seeing which ones are of interest to you all would be SUPER helpful for us.

Can I just say Thank You, in advance? You all continue to be the inspiration behind our work as we try and figure out which resources and information will help improve your stories and grow you as writers. In short, YOU ROCK!

We can’t wait to see what you come up with. Look for the first entry next Saturday!

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Save

SaveSave

About BECCA PUGLISI

Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

84 Responses to Introducing…the Occupation Thesaurus!

  1. I need help with:
    photographer
    milliner
    artist

    Thank you – the other ‘Thesaurus’ books from you are superb!

  2. Timi V says:

    I would like the following occupations:
    psychologist
    doctor
    cab driver
    teacher
    yoga instructor
    ballerina

  3. I would love to see the following occupations:
    Surgeon
    Computer hacker
    Lawyer
    Publisher
    Entrpreneur

  4. This is going to be interesting!

    I’d love to know what HR people do. I know there are a lot of branches under human resources including training and development, but some like HR Generalist and HR Specialist cover bits and pieces of everything. I know they also include Talent Acquisitions, but does that mean that this person’s job is to be on the look out for new talents all day? What if there are no vacancies?
    HR has recently become a fancy word – in some places – for doing zilch. Why do I need a degree to become an HR employee?

    Another would be a Video Editor

    May be … a Minister?

  5. Gold Panda says:

    I would like to see
    Videographer
    Video Editor
    College student
    garbage man
    Public relations
    Auto Mechanic

  6. i would like to see occupation geared more toward historical genres. i am writing a fantasy romance and there are so many jobs that don’t exist as they did several hundred years ago.
    blacksmiths
    dressmakers/ tailor /seamstress
    soldiers/officers
    book binders/printers/ scribes

  7. Linda says:

    Museum curator
    Entrepreneurs: Bookstore owner, Coffee shop owner…
    Real estate agent
    graphic designer

  8. Rahma says:

    There are so many great suggestions here, I almost hate to add to the list, but I have a Protagonist who got a degree in Sociology then discovers she can’t find a job and ends up Waitressing.

    However, by the end of the book she discovers her love of music and applies her skills to become a Music Therapist. I would love to see both of these occupations included in your Occupational Thesaurus.
    Thank you for providing these great resources!

  9. Julie Reich says:

    My MC’s father is a vp or senior manager in the financial industry–not sure if it’s a bank or some other financial co. Would love to see something about execs in this industry.

  10. EJ Smyth says:

    Graphic artist, graphic designer, manga / comic book artist

  11. EJ Smyth says:

    Wow. Every time I think there can’t be any more subjects to create a thesaurus about, you turn around and do it anyways. Your occupation thesaurus will be soooo helpful!!! I write mm romance, and men tend to define themselves more through their jobs than women (VERY generalized statement, I know). Can’t wait to get my hands on your next opus!!

  12. Roanne King says:

    I love this! Especially since I only have so much time in a given week to write. On the angle of different occupation for historical research, even those writing modern-day fiction could use insight into jobs from the past. For example, if a grandparent or older person is a character, insight into their career while younger likely shaped where they ended up later in life. Occupations that come to mind could be traveling salesman, field or orchard worker, jazz musician, veteran, locksmith, mechanic, pastor, pastor’s wife. Modern-day options: homeschooling mom (or dad), extreme sports (BMX, skateboarding, skydiving), house flipper (or couple), wedding planner… Looking forward to this new resource whatever occupations you choose.

  13. Bonnie Johnston says:

    Awesome idea! The different types of engineers: civil, electrical, mechanical, chemical, aeronautical. Astronaut. Research scientist in the corporate world. CIA/spies. FBI. Bounty hunters. Different types of police jobs. Geneticist, especially in the corporate world. Congressperson or politician in general. Factory positions in an electronics manufacturing plant.

    I’d be happy to be a resource on technical writers, if you should decide to include that as a profession (although it seems like you’ve got a lot of much more interesting ones suggested here in the comments!).

  14. Linda says:

    Optician (aka Optical Technician)
    Elementary School Secretary
    Computer Operator (from the 80’s before the Internet became a household name and way before almost everyone had a laptop or desktop computer)

  15. Mary Breslin says:

    Middle school teacher
    Graphic designer

  16. Carol Schoenig says:

    *Anesthetist
    *Property caretaker
    *Human Resources Manager
    *Recruiter
    *The people who answer the phones for OnStar and other providers of directions.
    *Payroll manager
    *Computer Programmer
    *College Professor
    *Make-up Artist
    *Personal Assistant to celebrities or the wealthy
    *I know someone mentioned robotics; my son was responsible for setting up a robotics surgical room
    *1st Assistant in the Operating Room
    *Political Careers
    Governors,
    Senators
    Assistants (Monica Lewinsky)
    *Madame
    *Gigolo
    *Male Stripper

    As we talk about occupations, can you please add how multi-millionaires and billionaires make their money. Real Estate, Investment mogul, inherited

  17. Diego says:

    Astronaut
    Biologist
    Cartographer
    Diplomat
    Equestrian
    Gigolo
    Librarian
    Matchmaker
    Priest/Priestess
    Therapist

  18. Mary says:

    Midwife, either nurse-midwife or lay midwife. I can help with that. I was a nurse midwife for 30 years and a nurse for 36 years.

  19. Maggie says:

    Denis Lewis mentioned Funeral Director. I second that.

    I’d like to also see Crown Attorney, Pornography Director, Voice-Over Artist, Professional Ethical Hacker, and Pilot.

  20. Thank you so much for letting us know what you’d like to see. Our list of potential entries is getting longer, but we’re getting a better feel now for which ones would be most helpful. 🙂

  21. Isobelle says:

    Patient Experience Officer, a female escort, male escort, a temp, pole dancer, burlesque dancer, maybe? How about a retiree? It isn’t a career in the strictest sense of the word, but I tend to wonder how a retiree viewed not doing anything at all. Was s/he sent out to pasture even before he expected? Does s/he wish they could be doing something even in their old age but no one wants to hire them? Just a thought.

    I have all of your books (they’ve been a tremendous help!) and looking forward to getting the Emotional Wound Thesaurus this October. 🙂

  22. Computer hacker
    Cardiac surgeon

  23. Janelle Harris says:

    Fantastic idea!
    I would love to see information about the following medical professions, especially in a hospital setting:
    Nurses
    Doctors
    Physical Therapists
    Occupational Therapists
    Psychologists/counselors

    I would also be really interested in the following careers:
    Robotics, especially design or maintenance
    Drones, anything really
    Cyber Security.

  24. Donna says:

    Cops/FBI/CIA and the many differences between them
    Different areas of forensic careers
    Anything medieval
    Science related careers, chemist, geologist, etc.
    Jeweler
    Military careers, snipers, commanders, navy SEALs, etc.

    Super excited here to read this thesaurus. Good luck and I look forward to seeing what you come up with. Cheers!

  25. Bakers, clergy, wheelwright, barber, doctor, soldier, ship’s captain and crew, servant, etc., etc. . . any occupation from the Medieval times on up through the Civil War, for those of us who write historical fiction. 😉 Thanks so much!!

  26. Kat says:

    Yoga teachers, prison guards/corrections officers/wardens, psychiatrists.

    🙂

  27. Athaia says:

    This is a thesaurus I’ll definitely buy (oh, who am I kidding…already making my way through your series anyway).

    My Muse decided that my next MC is a… tax inspector. Yeah… if you’d include that one, too, please…

  28. Any type of forensic analyst (fingerprint, DNA, videotape, tire/shoe treads, handwriting, financial). Any career involving animals or the land–veterinarian (both small and large animal), farmers, ranchers, vineyards/wineries, breweries, (these are very popular in NOVA where I live), landscape designers, florists, etc. Perhaps realtors, house flippers and home stagers? Mechanics and technical designers.

  29. Jack Braden says:

    How about some like these:

    Air Traffic Controller
    Explosives Ordnance Disposal (EOD)
    Truck driver
    Auto Mechanic
    Bookseller
    Script writer
    Hacker (black hat, white hat)
    Translator
    Ex FBI, NSA, CIA, DIA, US Army/Navy/Air Force Special Ops, etc.
    Research assistant – you pick field of interest
    Cosmetologist/makeup artist

    Think of each the above and what they could do if saying, they wanted to kill somebody or put blame on somebody for a death. Their job skill could prove very handy. The skill could give then an edge in avoiding being caught for the crime.

    Jack

  30. mshatch says:

    Architects, rock band (sure we all kinda know about how the famous people do it, but what about the ones that aren’t yet, what are their lives like, traveling in old buses, poor acoustics, venue owners…), and everything Monica said. What a great idea! Can’t wait to buy!

  31. Dylan says:

    There are also Language Tutor, and Translator. Don’t forget Author/Writer.

  32. Beth Wellington says:

    This would be a fantastic addition to my thesaurus collection. What a great idea. For my future writing projects, I’d like to know about high school teachers (specifically a French teacher), gym instructors and personal trainers, and novelists… I’m not published yet so have no experience about this field!

    Keep up the amazing work, ladies. ?

  33. Peter Martin says:

    I used to be coal mines geologist in the UK then moved to work in the oil and gas industry as a geologist on oil rigs in S. E Asia. Later I moved into the office and became Training and Health and Safety Manager.

    If you need any help with these occupations just let me know

  34. I would love to see some historical occupations like Monica listed. Some she didn’t mention are a cooper, saddle maker, cowboy, wainwright, livery, wheelwright

  35. I’d like to see some information on forensic careers, particularly the less talked about ones, i.e., forensic accounting, forensic crime photographers, forensic engineers, forensic nurse…

    Those sound like they would be fascinating to write about. 🙂

    I am definitely interested in the occupation thesaurus.

  36. Erin Bentley says:

    I would like to see:
    Archaeologist
    Botanist
    Herpetologist (studies reptiles and amphibians)
    Veterinarians
    Antique Dealer
    General Contractor
    Farmer
    Librarian
    Jeweler
    Paleontologist (because dinosaurs are cool)
    Social Worker
    Zoologist
    Midwife

    But I’d also like to see occupations listed that might not be around anymore or are practiced by a very few (for the historical writers):
    Schoolmarm/Governess
    Switchboard Operators
    Soda Jerk
    Lady’s Companion
    Artisan Craftsmen
    Bookbinders
    Stationers
    Train Conductors/Brakemen
    Boardinghouse Keeper
    Various forms of domestics service

    That’s all for now. Since I usually write Fantasy and it looks like it’s been pretty well covered by others in this comment thread, I will refrain from listing them. I usually end up picking apart other Thesaurus entries, combining and morphing them into something that suits my needs anyway, so if the fantasy occupations don’t make it in, it wouldn’t bother me too much. Besides lots of them live in modern occupations. After all, alchemy is nothing more than chemistry and brewing is still the same as it’s always been although the equipment has been upgraded.

    Keep up the good work ladies. Looking forward to it!

  37. Sarah Moore says:

    Midwives! I had two home births and adored my midwives, then I did in-depth interviews with them about their training and craft … let me know if you want more insight, and I’m happy to provide it!

  38. I’m super excited about this one! (I think I might say that about all of your book, though, because they’re all amazing.)

    Off the top of my head, I’d love to see the following included: concert musician (instrumental), veterinarian, architect, and something science based (biologist, geneticist, chemist). Though I also liked the idea mentioned about above someone working in environmental protection.

  39. OMG, this is a FABULOUS idea! How about horse trainer, knight(hey, it might be medieval but info would be great, lol), breadmaker, Shepherd, cowboy, and so many more I can’t think of but I’m sure this is going to be a valuable book to own!

  40. Pat Wright says:

    A few more:
    Beekeeping
    Book archival and conservation
    Police dispatcher
    Professional organizer
    Dog trainer
    Rescue dog trainer
    Catastrophe adjuster
    Alligator removal expert
    Secret shopper
    Audiologist
    Park ranger
    Linguistic careers: actor training, forensics, teaching
    Code breaker
    Shortwave radio operator
    Prison guard
    Parole officer
    Cantor
    Wild bull rider
    Bronco rider
    Orthotic and prosthetic maker
    Cirque du Soleil performer
    Lineman
    Submariner
    Masseur/masseuse
    Cult member/victim/recruiter
    Picker/antiques dealer
    Train engineer
    eBay storefront owner
    Hot-air balloonist
    Paleontologist
    Archaeologist
    Ethnologist
    Jewelry maker

    I’ll think of some more. So glad y’all are taking on this monumental effort. The resulting thesaurus will be wonderful!

  41. Pat Wright says:

    If you’re not already familiar with it, you may find the book “What Color Is Your Parachute” very helpful.

  42. Pat Wright says:

    One of our sons is a professional poker player. He has traveled all over the world making a good living this way. (It’s how he met his lovely wife, too!) She runs a company that puts on casino parties. The culture of the poker universe is fascinating.

  43. Christine says:

    Would love to see a few historical-type careers, like apothecary, stone mason, etc… Can you tell I write fantasy?

  44. Gina Sco says:

    What about a desk clerk?

    I never realized until I was on the other side of the desk just how much is involved, not to mention how much you can find out!

    People open up to clerks while checking in/out and the clerk has access to a lot of information about those checking in…including secrets both personal and professional. Clerks see activities both in the hotel and surrounding area and when they’re conducting business in the lobby/conference room, they overhear things, whether they intend to or not.

    I’ve even considered a book(s) about a hotel/motel used as sort of a rehab location for agents or assassins taken out of the field for physical and/or psychological reasons. And another where an ex-assassin whose lack of a job draws too much attention.

  45. Latanya says:

    Teachers (elementary, middle school, and high school)

    Exotic Dancers

  46. Gifford MacShane says:

    I was an operations manager in financial services for years, both banking and insurance. Skill set was practically everything from customer service to system conversions. Be happy to help if you’re interested.

  47. Fashion Designer, of course. But the lessor know fashion specialties of Sunglasses Designer and Accessories Designer would be of interest. I love your Thesaurus, and I look forward to another one. Thanks.

  48. Talia says:

    Oh my goodness, I’m so excited for this thesaurus!! I think it’d be cool if you included some fantasy-type occupations. Like, a warrior. Or even a Dark Lord, lol, or a magician. Or a treasure hunter (one of my MCs is a treasure hunter, and it’s more than just a hobby – that’s his actual job.)
    Some occupations that aren’t necessarily fantasy related are a dancer/singer, a musician, a scientist, and a king or ruler of a country.
    Anyway, those are my ideas. I’m so excited!

  49. Christina Li says:

    Wow! This is so good! I’d love to read about chefs.
    Another idea for you would be a concert violinist, music teacher, orchestra director, pro level, K-12, and college. (My husband is a professional violinist and music teacher. He also repairs stringed instruments.)
    You might consider instrument creation. It takes a lot to create a violin or any stringed instrument. (We were close friends with the violin maker who made my husband’s instrument. He died a few years ago, but he grew up in Nazi Germany and managed to escape.)

  50. julie brown says:

    Great idea you two! Some of the most interesting characters are those who defy the typical traits of their professions (mean nurses – yikes!) or those in which same personality traits work for two completely different professions – in “The Accountant” the character’s exacting, hyper-focused skills made him a brilliant numbers guy AND a super – duper hit man!

  51. Levi says:

    I think this is a great idea! I’ve got all your other books and I see this being another to eventually add to my collection! 😀 (Can’t wait for the emotional wound thesaurus!)

    Not sure if its within your scope but as well as the contemporary careers I’d love to see this cover some of the more ‘fantasy’ or ‘medieval’ type careers e.g. Knight/Soldier, King/Queen, Blacksmith, Merchant, Mercenary, Scholar, Mage, Servant, Thief etc

    Looking forward to this!

  52. Barbara says:

    musicians – some ideas – like harpsichord, organ , piano players, swing band, marching bands, Symphony members, something to represent the different types of instruments, military bands (Jon Philip Sousa), rock bands,

  53. monica zwikstra says:

    black smiths, farriers, wheel makers, Medieval Occupations
    Acrobat, Apothecarist, Architect
    Armorer, Artist, Astrologer
    Baker, Barrister, Bookbinder
    Bowyer, Brewer, Bricklayer
    Candlemaker, Carpenter, Cartographer
    Clothier, Cook, Diplomat
    Dyer, Engineer, Engraver
    Farmer, Fisherman, Forester
    Fortune-Teller, Furrier, Gardener
    Glassblower, Grain Merchant, Gravedigger
    Herald, Herbalist, Hunter
    Innkeeper, Interpreter, Jester
    Jeweler, Leatherworker, Locksmith
    Messenger, Miner, Minstrel
    Moneylender, Navigator, Painter
    Peddler, Physician, Playwright
    Politician, Potter, Rat Catcher
    Sailor, Scribe, Servant
    Shipwright, Shoemaker, Spy
    Stonecarver, Storyteller, Weaver

  54. Jessi says:

    I’d love to know more about actors and actresses, psychologists, and secret agents.

  55. Not sure there will be much interest, but I’m a warhead engineer. Warhead engineers tend to have mechanical or aerospace engineer degrees, and we learn about explosives. Our jobs are a little morbid at times, since we talk about the best ways to kill people. If you’d like more information just contact me.

  56. I’d love to see what you can find on arson investigation – from police view point and fire marshal view point – or anyone else who’d be involved.

    Thanks

  57. How about people in the restaurant industry or retail?

  58. :Donna says:

    OK, I’ll be specific simply because these will probably be included in my novels. If any seem worthy or popular enough for you to actually put effort into, that would be great :)…

    EMT (Emergency Medical Technician)

    some Environmental-related possibilities:
    – environmental advocacy
    – environmental science and engineering
    – environmental law, policy & regulation

    Furniture manufacturing (wood and/or particle board)

    Thanks, ladies! 😀

  59. :Donna says:

    Ladies, I LOOOOOOOOOOooooooove this SOOOOOoooo much! Years ago I researched all the books on “picking an occupation” for this very reason. What especially excites me about this is I KNOW you ladies include all the info a writer needs with this topic. Thank you SO much!!!! 😀 😀 😀 oxoxoxoxoxoxox

  60. Tisha says:

    I always been interested in learning about policemen and policewomen. Maybe that would be a good career one to work on. My occupation, other than trying to work out as a writer, is a surgical technology if you’re interested in knowing something about that. I could help with any questions you may have.

  61. Bec says:

    I would love to see the Paralegal occupation included.

  62. I’m interested in learning more about careers in science (chemist, engineer) and the military.

  63. Allison Collins says:

    This is so awesome! I’m very excited about the new thesaurus. It will be so helpful in learning how the rights occupations will be better (or worse, heh heh) for our characters.
    But let’s face it–EVERYTHING you ladies do is amazing. We, as writers, owe y’all big time!
    (If you need insight into Executive Assistants, I can give you lots of info and insights – ins, outs, joys, frustrations, politics. Got lots of fodder this week, in fact. ?)

  64. Lidy says:

    First responders, paramedics, cop, fireman, etc. A psychiatrist, an architect or spy. For an unorthodox career, a psychic. I’d like to see you cover a yoga instructor career or gym trainer.

  65. Donna Maloy says:

    I’d like to know more about landscape designers.

  66. Denise Lewis says:

    I just love all of these thesaurus books and the website..!! And, this one will be another great source. My few suggestions are: Medical Examiner, Funeral Director (Undertaker), Law Enforcement (police, sheriff, etc…), and Private Investigator. I could list a million others, but these are currently of interest to me and immediately came to mind.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *