The Emotion Thesaurus

I stumbled on The Emotion Thesaurus the way you’d expect when you’re mass-purchasing resource materials at the bookstore to assist in developing a craft. Back when I was an elementary school-aged author, Roget’s thesaurus was the best friend who gave me the kick in the pants to push through using the same simple descriptions in my narrative. Next to reading, reading, and more reading — It was the cherished tool that helped shaped my vocabulary.

The Emotion Thesaurus is an easy-to-navigate “guide to character expression” because emotion, when written about, needs to be powerful. It also needs to capture the fine balance of verbal and nonverbal communication.

It’s essentially a Show, Don’t Tell for Dummies.

Authors Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi categorize the distinct human emotions alphabetically with a corresponding list of their physical responses.

The pages also cite examples of 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.

Let’s take for example, the emotion of  ANTICIPATION:

Sweaty palms
Biting one’s lip
Obsessive clock-watching
Begging someone for details, for an answer, for a look at something
Leaning in
(and about twenty others)

The application technique is to go back through one of your pieces of writing and find all the places where you name the character’s emotions — then swap it out for an action.

He sat in anticipation until she finally approached the passenger door”.

gets re-worked as:

He sat fussing with his collar, unable to think about anything else but her, until she finally approached the passenger door.

Presto change-o!

By giving your character an action (instead of labelling the emotion as a noun or adjective) the readers witness more “doing” and more subtext. The emotion becomes the by-product of the actions or intentions, which is far more interesting. It then becomes a visceral experience for the reader, which is kind of the point of reading, isn’t it?

Prepare for The Emotion Thesaurus to give your narrative richer colour, while refraining from spoon-feeding the reader the emotional state of your character.




2 thoughts on “The Emotion Thesaurus

  1. angelaackerman1 says:

    It is always such a pleasure for Becca and I to find posts from people who have discovered one of our books, but this one is such a special treat. Coming from acting roots, you totally get what we are trying to do here, and just the incredible power of body language. So very thrilled this book will help you brainstorm stronger emotional showing. 🙂

    If you like, it does have a free companion you may not know about. It is set up the same, but looks at mental states that affect emotional responses, ones many people mistake for emotions (boredom, hunger, pain, stress, etc.) I don’t want to be spammy and link, but if you search for Emotion Amplifiers anywhere you buy ebooks, you’ll find the booklet. Just a short thing, but helpful, I hope! 😉

    Happy writing, and thanks so much for posting about the Emotion Thesaurus.


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