Cathy Keaton's Reviews > The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression

The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman
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's review
Oct 10, 12

bookshelves: writers-resources, i-own, reviewed
Read on September 19, 2012

You can also read this review on my blog:

When I first learned about The Emotion Thesaurus I was intrigued. Was this like a regular thesaurus, but for emotions? Would I be able to look up any type of human emotion and find varying ways to portray it through prose that would help me avoid being redundant and stale? The answer to these questions is a definite YES.

What a brilliant idea it was to create this amazing resource for fiction writers! The authors of this title are the owners of the popular writing craft blog, The Bookshelf Muse. They've been helping authors with their writing craft for a good while now, and this book was naturally created through their blog posts first, then compiled for ease of use in book reference format.

Here is why The Emotion Thesaurus is a must-have reference if you write any kind of prose in which you need to convey emotion accurately and compellingly:

Say you're writing a scene in your novel in which your main character is experiencing a crisis moment. She has just discovered another trusted character has been lying to her through his fat teeth. You want to get into your main character's head-space and illustrate just how deeply she is hurt by this other character's betrayal.

You flip open either your paperback or ebook version of The Emotion Thesaurus right to the Table of Contents page. Panning down the ToC, you spot the word “Hurt” and turn to its corresponding page. You read a definition of the word, followed by a long list of outward, physical signals that are apparent when a person has been hurt emotionally, like:

Physical Signals
Eyes widening, yet brows are furrowed
Swallowing hard
Lowering the head, the neck appearing to shrink

You also find a long list of internal sensations one experiences when hurt, like:

Internal Sensations
Stomach hardening, nausea
A painful tightness in one's throat

Beyond all this, you also see sub-lists of “Mental Responses,” “Cues of Long-Term Hurt,” “Cues of Suppressed Hurt” and an additional writer's tip for each emotion chapter. These authors thought of everything you can do, think, feel, react and stubbornly hang-on to for every major emotion we humans experience.

Back to your novel—you realize now that you can rewrite this weak sentence, “She was so hurt by Barry's betrayal and wanted to throw up,” to a more powerful, “Her head began to spin. She swallowed down hard on the painful realization. He'd been lying to her? She gagged on the knot in her throat, clenching her stomach to keep its contents from rising.”

If you find your ability to convey emotion becoming stilted and repetitive, this book is the answer to your problem. I've been using it every day as I've been writing my current novella, and it has gotten me through those emotionally turbulent scenes better than I ever would have without it. Highly recommended.
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