"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.

 

The Thorn Necklace: A Book and a Writing Journey

“Frida Kahlo had polio as a child,” said Francesca Lia Block in her book The Thorn Necklace, referring to the painter, “survived a horrific accident at eighteen that shattered her body and pierced her pelvis with an iron hand rail, and suffered through a number of resulting miscarriages. To add insult to injury, her husband…had an affair with her younger sister. But Frida produced hundreds of works of art…that elevate unbearable grief to shocking beauty. Some artists survive their pain, some do not. But all channel it into art.”

It is that channeling that Block refers to as the thorn necklace for which she names her book. Kahlo herself said: “my painting carries with it the message of pain,” and that pain is definitely evident in her painting Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, which you can see here. To be an artist, to a certain extent, is to take the pain that life gives you and channel it into something beautiful, to show that something good can come from something bad.  I believe it’s also to don a painful mantle as well. In the painting, Kahlo wears a necklace made of thorns. It pricks her skin and makes her bleed. To produce true beauty–no matter the artistic form–one has to undergo a certain amount of “pain” at worst, or challenge at least. To create whole worlds from nothing, in the case of science fiction and fantasy literature, and structure them into cohesive and compelling plots populated with characters that feel real is no small task.

Block’s book is a memoir of sorts, describing the challenging life path she’s traversed and couching that in her thoughts on writing. “A way to help a reader to identify with a protagonist,” she says, “(and thereby gain more life-enhancing insight from the story) is to the show that character’s…flaws. Flaws…get a character into trouble, which satisfies the reader’s need for story.” She provides this before describing the flaws of some well-known book characters as well as some of her own flaws and those of her parents. That reminiscing passage, as well as many others woven throughout the book, is somewhat rambling. She calls it “excess exposition in memoir” which “comes from being engulfed in a tidal wave of vague memories that haven’t solidified into scenes yet, and, in turn, [results in] a passive character…who feels and thinks but doesn’t do much.” She sums up her book quite succinctly.

But  there are undeniable nuggets of wisdom interspersed among the rambling, excessive parts, nuggets that could be very useful for a writer, such as:

  • When you claim your creativity, when you say, “I am a writer,” it becomes a vital part of your identity. You’re not only braver on the page, you’re also braver in the rest of your life because you’re a change agent, a builder of new worlds.
  • When we write from our deepest longings, our stories have broader appeal.
  • In order to get in touch with your obsessions [and thus flavor your character’s], try making a list of anything that fascinates you. Be as specific and detailed as possible.
  • One of the biggest mistakes writers make is not having a clear story problem from the beginning (or sometimes at all).
  • [The antagonist] must be complex and dimensional, not a mustache-twirling caricature.
  • Setting should reflect character.
  • [Voice]…is one of the most difficult aspects of writing for many people and can take years of hard work to hone. But don’t give up! Once you have your voice, the rest is much easier. To develop your voice, read widely, write consistently, and live fully. A strong writing voice can connect us to others, and more deeply to ourselves.

Some of these nuggets I’ve heard before in other writing books and at writing conferences, so they weren’t necessarily unique, but the way they were phrased helped me see better how I could apply them in my writing life.

So, The Thorn Necklace, while rambling and repetitive, was also helpful and encouraging. I would recommend it to my writer friends.

 

My Writing Update and a Book Review of Paper Hearts,

This past week has been an interesting one as I gained a lot of insight into a problem I’ve been having, and took steps to resolve it, and as my husband and I talked about what he wants to do “when he grows up.” In the midst of that, I continued revising my first book, Forced, querying my second book, Stranger in my Own Head, looking for beta readers for my third, which is the sequel to the second, and starting my fourth book, which is called Sealers for now. What this means is:

  • After writing Forced, revising it through five drafts,  then getting it critiqued, beta-read, and edited, I researched about 50 agents looking for urban fantasy, then submitted query letters and sample pages to them, asking them to consider representing me to publishers. While there were a couple of requests for fulls and partials, no agent has yet offered representation, so I took the premise to one of my critique groups and, after receiving reassurance that it’s still really solid, decided to tweak and revise it again. Rewrite #8: bring it on!
  • After writing Stranger in my Own Head and revising it seven times, having it critiqued and beta-read, and submitting queries to 120 agents, I’ve so far received a similar response: one request for a full manuscript and another for a partial manuscript, both from agents from whom I haven’t heard back from yet.
  • I wrote Stranger in my Own Head #2 in a little over a month, and have since revised it once. It’s quite short, only 50,000 words, which is about 150 pages, so I need to have a beta-reader take a look at it to see where the plot would best be fleshed out.
  • To prepare to write Sealers, I’ve done all kinds of research on volcanoes, rapamycin, skin cancer, Chile, and Easter Island. I’ve made a character bible and a beat sheet (basic outline). I scrapped everything I did before writing the book from the daughter’s perspective, and am instead writing/rewriting it from the mother’s perspective. This will be the first adult sci-fi I’ve written.

I’m also researching and outlining three other books.

Paper Hearts: Some Real Writing Advice

To help me in all of these tasks, I read Beth Revis’ Paper Hearts #1: Some Writing Advice. I bought this book purely based on the fact that Beth is a published YA sci-fi author whose books (Across the Universe, A Million Suns, Shades of Earth, and The Body Electric, to name a few) I have greatly enjoyed. In more than 100 very short, “tidbitty” chapters, Revis explains the intricacies, beauty, and difficulties of being a writer, in a conversational, helpful tone. From one writer to another, she offers advice on things like how to find a good critique partner, ways to chart story structure, and what a writer should do if he or she is stuck somewhere in their work-in-progress.

Ninety-eight percent of her advice was spot on, about things I can testify to the importance of through my own experience, or easily and practically applicable to the book I’m writing right now. I could see how what she was saying about charting plot structure could help me fine-tune the beat sheet I’ve done for Sealers, for instance. The only thing that would keep me from giving this book a perfect 10 out of 10 stars, or five-out-of-five on Amazon, was that Revis, in one part of the book, got on her soapbox about a particular issue (featuring gay characters in books). I like hearing other people’s opinions, especially when they’re respectfully stated and posted in a way that invites civil conversation. But if someone states their opinion on social media or in real life simply for the purpose of putting it out there (which I understand) as opposed to starting a dialogue, it just adds to the cacophony of people shouting their opinions. We don’t need more of that, especially in a writing book.

So, I do recommend Paper Hearts #1 to other writers, with that one caveat. There is a workbook and two other books in that series that I intend to get. If you’ve read them, let me know what you think!

Book Review: Braving the Wilderness, a Fantastic Read

Fans of self-help books seeing this book in their section of a bookstore or at the top of their Amazon search results might wonder what the wilderness that this book’s title refers to, and how “braving it” will help them lead a better life, at least in ways that other self-help books do. Though it may not be apparent from the title, Brene Brown’s most recent book, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, is indeed a self-help book of the best kind not only for the individual, but for society as a whole. One that is sorely needed, I might add.

Brown’s definition of the wilderness as a metaphorical place where “belonging so fully to yourself that you’re willing to stand alone…[in] an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching…,” is one that can only be understood in the context of the rest of humanity: one cannot stand alone without a group of “others” to stand away from. This book is an explanation of how very much we all need one another, and to feel like we truly belong, and how sometimes, in order to get that feeling, ironically, we have to let it go. We have to be brave enough to be true to ourselves, to stand out in what could be a “vast and dangerous environment” in which we are alone and vulnerable, but also perhaps on an emotional or spiritual quest. “Belonging,” Brown says, “is real connection that [isn’t] at the cost of one’s authenticity and identity, [and that acknowledges our] shared humanity. It’s saying: ‘we’re different in many ways, but under it all, we are all inextricably connected in love and compassion.”  The wilderness is “a place of true belonging, and the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand.”

So…What is the Wilderness in Real Life?

This message really resonated with me, as I’ve tried to wrap my brain and soul around the divisiveness and hate that are swarming the internet these days, and spilling out into real life in very hurtful, sometimes even deadly ways. It seems to me that this is caused, at least in part, by people who are trying to express themselves by tearing down others, in their own misguided attempts to “belong to themselves.” And it also seems that, if I may be so bold as to shrink the cause of all that into one small, all-inclusive phrase, many people are horrible at being civil, particularly online, and when people are voicing their opinions right and left with the microphone of social media at their mouths, again in an attempt to be true to themselves, but still not taking into account or inviting others to express theirs because they have yet to find or make a truly safe space on the internet. At a time when communication has never been so easy and had such a wide-ranging and immediate effect, we are still very much in our infancy in terms of communicating–and thus, connecting–with others online. The internet seems like it might be that wilderness, that place of danger and vastness. But it is not. the internet is the chaos of civilization, the thick of thrown words. The wilderness is the place one goes to clear one’s head of that chaos, to plumb the depths of one’s soul and find the courage to not only be comfortable with that soul, but to love that soul enough that you can love others. To truly belong.

How Did She Determine How People Truly Belong?

Discussing true belonging, Brown defined four main questions that she used to analyze data that she had gathered at the University of Houston about people who fit the profile of truly belonging:

  1. What is the process, practice, or approach that the women and men who have developed a sense of true belonging share in common?
  2. What does it take to get to the place in our life where we belong nowhere and everywhere, where belonging is in our heart and not something that others can hold hostage or take away, where belonging is not a reward for perfecting, pleasing, proving, and pretending?
  3. If we’re willing to brave the wilderness to stand alone in our integrity, do we still need that sense of belonging that comes from community?
  4. Does the current culture of increasing divisiveness affect our quest for true belonging? If so, how?

Four Elements of True Belonging

In Braving the Wilderness, she found that, after analyzing her data and answering those questions, there were four elements of true belonging that she spends a good part of the book talking about:

  1. People are hard to hate close up. Move in. For those of you who are Christians, maybe this is why Jesus said that we should love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31). He didn’t just say: “love people.”
  2. Speak truth to b.s. Be civil. This is Brown’s wonderful, no-nonsense, even snarky way of saying “it’s not just about being nicer to people, on-line and off. It’s about calling things out for what they are while still being respectful and maybe even constructive.” For those of who wondering how to be civil, there’s this wonderful book called Crucial Conversations that has some very good guidelines for that.
  3. Hold hands with strangers, which can be scary, especially if they have vastly different opinions and lifestyles. But we are all, ultimately, human, and will be able to find something in common. It takes an element of spirituality, which she defines as “recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to one another by a power greater than us.”
  4. Strong back, soft front, wild heart. Strong spine, open mind, brave heart.

Truly belonging, says Brown quoting Maya Angelou, is belonging “everywhere and nowhere.” It’s a truly powerful dichotomy that I hope to one day experience.

Ten stars, by the way. And then some. And I highly recommend you get the audiobook version, which Brown herself narrates.

My Eight ADD/ADHD Parenting Books

In writing this particular post, I’m going to get a little personal, so I hope you don’t mind. By that, I mean that I’m going to divulge some of the difficulties I’ve faced as the parent of an ADD child, and the books that have helped me or are helping me in that journey, and I hope that by doing so I might be able to help someone else know what they can do if they think or know that their child has ADD/ADHD. I’m the mother of a 13-year-old boy who was diagnosed with ADD in fourth grade, but who was more dynamic, stubborn, fun, impulsive, and forgetful than other kids from the day he was born. In those thirteen years, I have gained first-hand knowledge that ADD isn’t just a fancy name for the combinations of traits that can make a child harder to handle than others; it is a real-life disorder–a difference in brain structure–that manifests itself in an impaired ability to focus, to control one’s impulses, to handle transitions, and to organize. My son really wants to be able to focus, to be less forgetful and more organized and successful in school, but these things are hard for him, even despite years of training and mentoring. He’s getting better, but it’s probable that he’ll always struggle with these things more than other people.

That being said, I believe that ADD is also a blessing in his and our lives, in a way: he is incredibly interesting and fun and “in charge” (although that last trait may be more attributable to his personality and birth order than to the disorder itself). It’s very possible that he’ll be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company some day, if he can learn to focus on the positive parts of the disorder and compensate for the negative parts. I see my role as guiding him in that process, and I’m doing that with the help of several books, which I discuss below:

  • Smart But Scattered by Peg Dawson, EdD, and Richard Guare, PhD: helped me understand the relationship between ADD and executive skills, which are certain “life skills” like response inhibition, working memory, sustained attention, time management, goal-directed persistence, and flexibility. When I realized that, helping my son manage his ADD became more a matter of focusing on the development of those life skills than on treating a disorder. It’s not like I hadn’t been trying to help him develop life skills before than, but this book better helped me realize which ones I needed to focus on.
  • Parenting the Ephraim’s Child: Characteristics, Capabilities, and Challenges of Children who are Intensely MORE: by Deborah Talmadge and Jaime Theler. This is the book I got before Jonah was even diagnosed because, as I mentioned, he has definitely been always more. He refused, on pain of throwing up all over himself and crying for 5 1/2 hours, to sleep through the night until he was almost a year-and-a-half old, for example. The well-researched recommendations the authors make for managing these children have become some of my bedrock parenting skills, and have popped up–cloaked in more technical jargon–in many other ADD books I’ve read. I especially connected with the authors’ discussion of control and routine and of the potential that ADD brings to my son’s life, and with the fact that all of this is done within the context of LDS (“Mormon”) theology and culture. Since I and my family are Mormons, that was especially helpful.
  • Taking Charge of ADHD: The Complete, Authoritative Guide for Parents (Third Edition) by Russell A. Barkley, PhD. This one was recommended to me by a social worker recently, and it has been by far the most helpful. It sensitively dispelled some of the guilt and worry that I’ve felt about failing my son. The techniques that it prescribes are different than a lot of the other ones I’ve read, but they make so much sense, and seem to bring the whole family into the efforts to help the ADD child overcome his or her particular challenges and create a positive family culture.
  • Get Out of My Life, but first could you drive me and Cheryl to the mall? by Anthony E. Wolf, PhD. This one is actually not about ADD/ADHD at all, but about helping parents know to handle their teenagers. It helped me grasp better which behaviors I can attribute to my son’s dominant personality, which to the surge in his quest for freedom, and which to his ADD.
  • Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder From Childhood Through Adulthood by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D., and John J. Ratey, M.D. I’ve read this one the least, as it’s geared toward the people who actually have the disorder, debunking common myths, providing coping tools, and a deeper discussion of the positives, which can include high energy, intuitiveness, creativity, and enthusiasm.
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, by Sean Covey. This book, too, is geared toward teens themselves, those sufferers of adolescence, and is not about ADD either, but provided me with a good sense of what’s really important (i.e., my son’s happiness and understanding of the world as opposed to his grades).
  • ADD/ADHD Behavior-Change Resource Kit by Grad L. Flick, PhD. Of all these books, this one is the most technical, in-depth, and “hands-on,” to be sure. It’s a workbook. It has whole sections on social skills, homework issues, and for teachers. It explored executive functioning in depth, which helped me realize that I needed professional coaching myself in the implementation of the many behavior-modification techniques it provides. It can be kind of overwhelming to implement all the possible recommendations from all of the books, let alone keep track of which book recommended what technique, so if there’s anything that I really credit this book for, it’s for helping me realize that I can’t do it alone, which is, ultimately, a good thing.
  • Positive Discipline Parenting Tools by Jane Nelsen, which I reviewed here, seemed to me to the most grounded in reality, even if its recommendations were somewhat unique.

 

Notice that I didn’t rank any of these books, even though some have definitely been more helpful than others to me. I describe them here so that you can have some of the tools you need to better parent your child with ADD/ADHD, if you have one, and to have more happiness and joy in the process.

The words "Positive Discipline Parenting Tools" 49 Most Effective Methods to Stop Power Struggles, Build Communication, and Raise Empowered, Capable Kids by Harmony

Book Review: Positive Discipline Parenting Tools

If there’s one truth I’ve learned as a parent, it’s that not all parenting books are created equal. I have read many in my time, and some have become my bibles,  while others…not so much. Recently, I read Positive Discipline Parenting Tools by Jane Nelsen, Mary Nelson Tamborski, and Brad Ainge. Thankfully, it has become one of the former: an enlightening and realistic book that helps me see my children and their behaviors in a new light. It also gives me hope for the improvement of both mine and theirs.

positive-discipline-cover

What Is Positive Discipline Parenting Tools About?

The main premise of Positive Discipline is that all punishments and rewards should be eliminated as disciplinary methods, and that they should be replaced with a kindly and firmly administered system of encouragement that addresses the basic needs of children to belong and feel significant. When I first read that in the introduction, I was instantly skeptical, sure that eliminating all rewards would take away what motivation my kids have to help around the house and do their homework, and that eliminating all punishments would make them think that they could get away with anything. But I was intrigued; as a parent, I’m always trying to make sure that I’m doing the best I possibly can for my kids, which for me means, in part, keeping up on all the best parenting techniques, and using those that best apply to our circumstances. Unless my kids are perfect, which they won’t ever be, and I and my husband are, which (sadly) we won’t, I’m always on the lookout for better techniques. Those described in Positive Discipline, at least the ones we’ve implemented, have been effective in reducing misbehaviors and increasing family harmony.

My Criteria for a Good Parenting Book

Obviously, that is one of my criteria for the quality of a parenting book: that the techniques it recommends actually work. My other criteria are as follows:

  • Are those techniques explained in enough detail that it’s easy to understand when and how they should be applied?
  • Are real-life examples given?
  • Does the author acknowledge the difficulty of consistently applying any disciplinary technique?
  • Is the author qualified to speak on successful parenting techniques? If so, what is their background? Do they have kids of their own?
  • Do any of the techniques described have elements in common with those recommended in other parenting books I’ve read?

 

The instructions provided about how to be kind and firm, given in chapter one, are a good illustration of how Positive Discipline passes my test.

An Example…

“Have you noticed how often two people with opposing philosophies about kindness and firmness get married?” the author asks.

“One has a tendency to be too lenient. The other has a tendency to be too strict. Then the lenient parent thinks he or she needs to be more lenient to make up for the stricter…parent. The strict parent thinks he or she needs to be stricter to make up for the more lenient…parent. So they get further and further apart and fight about who is right and who is wrong. In truth, they are both ineffective. The trick is to be kind and firm at the same time.”

That makes sense; I’ve seen that time and again in my own marriage and in others as well. A couple of in-depth examples are provided by Mary and Brad, two of the co-authors, about how that dichotomy looked in their family.  Then, Mary acknowledges: “Many parents struggle with this concept.” But then she provides a solution for a “coming together,” if you will, of those two opposing approaches, in the form of a list of options that I thought was very helpful.

Solutions

  • Validate feelings: “I know you don’t want to stop playing, and it’s time for dinner.”
  • Show understanding: “I know you would rather watch TV than do your homework, and homework needs to be done first.”
  • Redirection: “You don’t want to brush your teeth, and I don’t want to pay dentist bills. I’ll race you to the bathroom.”
  • Follow through on an earlier agreement: “I know you don’t want to unload the dishwasher now, and what was our agreement?
  • Provide a choice: “You don’t want to go to bed, and it is bedtime. Is it your turn to pick a book or mine?”
  • Validate feelings, give a choice, and then follow through by deciding what you will do: “I know you want to keep playing video games, and your time is up. You can turn it off now, or I will.”

 

Redirecting and providing choices are techniques that this book shares with Parenting the Ephraim’s Child: Characteristics, Capabilities, and Challenges of Children Who Are Intensely More by Jaime Theler and Deborah Talmadge, a book that has been especially helpful in raising my son with ADD.

But it’s not just because this book met my criteria that I liked it. Nor is it because the authors do indeed know what they’re talking about, possessing among them two advanced degrees in related fields, and being the parents of a combined twelve children. It’s also because it helped me realize some of the latent attitudes and beliefs I hold about myself when my children that very much influence how I parent.

So, yes, I highly recommend this book.

Who Would Like This Book?

Parents of kids as young as 2 or 3 and as old as 15-16.

What’s The Deal?

It’s normally $17 on Amazon, but it’s on sale for $13.72.

What parenting books have you found most helpful? What are your criteria?

Visual, Anyone?

via GIPHY

 

Disclosure: I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley.  All opinions contained herein are my own, honest-to-goodness feelings.