Occupational Thesaurus Entry: Interpreter

Jobs are as important for our characters as they are for real people. A character’s career might be their dream job or one they’ve chosen due to necessity. In your story, they might be trying to get that job or are already working in the field. Whatever the situation, as with any defining aspect for your character, you’ll need to do the proper research to be able to write that career knowledgeably.

Enter the Occupation Thesaurus. Here, you’ll find important background information on a variety of career options for your character. In addition to the basics, we’ll also be covering related info that relates to character arc and story planning, such as sources of conflict (internal and external) and how the job might impact basic human needs, thereby affecting the character’s goals. (See this post for more information on this connection.) It’s our hope that this thesaurus will share some of your research burden while also giving you ideas about your character’s occupation that you might not have considered before.

interpreter, character occupations writing a story fiction writing characterization

Occupation: Interpreter

Overview: An interpreter is someone who orally or through sign language translates one person’s words into a different language. This is different from a translator who does essentially the same thing but with words in a written format, such as in books or documents. Interpreters work most often in hospitals, schools, and courtrooms, but they also can work at conferences, in political arenas, with the police when language barriers are preventing communication, and other situations. They may work with a an interpreter company or do freelance work. On long or challenging jobs, they can work in teams as a way of combating mental fatigue. They can work on-site or offer their services remotely, even from home.

Necessary Training: Most interpreters need a bachelor’s degree and all of them must be  proficient in at least two languages. While further language training isn’t required, the more experience one has with a given language, the better; so having spent time immersed in the language and culture may give someone a leg up of the competition. Those working in certain fields, such as the medical field or courtroom, may need technical training in that area to bring them up to speed.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilitiesa knack for languages, charm, enhanced hearing, exceptional memory, good listening skills, lip-reading, multitasking, reading people, extreme focus

Helpful Character Traits: charming, confident, cooperative, courteous, decisive, diplomatic, focused, friendly, honest, honorable, just, objective, observant, professional, simple, studious

Sources of Friction: Impatient clients who expect immediate and perfect translations, showing up for a job and being asked to interpret a language one isn’t as comfortable with, not knowing the context of the conversation being spoken and being unable to interpret it accurately, a sickness that makes it difficult to focus, noisy environmental distractions that make it difficult to hear, hearing something that gives birth to a moral conflict (hearing something that would be in one’s best interest or the interests of others to interpret incorrectly, being asked by a client to interpret something incorrectly to someone else), mental fatigue from a long day of interpreting compromising one’s ability to work, a competitor who is more knowledgeable in a preferred language than one is, having to take on interpretation jobs that aren’t stimulating or interesting, working with a fellow interpreter who isn’t up to the job (due to ineptitude, inebriation, or illness), workplace politics that ensures the most desired jobs go to someone who isn’t necessarily the best, friction with family members due to the amount of time one spends traveling on the job, uncooperative suspects or witnesses who use the language barrier to avoid incriminating themselves (suspects) or getting involved (witnesses, especially those worried about immigration or repercussions of helping the police)

People They Might Interact With: other interpreters, administrators within the firm where one works, people specific to each job’s working environment (doctors, nurses, medical patients, lawyers, judges, social workers, administrators, students and parents, teachers, diplomats, leaders of foreign countries, CEOs and other business people, the police, etc.)

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Love and Belonging: Someone in this field would likely have a love for the language(s) of their preference, and if a spouse or significant other showed no interest in learning that language or exploring the culture, it could cause friction. Problems may also arise if the interpreter’s job requires frequent travel.
  • Esteem and Recognition: This need could take a hit if the character’s level of skill in a certain language is surpassed by a co-worker’s—someone who seems to flourish without having to try while the character has to work like a dog to remain proficient.
  • Self-Actualization: As with any career, self-actualization becomes compromised if the job is no longer fulfilling to the character. Ask yourself: why did they pursue this job in the first place? What (if anything) has changed that makes them now unhappy in this career? Is there another occupation they’d rather have? What is it, and why?

Common Work-Related Settings: courtroom, hospital room, principal’s office, boardroom, juvenile detention center, police station, black-tie event, limousine, airplane, office cubicle, government buildings and offices, embassies, hostage situations


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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3 Responses to Occupational Thesaurus Entry: Interpreter

  1. Pingback: Writing Links…11/20/17 – Where Genres Collide

  2. My husband is a linguist/translator and you nailed this one! The toughest type of interpretation is simultaneous (what is done at the United Nations, for example). The interpreter has to think in two languages at once, and remember what was just said while listening to what is currently being said and while interpreting what was just said. Person needs to pretty much be bilingual from childhood.

    Can’t wait for this thesaurus to come out!!

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