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.

Twisting Stereotypes. In fiction, we can often see characters with a specific job be cast in a stereotypical light (which can be unrepresentative and cliche of the real profession) to further the plot or act as a characterization short cut. We will offer ways to twist these so you don’t fall into a trap that may do a disservice to your story.

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!

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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.
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108 Comments
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Kelley Maestas
10 months ago

Life coach please.

Becky
Becky
1 year ago

Florist

Christine
Christine
1 year ago

Journalist
Reporter
Crime reporter

Stephanne
Stephanne
1 year ago

No idea if you’re still collecting occupations, but here are a couple that I would like to see that are *similar* to some that have already been posted, but still different.

Firefighter
Coffee Barista
Office Admin/Secretary
Graphic Designer

Aura
Aura
1 year ago

I’ve been loving this thesaurus so far!!! I don’t know if you’re still taking suggestions or if someone’s already suggested these but there were a few jobs I’ve been really wondering about. I’d like to know about undertakers, filmmakers (maybe music video directors??), and musicians (like the big touring rock band kind).

You ladies are gifts! Thank you for all of your work and I can’t wait to see what else comes for this thesaurus!

Tammy Barker
Tammy Barker
1 year ago

I found this particular thesaurus from a tweet. It’s fascinating!
I can’t wait for this to come out in book form, please?! I have all the books so far, and want to keep adding them to my library!

What about something like a personal shopper?
Or even just the general salespeople like at a department store? Ones who love what they sell? I can’t seem to find this on the list, other than a cashier.
What a chef or someone in the cooking industry is really like?
I agree with one above, radio/tv personalities?
If you ever have any questions about someone who does accounting, I’m your gal! I can totally see this being a key player in a murder or crime novel.

FYI, I am also looking into your subscription as soon as this stupid furlough is over!

ANGELA ACKERMAN
Admin
1 year ago
Reply to  Tammy Barker

A lot of these are on our list, but thanks for helping us to add more! And can I say I am so sorry about the whole furlough situation. Not only is it just terrible it happened, talk about bad timing too coming during the holidays. So frustrating. HUGS.

Eli O.
Eli O.
1 year ago

These are great! LOVE your books! Thank you for all the work you put into them.

Journalist and psychologist/psychiatrist would be extremely helpful.

LeeAnn
LeeAnn
2 years ago

I would love to see one for a Hacker/Cyber Security. They both try to break into things, but one is legal and one is not lol. Should be able to apply a lot of the same techniques to both though.

Donna
Donna
2 years ago

I don’t know if it’s too late to share this or to add a comment. How about a paralegal?

Ash
Ash
2 years ago

I don’t know if you’re still open to suggestions at this late date, but tattoo artists would be an interesting and useful addition.

As others have already mentioned, you all do such amazing work here and in your thesauri – it’s been so helpful!

ANGELA ACKERMAN
Admin
2 years ago
Reply to  Ash

I will check to see if it is on the list and if not, add it. Thanks!

John David Pepper
John David Pepper
2 years ago

These entries are definitely thought-provoking. I hope there will be a book for these in the future. In the meantime these entries can really get me thinking.

I know it’s a little traditional and inside the box, but would you consider doing one for a detective? Or people in law enforcement. I am interested in these occupations from a literary aspect and wonder how characters with these jobs would come off. Keep up the other entries, too.

Kate Larking
Kate Larking
2 years ago

Ideas for entries:
Competitive athlete (solo sport)
Competitive athlete (team sport)
Bookie
CEO
Artisan
Cab/sedan/limo driver
Dancer/ballerina
Motivational speaker
Talk show host or radio show host. (Or podcaster?)

ANGELA ACKERMAN
Admin
2 years ago
Reply to  Kate Larking

Great ones–some we have, some we don’t. Thanks for adding to our master list!

Madie
Madie
2 years ago

This is a great resource and I just came across it, but hey, never too late they say!

So I would love to see more on the following occupations:

Pilot
Doctor (obgyn)
Radio or Tv Presenter

Jay Calhoun
2 years ago

‘Feels like I’d be the poster child for weird occupations. In case your project might include some of the stranger things that people are employed to do, here’s a few I can recommend:

Animal feeder (zoo or large farm)
Model for sculpture, drawing, painting classes. Artists model for sculptor (plaster casts of body-parts)
Garbage Collector
Nursery Worker (Grape vines, fruit trees)
Drug rehab worker (Not the Psych, just the schlub)
Scaffold Builder
Historic Restoration Carpenter
Translator
Janitor
Chauffer/driver

Linda H Sittig
2 years ago

I need help with:
photographer
milliner
artist

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

Timi V
2 years ago

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

Lilith Darville
2 years ago

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

Nada Adel Sobhi
2 years ago

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?

Gold Panda
Gold Panda
2 years ago

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

Erika Flanigan Rose
2 years ago

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

Linda
Linda
2 years ago

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

Rahma
2 years ago

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!

Julie Reich
Julie Reich
3 years ago

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.

EJ Smyth
3 years ago

Graphic artist, graphic designer, manga / comic book artist

EJ Smyth
3 years ago

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!!

Roanne King
3 years ago

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.

Bonnie Johnston
Bonnie Johnston
3 years ago

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!).

Linda
3 years ago

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)

Mary Breslin
3 years ago

Middle school teacher
Graphic designer

Carol Schoenig
Carol Schoenig
3 years ago

*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