The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression
Written by: Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi
Published by: Create Space (print), and Amazon Indie (ebook)
Date Published: May 2012
For: Writers of all genres
Digital review copy was given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review. I loved the book so much that I bought a print copy for myself.
Using emotion well is important in every novel. Emotion and body language evoke responses in readers, help them connect to your characters and root for them, and are, I believe, part of what keeps a reader engaged in your book, turning the pages to find out what happens next. (Another part of that is suspense and tension, and another part is strong writing–but emotion and body language are an important part. Without them, a story is empty.) Emotion greatly influences characters’ decisions, reactions and actions–and it is what helps readers relate to your characters. Without emotion, there’s no depth or point of connection in a story. So it’s important for every writer to master writing emotion, body language, and character motivation.
Writers all have favorite phrases and body language that we gravitate towards, especially in early drafts–phrases and body language that can get quickly repetitive and annoying when overused. Think “she nodded” for a character agreeing, “she bit her lip” for a nervous or anxious character, or “he clenched his fists” for an angry one–or whatever your immediate go-to reaction is. I’ve found that I tend to use the body language and emotional cues that I’ve used or seen most often in my own life–and I forget to think outside that, at least in early drafts. But it’s important to show varied responses, or to find different ways of showing emotion or describing emotion (internally and externally).
That is where The Emotion Thesaurus comes in. No matter how good you are at writing emotion (and I think I write strong emotion evocatively and well), The Emotion Thesaurus can spur you to write emotion and body language even better.
The Emotion Thesaurus is laid out in an easy-to-use format–with each emotion alphabetized. You can use the book immediately with your writing–just dive in–without having to read the entire book. Say you have a character who is experiencing fear. You know the body and internal reactions you’d use–but you want to make sure you don’t get too repetitive. So you just look up fear in the index, turn to the page (in this case, 76), and you’ll find a ton of physical signals, internal sensations, metal reactions, cues of acute or long-term fear, and cues of suppressed fear. This is incredibly useful–reminding you both of how a character experiences fear internally and physically, AND how others outside the character might observe that fear. It can help give you greater insight into your character or the way they might respond to a situation, or remind you to amp it up when needed.
You’ll also find “May Escalate to” where you can see other emotions and reactions that fear might move into. You might not agree with every response to every emotion listed–but you’re not supposed to. How each person experiences emotion can be very individual. But reading through these lists can help you think beyond the easy, cliched responses, and get to something that better describes the experience. It will help you think of even more responses, and other ways to talk about emotions and body language, and break out of any ruts you might get in describing them.
In the beginning of the book, before the emotions are listed, there’s a section on “Writing Nonverbal Emotion: Avoiding Common Problems” such as telling, melodrama, cliched emotions, over reliance on dialogue or thoughts, and misusing backstory. This is another thoughtful and helpful section. But you don’t need to read it before immediately using the emotion sections to jumpstart your own character responses. There’s also a good reminder to use setting (which can show or enhance emotion), twist cliches or use fresh ideas to describe things,
I think The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression is a unique book–I haven’t found anything quite so focused or helpful on emotions and body language specifically for writers before–and I’ve been looking for a long time.
There are both an ebook version and a print version available. I prefer the print version–because it is SO easy to just flip the pages to get to the emotion you want, and then flip to other pages that are related. It’s much easier (in my opinion) to use print books as reference books. BUT when you’re on the go, it’s nice to have the ebook version handy. I’ve used both while writing.
I highly recommend The Emotion Thesaurus for writers of all genres.