Updated: Feb 24
Jobs. We all gotta get 'em, unfortunately. And even in a galaxy far, far away or a magical realm from another dimension, everyone has to make a living somehow.
But there are some jobs that don't make enough of an appearance in science fiction or fantasy--jobs that have a lot of potential, but tend to be forgotten. So I made a list of some professions we should see more often in these genres, as well as some we see a bit too often.
Please note: This list is not meant to tell you that your writing is bland or boring if it features any of the professions listed as seen too often. Many of the professions I added to that category are ones that are seen often for a reason: because they're fun and people like to see them, myself included! They just tend to overshadow other professions that would also be pretty cool to see. But it in no way is an indication of how good or bad your story is. And anyway, I'm just a Noodle. Do you, babes!
Not Enough: Handler of Unusual Creatures
What Is It? The term used is different depending on the story itself, but the job is nonetheless the same: a person whose job it is to care for unusual or dangerous creatures.
Why Should We See It More? We do see it occasionally. There's a certain movie franchise by a certain author who I will not name because she's a TERF, but I will admit I loved the premise of it even if the execution left a lot to be desired. There's also, of course, the Jurassic Park series as well as some lesser known series like the Syfy show Sanctuary, about a sanctuary for creatures of urban legend.
But come on. It's such a cool premise. And you don't have to limit yourself to fantasy or mythology. The animals of our ordinary world are absolutely nuts, so imagine the kind of creatures you could cook up in your big ol' writer brain. Are they friendly? Hostile? If hostile, how do the natives keep them at bay? What traits and instincts have they evolved to have over time? What makes them different from the average animal you might see here on Earth? How are those in captivity taken care of?
How Can You Use It? Maybe you can write about a ghost who cares for spectral animals still wandering the mortal plane, or a god/goddess who cares for the animals that inhabit heaven or hell. Or ooo, how about a scientist who both studies and cares for genetically altered or cybernetic animals? Or a native on an alien planet who runs an animal sanctuary? An animal sanctuary for cryptids or mythical beasts? I don't know, but show me majestic gryphons and terrifying dragons and I'll be satisfied.
Too Often: Noble
What Is It? While I don't consider nobility to be an actual profession (eat the rich, ra ra ra!), nobles nonetheless make frequent appearances in fantasy and sometimes science fiction. They are individuals usually born into a position of wealth, power, and influence. They own most of the land, work with the ruler of the region (usually in exchange for tiny little favors like the implementation of laws that work exclusively in their favor), and work to climb the social ladder on the backs of the peasants working the land they own.
Why Is It Seen So Often? Wishful thinking, I suppose? We all like to imagine ourselves as important, glamorous, and influential. But most of us will never have that kind of wealth and resources in many lifetimes, so all we can do is imagine what it would be like if we did.
Not to mention the fact that political intrigue always makes for some great armrest-gripping, nail-biting drama. There are few things more satisfying to a viewer than seeing the underdog claw their way to the top of the social hierarchy, or watching politicians ruthlessly stab each other in the back for more power. So it is inevitable that we will see this profession very, very often, and I can't deny that I enjoy seeing it too.
How Can You Use It? Make them the villain more often. Nobles are the epitome of the stuck up rich kid with the audacity to lecture the working class on the importance of saving and investing money when they were born with that money or the means to make it. And you can still have the political intrigue of nobility vs. nobility while pointing out their greed and relentless exploitation of the working class.
I just want to see nobles portrayed as the greedy villain a bit more often, and as the philanthropic hero who comes to the rescue of the helpless poor a little less often.
Not Enough: Galactic Tour Guide
What Is It? Someone who guides visitors through a destination, pointing out objects and buildings of historical significance, handing out fun facts about the place like it's candy, and answering tourists' questions. Yes, even "Where is the nearest bathroom?".
Why Should We See It More? Let's be honest: most speculative fiction writers enjoy the worldbuilding part a lot more than the actual, well, writing part. We spend hours developing everything from the climate and native plant life to entire civilizations, cultures, traditions, and conflicts. But usually, most of the worldbuilding we cook up never sees the light of day.
Writing a story from the perspective of a tour guide and their wide-eyed vacationing clients presents the opportunity for the reader to see absolutely everything. There is limitless potential because the entire galaxy is your setting. And you can make your story as silly or as serious as you want.
How Can You Use It? Whatever way you want, really. And while I mostly thought of this profession as one that would appear in science fiction as a tour guide traversing the stars, it ultimately comes down to an experienced traveler leading some little ducklings around, and that can happen anywhere. For example, you could write an urban fantasy where humans who have never encountered monsters before book tours to see major monster hangouts. Or a sci-fi tour through alternate dimensions. Or some kind of demon tour guide leading a bunch of demon tourists to where the biggest sins are committed.
Just make sure that, whatever you decide, at least some of the tourists behave like turds. It's more realistic that way.
Too Often: Mage
What Is It? A person gifted in the magical arts--either through practice or by natural or deity-given ability--who uses it for anything from combat to more practical applications. Types of magic can include conjuration, druidism, necromancy, holy magic, alchemy, and so on.
Why Is It Seen So Often? I gotta admit, I love seeing mages in stories. And part of it is a kind of wishful thinking. Wouldn't we all like to be able to shoot lightning bolts from our fingertips or turn a hated coworker into a toad with a wave of the hand?
Yes. Yes, we would.
I don't include this one here (or any of them, really) as a "You shouldn't do this anymore" kinda thing, but more of a "Let's go absolutely nuts with it!" kinda thing instead. Magic is limitless. You can make it as common or as uncommon as you want, as powerful or as weak as you want, as widely accepted or taboo as you want, and as traditional or bizarre as you want.
How Can You Use It? Use abilities that don't get used as often! Give us more stories about what it's like to study magic and prove yourself as a fully-fledged mage. More stories about what it's like to be a low-level mage rather than the Chosen One destined to save the realm from a great evil. Give us more harmony between magic and technology rather than a complete separation of the two.
And for me, above all, dear god, give me more mundane utility in stories! Give me chefs using fire magic to cook their food to perfection. Give me beauticians who make love potions and enchanted jewelry. Give me therapists who can divine when their client is having a hard time. Give me all of the problems that magic can solve and all of morally questionable uses of magic and its consequences as well.
Not Enough: Bard
Shout out to my wonderful dad for this entry. He is a big sci-fi/fantasy fan and immediately mentioned bards as a criminally underrated profession in speculative fiction.
What Is It? A bard is someone who sings songs, tells jokes, and enraptures audiences with tales of legendary heroes and monsters. Bards are most often seen in D&D campaigns, where they are capable of dealing damage through ruthless mockery, charming enemies, and even healing with a word. But aside from that, they don't make many appearances in fantasy. Or if they do, it's as the comic relief side character.
Why Should We See It More? Because bards are a great representation of the power of the arts and storytelling. The arts are why most of us have the will to live (if we're being honest), and stories have the power to shape, well, everything. Why not embrace a profession that celebrates that?
How Can You Use It? You could have the traditional bard with a lute singing songs and contributing to battles more indirectly than directly, but you could also have a story that focuses specifically on what it's like to be a bard. How do you train? Is it like learning to sing or act like we do in our own world? What is the difference between a bard with magic and a normal actor or musician? Are the bards in your world capable of charming foes, insulting someone so deeply that it damages their psyche, or telling jokes that make crowds fall into bouts of uncontrollable laughter a la Tasha's Hideous Laughter?
You can modernize the profession as well, featuring bards in urban fantasy or even science fiction stories. When I think of doing this, I think of Ife Oshun's Blood to Blood. While the protagonist, Angelica Brown, is not a bard the way we usually think of them, she is an immortal Shimshana, capable of both healing and causing unimaginable destruction with her singing voice. She can heal with one note and inflict tortuous, fiery pain with another. Hell, she can even freeze time if she's angry enough, and she must control her power if she wants to become a famous pop singer.
Gimme bards like that! Bards that can mind control entire crowds of people with just a song, or curse someone to laugh themselves to death with a single well-timed joke. Or maybe even a bard so powerful that they can transport listeners into a story as its own, self-contained universe.
All of this is just to say: bards are badass. Feature them more, and give them more stuff to do.
Too Often: Astronaut
What Is It? A traveler of outer space.
Why Is It Seen So Often? They are perhaps one of the most common professions featured in science fiction, mostly because there are so many storylines that involve visiting new planets, encountering aliens, stopping some massive disaster like an asteroid impact, or escaping a dying Earth to find a new home. They're the tether to our planet and the universe as we understand it, but also the opportunity to discover something new.
They're particularly popular because "Who or what else could be out there besides us?" is one of the biggest questions humanity has asked since...forever. And lately, the relatively new question of "Since our planet is dying before our very eyes, is it possible to colonize another one?" is also a pretty frequent one.
So I don't expect that media speculating the answer to those questions from the perspective of astronauts will end anytime soon.
How Can You Use It? Honestly, I like seeing astronauts in sci-fi. I've never been a big fan of sci-fi thriller type movies like Gravity because when I say I like speculative fiction, I mean speculative. Like, "What would happen if the astronauts in the story encountered aliens?" kind of speculative.
This is another profession that presents you with infinite possibilities. Arguably even more so than the Galactic Tour Guide because a tour guide who is used to traveling across the galaxy may not run into as many surprises and obstacles as astronauts seeing these things for the first time. You could have your astronaut protagonists cross into an alternate dimension, encounter alien civilizations, travel through a time warp, or learn of some vast galactic federation that has kept humanity excluded either because they look down on us or because they fear us. Yeah, I kind of channeled Rick and Morty with that one.
Not Enough: Customer Service Rep
Genre: Either, and probably Horror too
What Is It? An employee tasked with checking out purchases, processing returns, answering customers' questions, handling issues with a product or service, etc, etc.
Why Should We See It More? Few things will show you the horrors of your fellow man faster than working customer service. Being expected to maintain complete politeness and professionalism while dealing with angry customers who know you're not allowed to talk back to them without the risk of losing your job and income...it's...it's a lot.
Customer service is a profession that can exist no matter where your story is set. We see it sometimes; one way I think of it is as the side gig that some characters in an urban fantasy might have to maintain some sense of normalcy while they're working to tame the budding vampirism or the ancient magic growing inside of them that they didn't know they possessed and have no clue how to control.
Like it or not, a lot of us have to interact with people as part of our jobs. And that sucks. People suck. And lots of them really suck. Might as well put a supernatural spin on it and make it a bit more entertaining, eh?
How Can You Use It? Like I said, customer service is everywhere. You could write a story about what it's like working tech support for some kind of super futuristic and potentially dangerous product like a time machine or a portal. You could write about a werewolf trying to control their rage while dealing with a total Karen who keeps trying to process a return without a receipt. You could write about what it's like to work at a grocery store where all of the customers are literal monsters. Or how about working at a bookstore that sells spellbooks, or working as an assistant to a vendor at a bazaar in your fantasy world?
Just make sure to name at least one character Karen. Preferably the villain. Hey, I don't make the rules.
Too Often: Military
What Is It? A person who is part of the fighting force of a nation.
Why Is It Seen So Often? "War. War never changes."
Not to be all depressing or whatever, but the reality is that we're a species so used to conflict with one another that we really can't imagine an existence without it. Both science fiction and fantasy are rife with war stories, usually as the major plot point that drives the rest of the story forward. Even in our wildest dreams, many of us can't imagine a world where war doesn't exist.
It's also just a really obvious conflict to focus on in your story. What better way to give the characters something to fear than an outside nation threatening the home and people they love? Classic fantasy stories in particular had a big focus on war, with fantasy races like drow, orcs, goblins, and giants serving as the dangerous and violent warmongers eager to sack and burn every village they come across.
How Can You Use It? Well, you can try not using it. What would a world without war be like? Is it a world where everyone gets along and there is no conflict at all, or is there some other threat that makes war a very low priority?
I'm also a fan of stories that focus on the horrors of the profession more than the notions of glory. What is it like to live in a village razed to the ground by wizards serving the other side? Or to know someone killed along with billions of other people by a super weapon like the Death Star? Or to be conscripted into a war you don't believe in?
There are many books, shows, movies, and especially video games that tend to paint war as an action-packed, exciting path to glory. And because many of us will never know what it's like to be in the middle of a warzone, we reinforce this idea that it's necessary and inevitable, a part of life. I think it would be cool to see more stories that, y'know, don't do that so much.
Not Enough: Diplomat
What Is It? A country's representative tasked with handling relations with other nations.
Why Should We See It More? Who better to feature in a story to really show off your worldbuilding in a way that also moves the plot along, than someone whose job it is to maintain a relationship with countries all around the world? As someone who, as you might have already noticed, is obsessed with the worldbuilding far more than the storytelling, I would love any excuse to get to explore as much of the world I built as possible. Seeing it through the eyes of someone travels that world to maintain relationships with regions everywhere is a great way to do that. It's also a chance to feature multiple different cultures and experiences, since many speculative fiction stories have a tendency to just model their countries after the West.
I also just like the idea of countries that probably have vastly different values, cultures, religions, and traditions at least making some kind of effort to get along.
How Can You Use It? Like the Galactic Tour Guide, you could get really creative with the kinds of problems your main character comes across as a diplomat working towards peace between nations. What if your protagonist was a tiny little six-inch tall person trying form an alliance with a nation of people fifty feet tall? Or a vampire diplomat negotiating with a country of werewolves? Or a diplomat from a planet of magic users trying to make peace with a civilization that shuns magic?
Ultimately, it's about overcoming differences and developing friendships. And that's adorable.
Too Often: Hacker
What Is It? Someone who breaches computer security systems, usually for some kind of important data to sell or ransom.
Why Is It Seen So Often? In sci-fi and action, there often has to be some kind of super important information that needs to be extracted for the heroes to succeed. But how do you do that?
You get a hacker.
A shadowy, suspicious-looking fellow who knows computers inside and out and can hack into anything. Anything. Give 'em enough time and they could even hack your grandmother if they wanted to. They're just that good.
We see hackers often because they're something of a staple in sci-fi. In stories that revolve heavily around technology, it makes sense to have a character who rebels against the system by turning the power of technology against their oppressors. Or, of course, you can even have the hackers who work for themselves and only themselves, hacking things for profit or to cause some mayhem.
How Can You Use It? I mean, you can use it the same way it's always been used, even if it does get used pretty often. Maybe be a little less chessy about it than most people tend to be ("I've hacked into the mainframe, eureka!"). It would also be cool to have more stories that focus specifically on what it's like to be a hacker rather than having one show up halfway through the story to help the actual protagonists find some kind of important info.
What's it like being a hacker in a dystopian future? Or a hacker in a utopian future finding information that proves that things aren't as perfect as they seem? Or how about a *morally grey* hacker who ransoms information that could destroy lives and reputations? A hacker in a society where most people have some kind of cybernetic implant? How would they wield that kind of power?
Look, I don't know how hacking works. But some kind of cybernetic puppet master sounds pretty damn cool, right?
Not Enough: Sanitation Worker
What Is It? Someone who keeps a place clean, well-maintained, and free of potential health hazards.
Why Should We See It More? I'm not sure where we'd be without this profession, but if you're like me, then you'd probably be buried up to your nose in a pile of garbage in a matter of weeks.
We do not see this profession much at all, regardless of genre, but it's a vital one and one that I'm sure sees and overhears a lot of crazy, unexplainable stuff. The way to make this profession speculative is simple: where is their job located? Or what does the protagonist come across one day at work that turns their life upside down?
How Can You Use It? How about a palace servant overhearing a noble making a crazy revelation while tidying up, and suddenly they're in the middle of this huge political conflict? Or a garbage man finding some kind of magical or extraterrestrial object on the job (thanks Kristen!)? What's it like to be a janitor aboard a colony ship or repairing an interdimensional portal? How dangerous is it to be the one maintaining equipment and keeping the halls of an SCP Foundation-like organization clean?
There is plenty of untapped potential in featuring sanitation workers in speculative fiction. You just have to determine how used to seeing the weird shit the protagonist might be.
Too Often: Bodyguard/Henchman
What Is It? Someone tasked with protecting a person or object of importance: a politician, billionaire, CEO, celebrity, highly sensitive information, weapons, money, etc.
Why Is It Seen So Often? It's not that it's seen too often so much as that it's always portrayed the same way: a nameless minion that is very quickly dispatched by one of the main characters without a second thought. And don't even get me started on the Batman-esque, "kill every henchman I come across until I reach the primary antagonist, at which point killing is beneath me and would make me no better than the villain, so I'll let him live" schtick.
Henchmen, no matter whose side they're on, are always very disposable, incompetent, and forgettable. And that makes me sad.
How Can You Use It? Make the henchmen the main characters! I mean, they've seen some shit, I'm sure. What is it like to be a minion of a supervillain, just trying to make ends meet? Or the protector of a super important politician being targeted by some shadowy organization? What is it like to be just a normal dude with no remarkable abilities to speak of, tasked with getting in the middle of a clash of the titans?
I will take a moment to plug Jon Aaron Sandler's wonderful Stories & Pierogis events, where he features great author readings and great food. At one such event, we heard from Natalie Zina Walschots, author of Hench, a book that focuses on a henchwoman caught in a bad situation thanks to one of the very superheroes society worships. So she takes matters into her own hands.
That's cool as hell, yo. And a lot more realistic than many of the superhero or action stories we're used to seeing.
The truth is, in a world with magic or superpowers, most of us are still far more likely to end up in the position of the henchman than we are any of the heroes or villains. Show us that the minions can be cool and badass, too.
And that's it! I hope you enjoyed seeing some professions we don't see enough (and some we see a bit too often). Hey, I'll make you a deal. If you write some kind of short story with any of the professions mentioned in this article, send it to me at email@example.com and I'd be happy to edit/beta read it for you!
For this post, I'd like to give a special thanks to the beautiful Essi V. Stelander, who has been a supporter of my site almost since I started it, and a Patron pretty much since the moment I got a Patreon!
She is a wonderful member of the writing community on Twitter; one of those people you know will have your back when you need them. Not only is she one of the sweetest people you could ever meet, but she's also a total badass who I am so, so honored to know.
Thank you Essi for all of your love and support and for making the world (and Twitter!) a brighter place. If you do not follow this magnificent human on Twitter, I highly recommend that you do.
-Bree/The Angry Noodle
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