Friday, October 3, 2014

The Emotion Thesaurus

I love the Internet. Today while researching "street teams", I ran across a blog post by Angela Ackerman that nailed the basics. You can read it here. I immediately connected with her and was intrigued by her writing books, and in the course of our conversation, I invited her to visit the Blood-Red Pencil. Turns out, we've already written about her with this post from September 23, 2012. Well, it's worth a second read, and happily, we'll get to visit with Angela again. Very soon. Hooray! ~ Dani/Chief Red Pencil

I have not read or purchased a new grammar or reference book recently, but rely on my old favorites, The Little, Brown Compact Handbook, Self-Editing for fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King and the Flip Dictionary (better than a thesaurus sometimes).

 But I’m always preaching “feelings” to my students and editing clients. What is he feeling here? What is her reaction to this? How does sad (happy, angry, frustrated) feel?

I sometimes have to stop my own writing and think about how to describe a feeling in a way that’s not over-used, trite or clichéd. You can only have your character’s stomach clench a time or two before your reader begins to suspect he or she has an ulcer.

So, recently I downloaded The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writers Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. Angela and Becca host The Bookshelf Muse, an award-winning online resource for writers that offers a number of different thesauri to aid authors in their descriptive writing efforts.

Their book is an excellent resource for prompting your creativity in expressing feelings. It gives the definition of a word, for example, “Anger.” Then it follows with a list:

• Physical signals, such as flaring nostrils or jerky head movements
• Internal sensations: such as sweating or the body heating
• Mental Responses: irritability or taking inappropriate action
• Cues of acute or long term anger: skin problems, ulcers, etc.
• Cues of suppressed anger: false smiles, sore muscles and jaw

I keep this handy reference on my Kindle for PC so it’s always right there when I get stuck.

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.   
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  1. Thanks so much for sharing this, Heidi. There are times I am really stumped when trying to describe a feeling. I am going to get this book.

  2. It's so funny you put this up today Heidi, as I just learned about this resource last week! It sounds like a great way to get writers thinking about new ways to express emotion.

    Still, a thesaurus can't help you with the one way that a writer can express emotion in a non-chlichéd way, specific to their story: through setting.

    "The cacti stood like so many armed guards, now unified in their determination to keep him from passing. He swung his shotgun toward the closest and blasted its top off, enjoying the milk now oozing down its side."

    Haha!! So much better than jaw clenching.

  3. Thank you for sharing this blog with us. I've posted the blog link on my Facebook Page, Terry's Thoughts and Threads, where I share links and resources for writers and quilters.

  4. Another tool for my kit ... I'll put it right next to the Plot Point Generator 3000.

  5. Sounds like something I could use. Thanks.

  6. This makes me think of helping our little boy name his feelings. Uncooperative toys used be met with tears and throwing. Now our guests are occasionally startled by a howl from the other room, followed by, "I am fwustwated, Mama!"

  7. Heidi, imagine my thrill when I stopped in and found out you were posting about The Emotion Thesaurus! I am so pleased you like the book and are finding it a helpful resource for showing emotions. Thank you so much for profiling it here at Blood Red Pencil--what an honor! <3

    Angela Ackerman

  8. I have a portable kindle version...and I have a hardcopy I can mark up with stickies n such. A valuable resource indeed!

  9. This is an absolutely fantastic tool for writers of all genre! Thanks for sharing it here.

  10. Oh, I downloaded the sample to my Kindle a few weeks ago. I need to go and have a look at it - sounds like it is worth getting. Thanks, Heidi.

  11. Fantastic post, Heidi! Creating emotion in a character that touches the reader -- perhaps evoking a similar emotion -- is indeed an art. As Kathryn noted, setting offers another option, which can be effectively enhanced by a character's actions. (Love your example, Kathryn. what a great "visual"!)

  12. Wow! What a great review of The Emotion Thesaurus! I hope your readers find it useful, Heidi!

  13. Great idea for a writing resource!

    Morgan Mandel

  14. I keep this book on my desk as well!!

  15. I don't have the Compact Handbook, but I've got the other 3 and they're invaluable. I've got the print versions of all of them and they're well worth the bookshelf space. The Descriptionary is another good one.

  16. The whole "street teams" deal cracks me up as it originally meant the street corner drug dealers and runners who were working for the gangs. I know folks are not using it that way now--just like the way "indie publishing" no longer means what it once did, but it still makes me laugh when some author brags about putting his or her street team to work.


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