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. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. Pat Wright says:

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

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

  5. Pat Wright says:

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

  6. 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.

  7. Christine says:

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

  8. 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.

  9. Latanya says:

    Teachers (elementary, middle school, and high school)

    Exotic Dancers

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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!

  13. 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.)

  14. 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!

  15. 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!

  16. 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,

  17. 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

  18. Jessi says:

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

  19. 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.

  20. 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.


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

  22. :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! 😀

  23. :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

  24. 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.

  25. Bec says:

    I would love to see the Paralegal occupation included.

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

  27. 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. 😬)

  28. 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.

  29. Donna Maloy says:

    I’d like to know more about landscape designers.

  30. 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.

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