"Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression" over a pile of white word pieces with various emotions (i.e., "anger," "amusement") in big black letters on each tile.

Writerly Advice: Get and Use The Emotion Thesaurus

I don’t know about you other writers, but sometimes I’ve struggled to find different ways to show character’s emotions, rather than tell. I think it’s part of every writer’s journey to learn the difference between showing and telling (e.g., “she cried” vs. “she felt sad”) then think of the myriad ways in which emotion can be shown, and then  effectively show character emotions with voice and style. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, is definitely a book that has helped me on that journey, and I highly recommend it to anyone seriously looking to improve their writing abilities.

What Is The Emotion Thesaurus About?

From Amazon:

One of the biggest problem areas for writers is conveying a character’s emotions to the reader in a unique, compelling way. This book comes to the rescue by highlighting 75 emotions and listing the possible body language cues, thoughts, and visceral responses for each. Using its easy-to-navigate list format, readers can draw inspiration from character cues that range in intensity to match any emotional moment. The Emotion Thesaurus also tackles common emotion-related writing problems and provides methods to overcome them. This writing tool encourages writers to show, not tell emotion and is a creative brainstorming resource for any fiction project.

For each of 75 emotions, there is a definition and lists of physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses, cues of acute or long-term states of that emotion, cues of suppressed versions of that emotion, and tips. The lists of physical signals are usually the longest, which is very helpful, and the internal sensations shorter. As I’ve done more and more book research, talked to more and more people, and read more and more books, I’ve found myself adding to the list of internal sensations. For example, for the emotion of loneliness, Ackerman and Puglisi list these internal sensations (i.e., ways loneliness might physically manifest itself in someone, and how those physical manifestations might be interpreted):

  • a thickness in the throat signaling the onset of tears
  • a longing so intense it manifests itself as an ache or pain
  • insomnia
  • fatigue

As I wrote Stranger In My Own Head (#1 & #2), which is about a girl who wakes up amnesic, being shot at by her grandmother, and with a boy who helps her escape and says he’s her boyfriend, but who she has no recollection of whatsoever and who has a troubled past that keeps interfering with their attempts to get away, I felt like loneliness would be one of the many strong emotions she’d experience. She’s only ever able to talk to Lorne, the “boyfriend,” unsure if she should trust him, knowing she can’t trust her grandma, being an orphan, and wanting to find someone else to reach out to to feel safer. To that list of physical manifestations of loneliness, I added things like:

  • feels like she has a heavy brain
  • vacuous chest
  • heavy steps
  • lack of energy

It’s been very helpful, as have the other six thesauri that Ackerman and Puglisi have published: Emotion Amplifiers, The Negative Trait Thesaurus, The Positive Trait Thesaurus, The Rural Setting Thesaurus, The Emotional Wound Thesaurus, and The Urban Setting Thesaurus. I highly recommend them.

What’s The Deal?

The Kindle version of The Emotion Thesaurus is only $5.99, as opposed to $14.24 for the paperback version.

Who Would Like The Emotion Thesaurus, And Why?

As I’ve mentioned, all fiction writers can benefit from this book, no matter the genre they write in.  I know that’s pretty broad, but it’s the truth.  Anyone who wants to avoid telling, clichéd emotions, or melodrama needs it.

The words: "readers pick up a book to have an emotional experience," a quote from The Emotion Thesaurus, over a fuzzy background with the open pages of a book at the bottom, a girl running through an amber field of grass, and a setting sun.

 

2 comments
  1. I just bought this book a few weeks ago! It has been extremely helpful for me too. 🙂

    1. Awesome! Are there other books on the craft of writing that you’d recommend?

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