Guest Book Review: “The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression”

The 3rd Sunday is here again and we’re back on schedule with a special review of The Emotion Thesaurus:  A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi from our very own Samantha Warden. Read on…

The Emotion Thesaurus

“How well-rounded are your characters?  Do you default to limiting their reactions to the major 6 or 7 emotions: anger, contempt, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise?   Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi have put together an excellent resource to help you express a full range of emotions in your story without turning to hackneyed clichés.

Can you tell the difference between remorse and shame, worry and unease, or adoration and love?  How can you make sure that all your characters don’t react in the same manner to similar emotional triggers?

“The Emotion Thesaurus” outlines 75 different emotions, and break each emotion into seven general categories:

  • Definition
  • Physical Signals
  • Internal Sensations
  • Mental Responses
  • Cues of Acute or Long Term Emotion,
  • May Escalate to some other Emotion
  • Cues of Suppressed Emotion

The physical signals, usually the longest sub-list for each emotion, ranges from very subtle  to blatant.  For example,  physical manifestations of contempt  stretch from a down-turned mouth to turning away dismissively; or, even more actively, spitting on an opponent.  These physical signals can easily be used for both first and third person points of view, but are especially beneficial when writing third-person limited, when the narrator doesn’t have access to many of the characters’ thoughts or sensations.

If your story’s point of view is first person, you will appreciate the sections of internal sensations and mental responses to round out your point of view character’s responses.  And, if the emotional tension isn’t resolved immediately, you might want to turn next to the emotions identified that might escalate from the original scene.

You can easily add depth to a character long before a conflict is presented by making use of the cues for a suppressed emotion, foreshadowing an upcoming scene.

The authors also sprinkle in tips for writers, with reminders or suggestions on how best to present your characters’ emotional states; e.g., “WRITER’S TIP:  To generate friction in dialogue, give the participants opposing goals.  A heightened emotional response is the natural result of not getting what one needs.”

The Emotion Thesaurus is a book that I plan on reading several times, just for the wealth of information contained therein.  I also anticipate it will be helpful in all stages of my writing:  when plotting an outline, a review of the possible emotions and emotive responses will be helpful in building tension throughout the story arc; during the actual writing of a scene, reviewing the emotion that is the focus of the action will assist in creating a response that rings true without depending on clichés; and during the editing process I plan on relying heavily on Ackerman & Puglisi’s Emotion Thesaurus to polish the final manuscript so that my characters’ emotions; good and bad, subtle and intense, are instrumental in bringing them to life for the reader.

This is one resource book that I plan on keeping around both in its print version and as an e-book, so that it is always with me wherever I’m writing.”

Samantha Warden
a/k/a Dichotomy6958

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About dichotomy6958

I’m Samantha Potter, a not-quite newlywed, grandmother, paralegal, author and volunteer; usually, but not always, in that order.

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