The Occupation Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi: A Review

The Occupation Thesaurus is the 7th and latest in the line of writers’ guides. As usual, the thesaurus begins with a series of informative articles geared toward how to use occupation to define a character. It begins with a discussion of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and why a character might be motivated to choose a particular career. Discussions regarding how careers characterize, how jobs can create tension and conflict, and how a character’s occupation can be used for character arcs and theme. The articles are well-researched and allow a writer to brainstorm ideas for story. Some tips on using occupations round out the well-researched articles before we get into the meat of the thesaurus: the list of over 100 occupations.

The occupations run the gamut from the ordinary (Chef, Barista, Lawyer) to the unconventional (Dream Interpreter, Food Critic, Personal Assistant to a Celebrity) to the unusual (Ethical Hacker, Food Stylist, Professional Mourner). It is not an exhaustive list (where is my YouTube/Social Media star? Podcaster is close, I suppose). I know I’ll be looking up the Professional Mourner and Crime Scene Cleaner for my upcoming novel.

Each entry is a two-page spread which includes a brief overview of the occupation, the necessary training, and a list of useful skills and traits someone entering this job might have. If that wasn’t enough, the thesaurus also provides sources of friction, how the occupation would impact a character and how to twist the stereotypes: every- thing necessary to brainstorm ideas about character or plot or provide a jumping-off point to begin research into these professions.

As per usual, the entries are well-researched and detailed. They cover a wide- range of occupations you might find in contemporary North America, but may have to be adjusted if an author is writing outside of those geographic or temporal boundaries.

Is this an essential book? Does it rank up there with the best thesauri Ms. Ackerman and Ms. Puglisi have produced? No. The only one of their thesauri I consider essential is The Emotion Thesaurus. However, as another book about character, it ranks up there with the Positive and Negative Traits books and the Emotional Wound Thesaurus for designing characters. It provides yet another detailed examination of a way to define a character.

And like all the other thesaurus’ in the series, I’ll be purchasing a hard-copy for my writers’ reference bookshelf as soon as it is released.

All in all, this is a worthy addition to the thesauri that Ackerman and Puglisi have written. It is well-researched and covers a wide range of occupations. It is not an essential resource, but I still plan on getting my own hard copy to put on my shelf when I need to brainstorm some ideas.

I received an ARC of The Occupation Thesaurus in exchange for an honest review. 

4.5 Stars out of 5

Wuhan Add Fuel!

(Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Hello World! I’m back after a long hiatus. Things on this site are about to change radically. More soon.

As the novel coronavirus spreads across the world, I was reminded about the city at the centre of this pandemic crisis: Wuhan, Hubei Province, China.

I saw a video on YouTube of people all across Wuhan shouting out their windows “Wuhan Jiayou!”. Literally translated, it meant “Wuhan, add fuel.” When I saw that, I didn’t know what it meant to “add fuel?” So I looked it up.

According to Wikipedia (I know, I know. I take this with a grain of salt), the term “add fuel” originated during the Macau Grand Prix in the 1960’s. Spectators would shout “Ga Yau” (Cantonese for “add fuel”) at their favourite car. The phrase implied that the driver should step harder on the gas pedal and accelerate. It was also a metaphor for injecting fuel into a tank. Over time, the phrase morphed in meaning to “don’t give up!”, “do your best!”, or “persist!”. It is now meant as a form of encouragement and often heard at sporting events.

So Wuhan Jiayou! roughly means “Stay strong, Wuhan.” Don’t give up. Without being able to leave their homes and gather, the people of Wuhan have found a way to support each other despite adversity and to show the world the true spirit of their city.

What does this have to do with writing, you ask? The literal translation of Wuhan Jiayou is a colourful metaphor only those who know the culture and language would immediately understand. Plus, it gives me a perspective on the culture I would not get from the rough translation which, although uplifting and heartwarming, does not give me an intimate understanding that the former does.

And although my Chinese and Japanese ancestry gives me some perspective on the culture seen from afar, the lack of language means I miss out on these colourful nuances to the point that when it is pointed out to me, I feel sheepish, as if I should have known better.

And when I am writing stories with characters from those cultures, their voice will get lost within my own, very western voice. The colourful phrases and idioms that are so common to that language would become non-existent. It means I have to be careful.

As Lian Hearn says in her excellent essay Writing About Other Cultures, “all languages construct and describe the world in a slightly different way: you need to know the idioms and every day speech of your characters, what common symbols mean to them, what their belief system is, and use words that are appropriate.” And when you do write in their voice, “better to try to give the flavour of (the language) through the subtle use of sentence construction and idioms.

My own experience is so different from those who live and breathe in Asia. My cultural understanding is filtered through a Canadian lens and what I understand as Asian custom and culture, is in fact, just family quirks passed down as such. “You should never have an empty rice bowl when eating.” Said one aunt. I can’t find anyone who says this is a Chinese custom. “Spring roll parties are a thing,” said no one outside of my wife’s family. Where do they get these ideas? Is that real Asian culture or just something passed down the family tree? I don’t know and any research I do I come up blank.

So for those in Wuhan, I say “Jiayou.” Stay strong. The world is with you and watching as the novel coronavirus wends its way around the globe. In the meantime, I’ll continue to write my stories and continue to watch and learn the idioms of languages of a people who may look like me, but speak very differently.

And I find that fascinating.