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. 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.
Overview: Taxidermists are trained in the art of animal preservation, restoring a variety of animals to a lifelike state, drawing out their original beauty and strength. Taxidermists often have specialties, which may include pets, fish, reptiles, birds, small animals, or large game. They may have a small shop where they handle pets and local wildlife, or may focus more on animal trophies (either in an area where many hunter frequent, or as more of a commercial operation that deals in exotic animals). A few highly skilled taxidermists also work with natural history museums, creating displays used for educational purposes and repairing items already in the collection.
Taxidermists are both male and female and view their profession as artistic. Most are very passionate about recreating the breath of life through their work. It requires a certain artistic eye and attention to detail as certain aspects of the animal must be incorporated in the preservation, such as an accurate account of muscles in movement so this can be recreated in death. Some practitioners in this field will take on any job that they feel skilled to handle as work can be sporadic or revolve around hunting seasons, while others have ethical boundaries and so they avoid certain jobs (such as preserving endangered animals or those shot for sport). They take a great deal of pride in their work.
Overall, taxidermists see a variety of clients—hunters looking to obtain trophies, pet lovers struggling to release an animal companion, and people who find dead animals and want to preserve the beauty of their forms.
Necessary Training: There are several certificate and diploma programs for this field but a degree is not necessary. Courses cover anatomy, interpreting reference material, and the mounting techniques, processes, and tool handling required to prepare carcasses. Students also learn how to treat and tan skins, feathers and furs, how to create habitat construction, work with forms, as well as become proficient in air brushing and other finishing procedures. Often people get their start by apprenticing under a licensed taxidermist, learning on the job and taking classes as they need them or to specialize in a particular area.
A person is required to have a license to practice, they may need special permits to work with migratory birds or endangered species, and they must abide by regulations set by fish and wildlife. The exact licenses or permits may vary depending on the location of your taxidermist, so if this factors into the story set in a real-world location, make sure to do your research.
A great deal of research into an animal is needed to understand their structure and movement to ensure a lifelike end product. Taxidermists usually have an impressive collection of reference books, pictures, and videos to help them with the shaping of subjects that they work on. If they own their own businesses, some skills in management and accounting is also needed to manage accounts, pay bills, and balance the books.
Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: a way with animals, carpentry, empathy, multitasking, photographic memory, repurposing, sculpting, sewing, strategic thinking
Helpful Character Traits: calm, cautious, centered, creative, focused, imaginative, independent, nature-focused, observant, resourceful, talented, thrifty
Sources of Friction: clients who don’t pay or who have impossible demands, being asked to prepare an animal that was an illegal kill, people who discriminate against one for the type of work one does, having difficulties keeping a seasonal business afloat, being asked to work on animal when one has ethical concerns, making a mistake when preparing an animal that causes it to be misshapen or ruined in some way, a break-in
People They Might Interact With: neighbors, hunters, wildlife officers, commercial agencies, delivery people, locals
How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:
- Self-Actualization: A character who sees this career as their life’s work as a way to honor the dead by giving them beauty in death would be devastated if an accident or illness damaged their ability in some way (the steadiness of their hands, vision problems, etc.)
- Esteem and Recognition: Characters in this job may struggle to be given the recognition they deserve for their artistry because many view it as a morbid practice, not a creative pursuit
- Love and Belonging: Building loving relationships with a romantic partner may be an obstacle as potential partners could be turned off by this type of profession
Common Work-Related Settings: basement, bookstore, garage, hardware store, taxidermist, workshop
Twisting the Stereotype:
- Taxidermists are often men, so choosing a woman might be a way to freshen this profession
- A taxidermist who was especially known for taking on taboo projects (displaying animals in a way that depicts cruelty, not compassion…or even using human subjects) might also be an interesting alternative
- How about a taxidermist who uses this career as a way to build his own private collection…that would cause a lot of embarrassment or even legal action if discovered?
- A taxidermist known for creating humor with his subjects (dressing up animals in human clothing, hats, and props, or creating diorama habitats where the animal is drinking with friends, playing cards, betting on a horse-race or other fun, ironic, or even poignant scenarios) might create sought after collector pieces. This might “soften” the attitude people have toward this profession so they see it in a more creative and “art-like” light.