The Character-Building Detail Writers Shouldn’t Overlook

The farther I get into this writing and coaching career, the more I find myself talking about details and how important it is to get them right. Whether we’re figuring out which backstory information to include or are writing characterization, settings, and physical descriptions, there’s SO much we could write into our stories. But we all know the drawbacks of throwing everything into the soup. Less is usually more, so we have to choose carefully which details will make it into the final draft.

As most of you know, Angela and I are getting ready to release our next book. The Occupation Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Jobs, Vocations, and Careers is set to release on July 20th, and we couldn’t be more stoked—even though this book got off to a slow start for us.

As writers, we don’t always spend a ton of time figuring out what our characters’ jobs will be. I mean, if we’re writing about a ship captain getting lost at sea, the choice is obvious. But overall, how often do we think about making occupations part of the plot? Angela and I wanted to explore their importance, but would authors see the value in a book focused on careers? I mean, most of the time, the character’s job is ancillary and doesn’t really matter, right?

As we worked up the instructive content for this book, we found more and more reasons why jobs DO matter and how they can power up your storytelling. Our excitement ramped up with each connection we made. And we hope you’re getting excited too, because it’s chock full of information on how the character’s job can make YOUR job easier.

To give you a sneak peak, we’d like to offer a preview of what this book covers and why the information is vital for writers. So read on, and let us know what you think.


Wherever you are on the creative path, sooner or later one question pokes its way to the center of your thoughts: What does it take to become a masterful storyteller?

The answer? So many possibilities. Is it tenacity—a butt-in-chair mentality that keeps authors chipping away at their stories, no matter how many drafts it takes to get it right? Is it hard-won knowledge acquired from thousands of hours of focused reading, studying, and applying one’s craft? Is it a passion for uncovering a character’s deepest layers to give readers realistic players who have desires, fears, and vulnerabilities just as they do?

Honestly, it would be hard to list all the contributing factors for becoming a great storyteller, but one thing is certain: skilled writers display a willingness to see the job through. Whether they are researching, planning, drafting, or revising, they seek to unearth what’s meaningful, which requires paying careful attention to the details.

And details? Well, they matter—in careers, life, and storytelling.

Let’s consider the focal point of any work of fiction: the protagonist. We know that readers respond to the ones who are relatable and interesting and whose behaviors make sense within the story. To create characters like these, we authors must know a lot about them: their personality traits, emotional wounds, passions, hobbies, quirks, and so much more. These details are important because they’ll reinforce our protagonists’ desires, goals, fears, and needs, which, in turn, define their arcs and determine their actions throughout the story.

One detail often overlooked by writers is the character’s occupation. Perhaps it seems insignificant—an aspect of characterization that simply rounds the character out rather than lending strength to the story. And if this were the case, a writer could just assign their character a profession they’ve personally done or that they find fascinating, and move on. But here’s the thing: used to their full potential, occupations can be powerful drivers in the story, helping to characterize, steer the plot, generate conflict, reveal dysfunction, and provide a route for character arc growth—and that’s just to start.

So, insignificant? Not in the slightest. Because a job can influence so many story factors, careful thought should go into selecting one.

Think about this from your own perspective. When it comes to your current occupation (or past jobs), were they chosen randomly, without much thought? Probably not. You may have been drawn to them because of your interests and areas of giftedness or because the job met a need, such as supporting your family or making a difference in the world. Maybe it was a simple matter of convenience and what was available. Regardless, there were reasons behind every employment decision you’ve made.

The same should be true for our characters. If we choose their jobs thoughtfully, readers will have a better understanding of who they are, what skills they possess, and their motivations and priorities. Not only do jobs provide valuable characterization indicators, they tie into the plot itself, providing characters with the abilities and knowledge they’ll need to succeed or by creating obstacles to hinder them along the way.


If you find any of this intriguing or thought-provoking, consider hanging around the blog for the next little while because we’ll be exploring this more, both at Writers Helping Writers and around the blogosphere.

View the full list of jobs covered in this book

See a sample entry (FIREFIGHTER)

Check out the latest reviews and add The Occupation Thesaurus to Your Goodreads Shelf


Now, we’re definitely living in weird times, and it seems like every time we get online, we’re bombarded with bad news, division, people being nasty to each other, and near-constant negativity. To keep things in perspective, I’ve had to downgrade my social media usage, and I’m sure some of you have, too. If you’d like to stay updated on our progress without having to spend too much time on Facebook or Twitter, you can always sign up for our newsletter and get news about The Occupation Thesaurus delivered right to your inbox.

Before You Go…

Angela’s on a virtual road trip, visiting Jami Gold’s blog to talk about How To Craft A Relationship that Matters by making each character the other’s PERFECT MATCH. Stop by and say hello!


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.
This entry was posted in Characters, Occupation Thesaurus, Show Don't Tell, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Resources. Bookmark the permalink.
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[…] This is shortsighted. The details are what make a story shine. When we hand-select the ones that tie into numerous elements, they anchor everything together, building a sturdy foundation for a story with depth. One detail that can accomplish this is the character’s job. […]


[…] The Character Building Detail Writers Shouldn’t Overlook […]

Sacha Black
Sacha Black
6 months ago

You just gave me an epiphany. I was totally choosing a job for my protagonist in my next book as a typical job for a teen. Now I’ve thought of the perfect job to embody the book’s theme! WINNING. Thank you so much for this post.

6 months ago
Reply to  Sacha Black