Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thursday Review—The Emotion Thesaurus

by Lynn H. Blackburn

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard the phrase Show Don’t Tell I could afford to take all of us to a writers conference. Where we would, again, be reminded to…

Show Don’t Tell!

Telling is so easy though. If I say, “Caroline was so angry when they fired her” you know she’s mad.

Unfortunately, telling is also lazy writing. It takes a lot more of our creative juices to say, “Caroline turned toward the window and took a slow breath. Then another. Heat coursed through her limbs as she considered her options. If they thought she would be willing to go quietly, they had underestimated her. Again. She drove her heels into the floor to stop her legs from shaking…”

You get the idea.


The tricky part comes when you tackle a book length project and catch yourself using the same responses…over and over and over again.
  • She let out a deep sigh.
  • She crossed her arms.
  • She pursed her lips.
  • Her face flushed. 

It’s fine to use those now and then, but wouldn’t it be great if we could be more descriptive? Get the point across without using the same tired phrases?

Last month, I reviewed DiAnn Mill’s excellent book, The Dance of Character and Plot. In it, she recommended The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi as a resource for helping writers do that very thing.

The Emotion Thesaurus opens with a brief but excellent primer on writing nonverbal emotion (and yes, it will cover Show Don’t Tell) and then gives suggestions for using the thesaurus.

The thesaurus itself includes both internal and external examples of each emotion. So whether your POV character is feeling or observing the emotion, you’ll find plenty of options.

For each emotion, you’ll find the following entries:
(I’m using Anger for our examples)
  • Definition: helps you make sure this is the emotion you’re going for
  • Physical Signals: this is usually a long list and covers the outwardly obvious signs
  • Internal Sensations: Helps you describe what your character is physically feeling
  • Mental Responses: Helps you describe what’s going on in your character’s thoughts
  • Cues of Acute or Long Term {Anger}: This is a fascinating option. For our anger example, this list includes road rage, hypertension, ulcers, and exploding over little things
  • May Escalate to: RAGE
  • Writer’s Tip: These are general tips about how to make the emotions believable.

I found The Emotion Thesaurus to be a wise investment. It’s available in paperback and while I usually prefer my craft books to be paper books (I like to highlight, dog-ear, and spill coffee on them—makes me feel like real writer) I’m glad I made an exception with The Emotion Thesaurus and went with the Kindle version (available for a very reasonable $4.99).

The May Escalate To portion of each entry includes links, so if I want to see if the responses for Rage are a better fit, one click takes me there. I also like the Kindle version because I do a lot of my writing away from home and I’m enjoying being able to access it from my phone or laptop.

So what about you? Do you have any pet phrases you catch yourself falling back on in your writing? Seen any unique descriptions recently? Share them with us in the comments!


Don’t forget to join the conversation!
Lynn

Lynn Huggins Blackburn has been telling herself stories since she was five and finally started writing them down. She blogs about faith, family, and her writing journey on her blog Out of the Boat. Lynn is a member of the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild and the Word Weavers, Greenville. She lives in South Carolina where she hangs out with three lively children, one fabulous man, and a cast of imaginary characters who find their way onto the pages of her still unpublished novels. She drinks a lot of coffee.

21 comments:

  1. Lynn, thanks for pointing out the Emotion Thesaurus. Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi do a fantastic job giving concrete examples for writing emotions.

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    1. Sandy, they really do. And I love their website: http://writershelpingwriters.net. Thanks for stopping by, Blessings, Edie

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  2. An absolute necessity for any writer! I love mine. :)

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  3. Sounds like a great book. Reminds me of Descriptionary.

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    1. Vonda, it is similar. Both are very helpful resources. Blessings, E

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  4. Lynn, thank you so much for the wonderful review! Becca and I are so glad something we wrote is helping so many. Writing (especially writing emotion well) is a tough job for all of us, so we're happy to help. And thank you too about mentioning The Dance of Character and Plot. That is so neat that DiAnn mentioned us--I haven't heard of this craft book before, but I will check it out!

    Happy writing, and enjoy the weekend!

    Angela

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    1. Angela, thanks for stopping by. Your website and all your books are on my must-read list I give to writers. Blessings, Edie

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  5. I love it, too. It really helps me see the emotions from my character's internal point of view or as he/she sees it in another character.

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    1. I definitely get a lot out of. Thanks, Angie, for stopping by, Blessings, E

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  6. I find it helpful, too. As we all know, men don't understand emotions (we think we don't have any), so any book that helps me with that bit of knowledge is greatly appreciated.

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    1. Ron, I just don't buy that stereotype, even from you! This is a resource we can all use - over and over again! Blessings, E

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  7. Sounds like a great resource. When I read the title of today's post, I was already excited. I'll have to pick it up in the future.

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  8. Ooh! I can't wait to add this one to my library! I'm off to order it now. :) Thanks for the review, Lynn!

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  9. Edie, can you please share the link to Angela Ackerman's website? Thanks!

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  10. Heading to Amazon and the Kindle store tight now! I sure could up my game with this book!

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  11. Thank you so much for this post! I've begun to notice lately how much I repeat my emotional phrases, and it's been driving me absolutely crazy, because I've had trouble fixing it! I'll definitely look into this.

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  12. Edie and Lynn, thank you for this wonderful review of The Emotion Thesaurus. The book has been out for awhile now, and I'm still surprised to hear writers talking about how they're finding it useful. Thanks for spreading the word! And Lynn, my maiden name is Huggins. Clearly, we're related ;).

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  13. I love my Emotion Thesaurus. It really helps to break the monotony of crossing your arms and smiling. :-)

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  14. Thank you. I'm asking for this for my Christmas Present!

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  15. Thanks, Lynn. It sounds like a book that needs to be on my desk.

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