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!







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.
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76 Responses to Introducing…the Occupation Thesaurus!

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. EJ Smyth says:

    Graphic artist, graphic designer, manga / comic book artist

  4. 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!!

  5. 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.

  6. 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!).

  7. 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)

  8. Mary Breslin says:

    Middle school teacher
    Graphic designer

  9. Carol Schoenig says:

    *Property caretaker
    *Human Resources Manager
    *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
    Assistants (Monica Lewinsky)
    *Male Stripper

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

  10. Diego says:


  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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. 🙂

  14. 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. 🙂

  15. Computer hacker
    Cardiac surgeon

  16. Janelle Harris says:

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

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

  17. Donna says:

    Cops/FBI/CIA and the many differences between them
    Different areas of forensic careers
    Anything medieval
    Science related careers, chemist, geologist, etc.
    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!

  18. 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!!

  19. Kat says:

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


  20. 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…

  21. 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.

  22. Jack Braden says:

    How about some like these:

    Air Traffic Controller
    Explosives Ordnance Disposal (EOD)
    Truck driver
    Auto Mechanic
    Script writer
    Hacker (black hat, white hat)
    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.


  23. 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!

  24. Dylan says:

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

  25. 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. 😊

  26. 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

  27. 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

  28. 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.

  29. Erin Bentley says:

    I would like to see:
    Herpetologist (studies reptiles and amphibians)
    Antique Dealer
    General Contractor
    Paleontologist (because dinosaurs are cool)
    Social Worker

    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):
    Switchboard Operators
    Soda Jerk
    Lady’s Companion
    Artisan Craftsmen
    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!

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