Sunday, January 27, 2013

Books for Writers #3 - The Emotion Thesaurus

For the past couple of weeks, I've been recommending helpful books for writers. The first one was Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. The second one was Beginnings, Middles and Ends. This week, I'd like to talk about an excellent resource to help you add variety to your characters' emotions: The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.

What word can I use to describe Ackerman and Puglisi other than AWESOME? These two ladies are in charge of The Bookshelf Muse, an award-winning blog by writers, for writers. If you haven't checked out their site yet, give it a click. I'll take a seat.

Ackerman and Puglisi certainly know what they're talking about--and they love to share, which is great for all of us! On The Bookshelf Muse, you'll find tons of helpful (and free!) information organized in sections:

- Character traits thesaurus
- Weather and earthly phenomena thesaurus
- Colors, textures and shapes thesaurus
- Setting thesaurus
- Symbolism thesaurus

and their current project: Physical attribute thesaurus.

Without a doubt, Ackerman and Puglisi are thesauri experts!

Oh, and did I mention all these thesauri are absolutely free?

There is an exception to all these freebies, though, and it's the book I'd like to recommend this week: The Emotion Thesaurus. On sale in digital and print format, it is yet another wonderful addition to every writer's library. But beware! This is not a how-to guide to writing and describing emotions, as some one- and two-star reviewers on Amazon believed, it is--as its title clearly announces--a thesaurus.

The Emotion Thesaurus offers information on 75 different emotions, arranged alphabetically, ranging from adoration to denial, embarrassment, guilt, relief, suspicion and worry. The authors dedicate two pages to each emotion, and offer the following information:

- Definition
- Physical signals - these are external signs perfect for when your point of view character is observing someone else experiencing this emotion.
- Internal sensations - perfect for describing the point of view character's emotion from the inside.
- Mental responses - again, perfect for the point of view character.
- Cues of acute or long-term [emotion]
- May escalate to [other emotions]
- Cues of suppressed [emotion]

Let's see this through an example. I'll open to any random page:


Definition: resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another, paired with a longing to acquire that advantage.

Physical signals:
the mouth turning down
flaring nostrils
muscles bunching
[...] [There are many, many more elements in this list.]

Internal sensations:
quick heartbeat
rising body temperature
dry throat

Mental responses:
a strong desire to touch, hold, and own
anger at the unfairness or injustice

Cues of acute or long-term envy:
feeling that life isn't worth living without the advantage
grabbing or stealing the coveted object

May escalate to:
determination (54), resentment (130) [...] [The numbers refer to the page where you can find the entry for the emotion.]

Cues of suppressed envy:
congratulating or offering praise
forcing a smile

This is just a sample of what you might find in any given entry. I purchased this book when I had already finished the second draft of my novel, and was struggling with edits. I had a whole lot of jaw clenching and teeth gritting going on! One critiquer on Critique Circle actually mentioned that I have some sort of fascination with human jaws... It was a little embarrassing, but funny.

So how did The Emotion Thesaurus help me? It gave me ideas to add more variety to my character's expressions. It helped me think outside the box I had built around myself, and offered me hundreds and hundreds of new possibilities. Now I have it by my side whenever I go through my work, and I check it constantly to see if I can use a different expression to show what my characters are feeling.

Apart from the thesaurus itself, which is already a great buy, The Emotion Thesaurus contains a short explanation at the beginning with information on the power of emotion, balancing it all out, telling instead of showing, using clich├ęd emotions, melodrama, etc. This is just another added bonus. You can get a taste of these opening explanations by clicking the look inside option on Amazon.

In conclusion, The Emotion Thesaurus is yet another great resource for writers! I'm glad to add it to my bookshelf.

Happy writing!


  1. Thanks for the tip- this book sounds great!

  2. I spent yesterday evening reworking a chapter, and I kept The Bookshelf Muse open all evening while I did it. Awesome resource.

    I'll check out the other books you recommended.

    Thanks :-)

  3. Wow, thank you so much for profiling our book! I am so glad it's a good resource for you. If you haven't yet downloaded it, may I recommend snagging the free PDF Emotion Amplifiers? It's in our blog's sidebar and is similar to the Emotion Thesaurus as it lists body language, thoughts and visceral sensations for conditions that 'amplify' a character's reactions to emotions.

    Example entries would be things like Pain, Stress, Illness, Hunger, Inebriation, etc. There's a bit of a write up here:

    Thanks again, and happy writing! :)

    1. Oh wow! Thanks! I'm a bit late to the party, as usual. I hope it's still there! *Off to check!*

  4. Thanks so much for the awesome review, Nadine! For our book to be mentioned with Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and Beginnings, Middle, and Ends...well, that's definitely high praise. Thank you for spreading the word!

    1. You are most welcome. :-) It's a great resource so it deserves great reviews.


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