The Emotion Thesaurus and Why Everyone Should Use It

Hello everyone,

has the excuse for not updating regularly—I’m in grad school—become old news yet? Possibly. And yet.


That is still the case.

Regardless, today I want to talk about The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi and why everyone should use it in their creative writing.

I’m copyediting a manuscript—of which shall remain unnamed—for one of my classes and it has brought to my attention how much I loathe repeated actions. At best the common actions are repeated—like “looked”, “smiled”, “pointed”—at worst the not-so-common actions—like “they picked a tea leaf off their lip”—and I found myself hating it. Not just hating it but actively getting mad. Not at the characters, or the plotline, or the setting—of which the story could use more of, if honest—but at the sheer repetition of actions and how most of them showed nothing of how the character was feeling about the situation at hand.

I wanted more. I wanted other actions. And I wanted emotions behind those actions.

While there are many ways to show emotions, I’ve found myself turning to again and again to The Emotion Thesaurus.

I found this book a few years ago after a friend recommended it. We were sitting in Jitters, a café back in my hometown, and chatting about our stories. It was a common occurrence. Our writers group met once a week and, trust me, it was a welcomed gathering and one I found myself looking forward to every Monday.

We segued into writing books—as we segued into discussions about life, kids, work—and this book came up. I bought it immediately after that discussion. (On Amazon, I hate to admit, please don’t judge me. Back then I didn’t know!)

The Emotion Thesaurus is a wonderful book. It is extraordinarily helpful. Each emotion has a spread dedicated to it, giving a basic description of the emotion and physical signals that one commonly feels when having that emotion. The spread also goes into detail about the internal sensations, mental responses, and cues of acute, long-term, or suppressed emotions. These are all things you can use to describe how the character feels, outwardly or inwardly, and they are true to life. Trust me to that, they are definitely true to life.

For example: Say you want to show how sad your character is via their actions. (As you should, show their emotions through their actions, they are just like us and we do that all the time.) You would turn to page 134, with the heading “Sadness” and essentially pick from the actions shown there. (There are so many to choose from!)

Here’ s an example of how this book can help, using the Sadness cues they give:
Shelly’s chest ached, and her vision blurred. “I can’t believe…” She couldn’t finish the sentence, couldn’t form the words. Burying her face in her hands, she slumped in her chair. She just wanted to leave. Wanted to be alone. Wanted a drink.

See how pretty that is? See how filled with emotions? Even without knowing what happened, there are still enough cues in there for the reader to know she is sad about this mysterious something.

How about with happiness? Do you usually use “smile” to show that one character is happy to see another? The answer is Yes, yes you do. Because everyone does. It’s a common action. But there are other actions you can use to portray happiness. For example, on page 84, under the “Happiness” header there is a whole slew of actions that portray this emotion:

Telling jokes
Laugh lines
Fluid motions
Enthusiastically waving
Stepping lightly
Initiating contact with others
Leaning in
Initiating random acts of kindness

Is “smiling” on the list? Yes. It’s the first (and second) physical signal—An upturned face and Smiling.

But is it the only action listed there? No.

This is what I’d like to see in the manuscript I’m currently reading for school. Actions. Emotions. Is it too much to ask of the author? No. Is it a bit too developmental for a copyedit? No. (For this class, at least.)

This is what I’d like to see more of in writing, mine included. So, next time, if you’re ever stuck on an action and find yourself turning back to it every time, read this book.

I highly recommend it.

Until next time!
Warm regards,

Postscript – I’m going to be updating my blog design sometime this week. Be sure to come back and check it out!


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