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One of the best resources for writing believable emotion

Do your characters roll their eyes so many times that they're developing a vision impairment, or do their hearts hammer so much that they should see a cardiologist instead of continuing on with your plot? If so, I recommend picking up The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. I discovered the first addition years ago when I first started writing, and recently downloaded the second addition. Here's why it's awesome:

It helps you get into your character's head

As writers, we must understand how situations will affect characters, as well as show how characters experience emotion differently from each other. For example, a reserved character will certainly exhibit anger differently than a melodramatic character would. The first section of this book will walk you through developing believable emotion by teaching you how to create baseline reactions and helping you identify traits or insecurities that may affect your characters' reactions. Best of all, there's a really great example that shows how this is done and the power of triggers.

It shows how to emphasize emotion through dialogue

What a character says—or in some cases, doesn't say—reveals their emotions to the reader. That's why we must capture emotion in our dialogue so it doesn't fall flat or lack the required level of tension. Ackerman and Puglisi include an extensive section that demonstrates how to use everything from tone of voice to beats to subtext. This section will help you truly evaluate the effectiveness of the conversations in your manuscript. Using what I learned in this section, I can now identify areas where my dialogue may be lacking, seem out-of-character for the speaker, or not convey enough of the desired emotion.

To keep verbal exchanges sharp and multi-dimensional, ask yourself the following question: What do my characters want from this conversation?

130 (wow!) emotions

The latest edition of The Emotional Thesaurus breaks down 130 emotions, everything from acceptance to wanderlust. Each emotion is then thoroughly explored by first looking at the definition, and then the physical and behavioral responses. These lists are extensive, including roughly 30 or so physical responses for each one that will inspire your writing. For example, here's a few physical reactions pulled from the book for "acceptance":

  • One's shoulders and torso loosening slightly as tension ebbs

  • Taking in a cleansing breath

  • Stretching, shaking out one's arms, rolling the shoulders, or curling the toes to release tension and embrace a new mindset

The authors don't stop with the just physical reactions though. They explore the internal sensations a character may experience as well as mental responses, long-term responses, signs of suppressed emotion, and what that emotion may escalate to. Personally, I found these sections extremely helpful in not only creating believability, but also determining what a character may do next. For example, for "acceptance" a character may:

  • Experience a lessening need to review past struggles and obstacles

  • Think about the future and what new things it will bring

The lists included for each emotion will help you come up with your own original phrasing. I find I refer to these lists during editing. So go ahead and leave the rolling eyes and hammering hearts in the first draft just to get your ideas on paper (or screen). Then, during editing, you can use this wonderful book to help you layer in the desired emotion.

But wait, there's more!

If all this sounds pretty awesome, I have good news. There's seven books in the Writers Helping Writers Thesaurus Collection, and I'm including the links below.

Disclaimer: I DO NOT participate in affiliate marketing. This means that I receive no monetary gain from recommending another's book, product, or service. I'm sharing these links because I 100% believe these books will be helpful to aspiring writers.

The Emotion Thesaurus

If you need inspiration for creating characters’ emotional responses that are personalized and evocative, this ultimate show-don’t-tell guide for emotion can help.


The Negative Trait Thesaurus

The Negative Trait Thesaurus sheds light on your character’s dark side. Written in list format and fully indexed, this brainstorming resource is perfect for creating deep, flawed characters readers will relate to.


The Positive Trait Thesaurus

If you find character creation difficult or worry that your cast members all seem the same, The Positive Trait Thesaurus is brimming with ideas to help you develop one-of-a-kind, dynamic characters that readers will love.


The Rural Setting Thesaurus

The Rural Setting Thesaurus takes “show-don’t-tell” to new heights. It offers writers a roadmap to creating fresh setting imagery that impacts the story on multiple levels while keeping readers engaged from the first page to the last.


The Urban Setting Thesaurus

The Urban Setting Thesaurus helps you tailor each setting to your characters while creating a realistic, textured world readers will long to return to, even after the book closes.


The Emotional Wound Thesaurus

Root your characters in reality by giving them an authentic wound that causes difficulties and prompts them to strive for inner growth to overcome it. The Emotional Wound Thesaurus is a crash course in psychology.


The Occupation Thesaurus

Do more with your description and choose a profession for your character that showcases who they are, what they want, and what they believe in. With over 120 entries, The Occupation Thesaurus is an entire job fair for writers. 


Free Download: Descriptive Thesaurus Sampler

Ackerman and Puglisi have created a downloadable pro pack to help you strengthen your writing. I highly recommend downloading it for a taste of what their books have to offer.

Every book in the Writers Helping Writers Thesaurus collection has achieved bestseller status on Amazon, often listed in the number-one spot and in total has sold over 500,000 copies.

A big thanks to Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi for allowing excerpts and providing the cover artwork used in this post!

If you enjoyed this post, I invite your to share on social media, or by letting me know your thoughts over here.


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