Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Emotion Thesaurus - Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

If you have a fiction writer on your holiday list and you're still trying to figure out what to get him or her this year, I am here to recommend The Emotion Thesaurus.

One of the hardest things for a novelist to do is to figure out how to explain their characters' emotions to readers without hitting them over the head with them. We're supposed to be showing, not telling -- but how do you convey intangibles? How can you telegraph to your reader that Naomi was really, really angry at Joseph without saying it? How do you get your readers to feel her anger? Because it's the visceral experience that will bring them into your story and hook them there.

Ackerman and Puglisi provide entries for 75 emotions. Each entry offers both internal and external physical cues, mental responses, and other useful information. For the entry on anger, for example, we could say Naomi stood with her feet planted wide apart, glaring at Joseph. She might shake her fist at him. From inside her own body, she might feel her teeth grinding or her pulse pounding. Mentally, she might jump to conclusions or react irrationally to something that's not a big deal. If she's been mad at him for a long time, she might be in the habit of venting her anger by breaking her own things, or she might have an ulcer. Or if she doesn't want him to know how angry she is, she might turn her body away from him and avoid eye contact, or make passive-aggressive comments.

Mind you, you wouldn't want to include all of those cues in a single scene. One or two would be plenty, or else you'll be tipping it over into melodrama. But using any one of them sure beats simply stating, "She was mad." Right? And I got all of them from a single entry in The Emotion Thesaurus. It's a great resource.