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The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression

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Did you know there's a SECOND EDITION of The Emotion Thesaurus that has been expanded to 130 entries & 2x the teaching content? Just click on the author's name to find it!

The Emotion Thesaurus, First Edition (for collectors)

One of the biggest problem areas for writers is conveying emotion to the reader in a unique, compelling way. When showing our characters’ feelings, we often grab onto the first idea that comes to mind, and our characters end up smiling, shrugging, nodding, and frowning far too much.

Need some inspiration to get you beyond the basics? Inside The Emotion Thesaurus, you’ll find:

•75 emotion entries that list body language, thoughts, and visceral responses for each
•A breakdown of the biggest emotion-related writing problems and how to overcome them
•Body language and action cues that address both acute and suppressed forms of emotion
•Suggestions for each emotion that cover a range of intensity, from mild to extreme
•75 description tips on emotion, dialogue, characters, and setting

Editors, authors and teachers agree that The Emotion Thesaurus, in its easy-to-navigate list format, is a convenient and helpful brainstorming resource for any writing project. Discover the tool that will inspire you to create stronger, fresher character expressions and engage readers from your first page to your last.

170 pages, Nook

First published April 21, 2012

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About the author

Angela Ackerman

17 books973 followers
ANGELA ACKERMAN is a writing coach, international speaker, and co-author of 11 bestselling books for writers, including The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression. Her books are available in 10 languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. Her home country is Canada.

Angela is also the co-founder of the popular site Writers Helping Writers®, as well as One Stop for Writers®, a portal to powerful tools and resources that help you think like a writing expert so you become a stronger storyteller. A strong believer in writers helping and supporting other writers, she tries to pay-it-forward however she is able to.


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Displaying 1 - 30 of 757 reviews
Profile Image for K.M. Weiland.
Author 33 books2,333 followers
May 30, 2012
I have long used the authors' fabulous blog The Bookshelf Muse ([...]) as a go-to source for on-the-spot inspiration whenever I need a unique synonym. When I heard they were compiling their wisdom into a book, I was thrilled! This is a one-of-a-kind resource for the writer. Offering synonyms (and more) for emotions of every stripe - as well as some sound writing advice throughout - this is just the sort of tome to have sitting within reach of the keyboard. A quick flip through the pages is sure to offer a plethora of new ideas and story possibilities.
Profile Image for Danni.
Author 11 books96 followers
March 9, 2013
This book is a real gem. I'm often reluctant to read books about writing techniques because I feel that trying too hard to 'stick to the rules' sucks a lot of the fun out of writing, and can leave me creatively paralysed for fear of 'getting it wrong.' Not so this book. If you ever find it hard to think of ways to describe your characters' emotions without falling back on the same old cliches (and let's face it, who doesn't?), then this book will give you a great nudge in the right direction. I know I will keep referring back to it in future.
Profile Image for Juli Morgan.
Author 8 books36 followers
March 6, 2013
When I sit down at my computer to write I do three things before starting: I close my office door, I crank up some rock 'n roll, and I make sure The Emotion Thesaurus is open on my Kindle reader app on my desktop.

Every writer can learn something from this excellent resource. Look up the emotion your character is experiencing and you'll find physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses, cues of acute or long-term effects of said emotion, cues of suppressed emotion, a list of other emotions that one may escalate to, and even writer's tips.

This is an invaluable tool for adding depth to your characters and no writer should be without it!
Profile Image for E.F. Buckles.
Author 1 book20 followers
May 6, 2021
I finally got this on e-book and while it's obviously not a book you sit down and read cover-to-cover, it has been a helpful reference when I'm feeling in a rut for how to communicate an emotion in my writing.
Profile Image for Lillian Keith.
Author 4 books61 followers
December 29, 2021

Ahem. So, I came across this book awhile back, but since there were so many writer resources I was sifting through, I put it on hold. Someone recommended this as a great resource, so I put it on a wishlist. Then I was gifted a copy for Christmas, and I just love it! Even my younger sister is using it. I'm still going through the list of emotions, but I finished reading the first part of the book where they break down how to incorporate emotions into a scene. It was super helpful for the authors to 1.) explain common mistakes when writing emotions; 2.) how to use non-verbal signals/body language, etc. to show not tell; and 3.) examples of how to improve a story by balancing dialogue, thoughts, and actions. (the examples were the most helpful part, for me at least.) There were also a lot of practical tips and tricks that I can't wait to start using in my own writing.
Profile Image for John Martin.
Author 25 books177 followers
October 14, 2020
Food for thought

I suspect this will become a go-to manual for me when I’m writing. Most of us get stuck in the middle of the writing road. This book offers a long list of ideas to get us going again — all neatly indexed and with suggestions on how that particular emotion might play out, and how it might escalate or mellow.
Profile Image for Rose.
1,879 reviews1,064 followers
January 26, 2014
I read "The Emotion Thesaurus" shortly after reading "The Negative Trait Thesaurus," and now quite many details and notations made in the latter work make sense. This is another valuable title to have in a writing library, because it examines how emotions are not only shown in a narrative, but also how they function and how to make the most of them in your writing. Again, Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi did a phenomenal job with the research and expansion on character emotions, actions, and general hints and tips to think about when showing these details in a work. I definitely see myself coming back to this many times in the future.

Overall score: 4.5/5 stars
Profile Image for tappkalina.
666 reviews414 followers
October 26, 2020
Okay, wow.

12% of this book is really helpful introduction and explanation with examples, and all of the rest is a list of emotions and how you can describe them in different ways. But like it's a looong list with lots of ideas.

Very helpful. 👍

Reading the rest of the series for sure.
Profile Image for G.G..
Author 4 books235 followers
October 24, 2016
Love this reference book. It's the writer's bible. Easy to navigate and loads of good ideas for the show not tell 'party'.
Profile Image for Seeley James.
Author 27 books302 followers
May 21, 2013
I've been using this book since it came out. Not because I don't know these things already, but because, like all writers, I tend to use the same phrases over and over. This book fires the imagination, freshens your phrasing, and can even change the direction of a scene (Wait a minute, she wasn't unhappy, she was desperate -> she curled her hands around her head and twisted back and forth, saying, "please, please, don't leave me here...".)

If you've stared at the page and realized this was the third time he'd wrung his hands in as many chapters, you need this book!

Peace, Seeley

Profile Image for Stina Lindenblatt.
Author 41 books802 followers
March 31, 2012
I had a chance to beta read this book and it is BRILLIANT!!!! If you love the blog, you're going to love the book even more. Angela and Becca have added more emotions (there's over 70 listed) and more categories within each emotion. This is a must have for all writers.
Profile Image for S.A. Larsen.
Author 8 books141 followers
June 4, 2012
The Emotional Thesaurus is a fantastic writer's handbook, and must have as a reference while writing to help bring clarity yet interest to one's writing.

Angela and Becca have created a functional tool to enhance an author's writing and storytelling choices. The book is written in an easy-to-read-and-follow format, which is great for any writer, even high school and college students.

I especially liked the breakdown of words into Verbal and Nonverbal Communication, Physical Signals, Mental Responses, and Internal Sensations. This is a brilliant way to present words of the same likeness and show how they can be properly used to add flavor to any essay, article, short story, novel, or screenplay.

The authors give clear and specific examples, which apply their methods of choosing proper description. It's like a genealogy of appropriate emotional usage when telling a story. As an added bonus, they highlight the results of effectively using backstory to further empower a story.

I'm definitely giving my son a copy of this book as he heads off to his freshman year in college. I know I'll covet my copy.
Profile Image for Ksenia Anske.
Author 10 books617 followers
March 8, 2015
If you're not a native speaker writing in English like me (I'm from Russia), this book is a gem. I struggle with defining emotion because mostly those words are concepts, harder to grasp than objects or colors or places or such. This book is sitting on my desk so I can consult it like an emotional map, opening it up alphabetically on Anger or Terror, and scanning through a list of typical physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses, and some marvelous tips, like searching the whole manuscript for the word "felt" and "unpacking it," like Chuck Palahniuk suggests.
Profile Image for Jo-Ann Carson.
Author 33 books334 followers
May 24, 2013
While realtors hail, “Location, location, location;” writers shout, “emotion, emotion, emotion.”
You can never get enough on the page. Good stories are filled with emotion. But writing it isn’t easy.
The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression written and published by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi is an amazing resource for writers looking for the perfect word or phrase to capture a feeling.
Here’s what it’s done for me:
My before:
I relied on a small stable of words and expressions to convey emotion. I focused on the eyes a lot. With great frequency, they: grew larger, narrowed, hardened, threw daggers and …. You get the idea. Sometimes I’d move up to the eyebrows, which: knit, met in the middle and danced a jig, furrowed, rose, fell and wrinkled. Urggggggh. So bad.
My now:
I’m using a variety of descriptors to show emotion. Whenever I catch myself thinking about the character’s eyes, I look up the emotion I want to describe in my new thesaurus and come up with something fresh. I think I’ve died and gone to a writer’s heaven.
The Structure of the Book:
The writers list 75 emotions in their table of contents, alphabetically from “adoration” to “worry.” Two full pages are devoted to each emotion. They define it, give physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses, and discuss longer term effects. It’s simply brilliant, and for me indispensable.
Writer’s Tips
At the end of each emotion section they give a Writer’s Tip in a shaded box.
Here are my three favorites:

“When revising, look for instances where emotions are NAMED. Nine times out of ten this indicates a lack of confidence that the emotion is shown clearly through thought, sensations and body language. Strong verbal and nonverbal cues negate the need to ‘explain’ the emotion to the reader.” p. 39
“Make a list of your body language crutches (frowning, smiling, shrugging, head shaking, etc.). Use your word processor’s search and replace feature to highlight these so you can pinpoint where the emotional description needs some freshening up.” p. 47
“Never let the reader notice the writing. Overusing metaphors, similes, descriptive terms, and repeated body language can pull the reader out of the story.” p. 95
The authors Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi also have an outstanding blog for writers: The Bookshelf Muse.
I find the book a great resource.
Profile Image for Paul R. Drewfs.
3 reviews3 followers
May 17, 2012
Picture me dancing with abandon around the late night campfire like a Johnny on the spot gold rich prospector. Yessiree, life’s been pretty damned good up to now, but it just went antimatter fueled supernovae. How so; my copy of the Emotion Thesaurus; a Writers Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi came by big brown is beautiful truck. Fearing the tome fool’s gold, I leapt right into her and took her out for a test drive: leaving my socks and shoes smoking on the carpet. Bottom line gas wrangles; buy this crazy cool book; it’ll set your stories free and make your characters roll over and kick up their feet like peyote pumped Gila monsters. http://tinyurl.com/7uryoaj

Over the last twelve years I have cobbled up various proto-versions of The Emotion Thesaurus. I desperately needed a user friendly writing tool like this. So, I kept trying to glean one from the available physiological and psychological literature on the fly. Ackerman and Publisi's work make my hasty home grown versions look pathetic. Why; because the available literature is an inconsistent verbose mess. I was final editing my work in progress when The Emotion Thesaurus arrived yesterday afternoon. I read the brief how-to front matter and started testing the thesaurus on what I thought should be final text. All at once emotional weaknesses reared their ugly head in the paragraphs. The book provided the quick look me ups that I needed to mentally trigger the fixes. I just kept going with that book aided tear and repair. Trust me, this thesaurus provides the ingredients needed to help the novice, becoming gas wrangler, and established writer transform their pages from superficial show and tells to reader endearing be-spellings.

Profile Image for Rodrigo.
Author 2 books1 follower
September 16, 2012
As a newbie/wanna be writer, I'm always looking for tools to help me improve. Writing good stories take study, practice and motivation.

The Emotion Thesaurus is a very good tool to help anyway who wants to write. The book is divided in 2 parts. The first part, the author explains motivations, story flow and how to keep things going. It is a very interesting tutorial and, to me, the best part of the book.

The second part is the thesaurus itself. For every emotion, you will see a definition, physical signals, internal sensations, mental reactions, cues for acute or long-term emotion, what it might escalate to and cues of suppressed emotion. At the end of each entry, the author will also give an extra tip. The Kindle version is particularly convenient, since everything is hyperlinked, making navigation extremely easy.

This is a book that might appeal to both newbie and seasoned writers. Even if you don't need the tutorial, having all the information about emotions gathered in a single place will, if not else, save you time. Or maybe you can use a new signal you didn't consider before. And, for beginners like me, this book is proving to be an invaluable tool to make my stories more interesting to the reader.
Profile Image for Catrina Barton.
Author 3 books35 followers
July 20, 2013
I can tell you I already love this book. After seeing the example in their newsletter {which I strongly recommend writers sign up for} I'm on pins and needles waiting for the release day. I go to their site and use the thesaurus on a daily basis. This little treasure trove is a must have for all writers.
Profile Image for Jena.
540 reviews22 followers
Want to read
April 30, 2012
I . AM . SO EXCITED! If you're a writer, and you haven't checked out the blog called The Bookshelf Muse, do so at your earliest convenience. It contains some of the most unique and useful collections of resources for writers I've ever found on the internet! This book springs from that blog, and for me, it's a must-read!
Author 10 books241 followers
April 8, 2013
The best book I've ever read on emotions and a lot of key rules that I will be using. All I can say is thanks!!!!
Profile Image for Allison Collins.
Author 6 books49 followers
February 7, 2019
Take a look at the people around you. Some of them are wide open, others keep to themselves. Some are loud, some quiet and reserved. Human beings react to situations in very different ways. That’s what authors want to do with their characters, and it’s not always easy to write what you want them to feel/think/say/do.

That’s where the Emotion Thesaurus 2nd Edition comes into play. Yes, the brilliant Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi are back with an expanded edition of their first book. There are 55 new emotions to help authors make their characters authentic and real, and to get readers to empathize with them, and want to keep turning those pages, and buying those books. With the new additions, it brings a total of 130 emotions to refer to.

But it’s not just 55 new emotions – this book really digs deep into writing those stories. Angela and Becca have done the tough research for us, making this one of the best writing guidebooks around. (Of course there are more great guidebooks in their Thesauri collection!)

This book covers the power of emotion, writing authentic emotion, using dialogue to write emotion, subtext, and tackles common problems when writing nonverbal emotion. How something is said takes on different meanings when you look at what the character is doing, or even not doing. Readers want to see the range of emotions characters feel, not just the surface ones. Body language cues and visceral reactions take the story into a deep point of view, and help make the characters compelling enough to spend a few hours with.

Authors need to dig deep and write fresh, use fresh techniques for taking characters on their journeys so readers want to go along with them. We don’t want to use clichéd, overused, trite, bland emotions. This book is THE KEY!

If you’re not familiar with the first Emotion Thesaurus, here’s a quick breakdown of what each entry contains:
• Definition
• Notes (ie: the difference between Empathy and Sympathy, to name 2 emotions)
• Physical signals and behaviors
• Internal sensations
• Mental responses
• Acute or long-term responses for this emotion
• Signs that emotion is being suppressed
• May escalate to (links to the emotions that could come next)
• May de-escalate to (links to the emotions that could come after the emotion)
• Associated power verbs
• Writer’s tip

See? They did the research for you!

While doing revisions for my latest book, I lost my mother. I had to get revisions done, but it was hard when everything was colored by sadness. So I pulled out the first Emotion Thesaurus to give me ideas to keep writing a story where two people fall in love.

This expanded version is fabulous because now, should I ever need to, I can refer to this book for how to write Schadenfreude (malicious enjoyment from the suffering or unhappiness of others). Not a word used every day, is it?

As an author, I’m eternally grateful to Angela and Becca for doing the hard work, for continuing to research and write new thesauri that are such important tools to authors. Thank you, ladies, and keep those essential writing tools coming.
Profile Image for T.H. Hernandez.
Author 9 books204 followers
June 2, 2019
I want to scream from the rooftops to every author out there: go get this book! We’re constantly told to “show, don’t tell,” but finding the right way to show can make all the difference in the world between a scene that merely goes through the motions and one that that brings the reader deep into the story and allows them to get lost. THE EMOTION THESAURUS is part how-to, and part reference. After learning how to use the guide, there are 130 entries to help you find the right way to show character emotions. With helpful cross-references it’s easy to find the right way to show escalation from anger to rage or de-escalation to mere annoyance. All the body language, both internal and external, can be used to kickstart the analogies and symbolism necessary to tell a compelling story. Because weak verbs can be the death of good writing, the authors also include power verbs for each entry to further stimulate creative writing. And finally, each entry includes helpful writing tips, such as:

Pay special attention to the events leading up to an emotional response. If the plotting feels contrived, the character’s emotion will feel contrived as well.

Each entry includes physical signals, behaviors, internal sensations, mental responses, long term responses to an emotion, and signs that an emotion has been suppressed rather than dealt with, providing all the pieces to construct dazzling scenes.

Bottom Line
One of the best references for creative writing I’ve ever read.
Profile Image for R.J. Sorrento.
Author 4 books40 followers
March 2, 2019
An excellent for resource for writers who struggle with showing emotions on the page. It sits beside me as I edit my novel. I love this book.
Profile Image for Paula Cappa.
Author 14 books486 followers
February 27, 2019
Emotion vs. feeling. As writers of fiction, we need to understand the difference when creating character expression on the page. In Ackerman and Puglisi's second edition of The Emotion Thesaurus, they address the power of emotion in fiction. The whole point of the book is that 'readers don't want to be told how a character feels; they want to experience the emotion for themselves.' This book is a great addition to any writer’s resource library. It's a how-to and in-depth book on how writers can craft emotion on the page. The advice here is professional and precise, easy to follow, and explores some 130 emotions. For example, for the emotion of dread, they list all the physical signals and behaviors, internal sensations, mental responses, acute or long-term responses, signs of suppression, escalation, de-escalation, and associated power verbs. The authors cover dialogue, vocal cues, body language, thoughts, visceral reactions, backstory, emotional wounds, and subtext. I have other thesauruses by Ackerman and Puglisi, but this one is really their finest. I prefer the print version to the Kindle because it's great to have the book open on my desk for a wide view of the lists to jump-start me in exploring character motivation/reaction to discover the precise behavior that fits. Highly Recommended!
Profile Image for Catherine Keaton.
Author 2 books18 followers
October 10, 2012
You can also read this review on my blog: http://cathykeatonwrites.blogspot.com...

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.
Profile Image for N.
835 reviews195 followers
March 3, 2016
This is such a useful little book. You definitely need to accept it for what it is -- a bit of a cheat; something to use in a pinch -- but it's nonetheless a pretty invaluable tool for writers.

I'll admit that, when I first heard about The Emotion Thesaurus, I reacted against the idea of a reference book full of 'beats' of action (he bit his lip! he ripped at his hair!). But... but... your beats should come organically! you should know your characters so well that their actions come to you automatically! you should strive for originality in your writing, not all this lip-biting/hair-ripping!

Of course, that's the ideal and therefore not real life. In real life, you're editing something and you've read it so many times that you basically want to die and goddammit you just can't think of a way to convey to the reader that the character is angry (short of dropping in "he said angrily" -- oh sweet sweet adverbs!). In that situation, The Emotion Thesaurus feels like it was sent from heaven. *angels singing*

I do wish some of the suggested beats were less clichéd. You can find yourself in the situation of swapping out a tacky adverb and replacing it with a tacky cliché, which is hardly a step up. Nonetheless, in a pinch, it's great (she said, biting her lip).
Profile Image for Gabe Novoa.
Author 6 books740 followers
October 5, 2013
I tweeted a while back that The Emotion Thesaurus is perpetually open in my Nook app while revising, and I wasn’t exaggerating. Whenever I reach a moment where I’m struggling to describe an emotion, or I get a CP note asking for more emotion from a character, I open up The Emotion Thesaurus.

It’s not a book that you necessarily read from cover to cover (although you’re more than welcome to), it’s a resource that you open when trying to describe a particular (or several) emotions. What I love about it is it not only lists body language cues, thoughts and physical responses, but it also lists cues of suppressed emotion (which I use all the time). As a bonus, it has writing tips at the end of every chapter.

I honestly can’t recommend this book enough to writers of all stages. It will forever change the way you think about and write emotion—or at least, it did for me.
Profile Image for Alicia.
Author 6 books252 followers
March 31, 2013
The Emotion Thesaurus contains some opening material about characterization, showing versus telling, and using this thesaurus as inspiration and applying it naturally to characters and their surroundings. This opening material is nothing particularly new or ground-breaking, but I see how it's necessary--sort of a why-you-need-this-book combined with a disclaimer.

The bulk of of the text is made up of sections dedicated to many different emotions, where each section includes a list of ways to display the emotion. This is a pretty awesome and unique reference manual. I've been looking for books about facial expressions and body language, and this fits the bill, while also being directed toward writers.

I expect I'll keep this handy during my editing process.
Profile Image for Sacha Black.
Author 18 books251 followers
April 18, 2019
Writing is such a nuanced beast. No two voices are the same which is why it’s so rare to find a writing craft book that is universally useful. But that is exactly what The Emotion Thesaurus is. An exceptional writing craft reference and textbook that defies genres and niches and drives right to the core of what a writer needs: emotional characters their readers can connect to. I’ve loved The Emotion Thesaurus since its first incarnation. But the second edition is bigger and better than ever before. Whether you’re a new writer or seasoned pro, this book serves as a tutor for hooking into a reader’s feelings and sucker punching the heart-wrench of a delicious plot. If you want to learn how to ‘show’ emotions, create depth to your characters and make your readers weep, you need this book.
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