Friday, June 21, 2019

Books for Writers: The Emotion Thesaurus, Second Edition

Books for Writers: The Emotion Thesaurus, Second Edition


Did you ever read the Hardy Boys series or the Nancy Drew series

As a kid, I think I read every one of them. I know I read all I had access to. They were my favorite books at one point in my life. I recommend these books to any young person who loves to read. Or those you wish would develop a love of reading.

At the time, I didn't have a problem with the following dialog indicators:

  • He/She blared
  • He/She demanded
  • He/She screamed
  • He/She chortled
  • He/She laughed
  • He/She snickered
  • He/She cried
  • He/She twittered
  • He/She giggled
  • He/She boasted

There were more, too. While it is true that some of these are perfectly fine, such as 'she screamed' or 'she cried,' many of the others are simply not possible.

You try laughing and talking at the same time. It's almost an impossibility. For that reason, it makes more sense to use a period than a comma in this sentence: "I can't believe you did that," she laughed.

Instead, this would make more sense:

She laughed, her arms wrapped tight against her chest as if to hold her amusement inside. "I can't believe you did that!"

Some have said using the tags mentioned above is simply laziness. I don't know if that's true. After all, that's what most of us grew up reading. It could be that it's what we've internalized while growing up as readers. However, richer, more intense writing requires more.

Tags can be overused, too. He nodded. He shrugged. These are two of the tags I have to watch out for in my own writing. The more tired I am when writing, the more often these show up. The thesaurus is helpful in coming up with new ways to say the same thing. Instead of 'he bowed his head,' maybe 'he stared at the tip of his boot' or 'he raised one shoulder' would be better.

Dialog Tags


Dialog tags are phrases that intuit a character's action before, during, or after the character speaks. It provides richer, more satisfying prose to the reader and helps the reader know who is talking without the constant use of 'he said' or 'she said.' Even so, the occasional 'he said' or 'she said' tag is useful when it is otherwise difficult to know which character is speaking.

When I first learned to use dialog tags, I used the suggestions in The Romance Writers' Phrase Book to come up with some of my own dialog tags. For an author in the early years of my writing efforts, that book was a fantastic tool. I still recommend it. Unfortunately, it is pretty limited.

I blogged about this book last year. If you're interested, you can find blog entry below Reviews of Writing Books on my Author Helps page.

The Emotion Thesaurus


Then I found The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglist.

In many ways, this book is more helpful than the Romance Writers' Phrase Book. There are more categories.

The categories for each emotion are broken down into definition, physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses, cues of acute or long-term responses (this emotion), may escalate to, cues of suppressed (this emotion), and writer's tips.

Wow! That's pretty comprehensive coverage for each emotion.

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression, Second Edition (Expanded)


Then, the second edition of The Emotion Thesaurus (Expanded) was published in 2019, with even more emotions listed.

The categories for each emotion are broken down into definition, physical signals and behaviors, internal sensations, mental responses, acute or long-term responses for this emotion, signs that this emotion is being suppressed, may escalate to, may de-escalate to, associated power verbs, and writer's tips.

As comprehensive as the coverage for terms was in the first edition, the information provided for each term in the second is even better.

So, how are these used? You could copy and paste whole phrases from the book, but that isn't the best use for this thesaurus. For best practice, read the entire two pages for the emotion you're trying to evoke in your writing, then think about it within the context of your scene.

Which character is feeling the emotion? Which character is the viewpoint character? To stay in POV (point of view), you need to make sure whatever dialog tag you use is one that is directly observable or 'feelable' by the POV character.

For instance, your character can see that someone's face turns red and his or her lips tremble, but unless the POV character is a telepath or empath, he or she cannot know what the other person is thinking or feeling directly.

Does the person's face turn red because she's angry or because she's embarrassed? Are his lips trembling because he's afraid or because passion has overcome him? Your POV character can assume, but not know unless the other character specifically states it.

As the author, you know, or should, how your character will respond to a situation. Read the appropriate thesaurus pages, then visualize your character responding in the scene. Write what you visualize. This makes it your writing, rather than just a copy and paste situation.

My Recommendation


I highly recommend the second edition of The Emotion Thesaurus. However, don't just read the entries for the specific emotion you want to show in your writing. Take the time to read the first chapters in the book, too. These chapters will teach you the importance of showing emotion in your writing. You will learn more about:

  • The Power of Emotion
  • Character Research: What to Know to Write Authentic Emotion
  • Using Dialogue to Write Emotion
  • Subtext: What Lies Beneath
  • Additional Ideas for Brainstorming Fresh Emotion
  • Common Problems with Writing Nonverbal Emotion
  • Using the Emotion Thesaurus

For years, I taught computers and coding. If I were to teach a class on writing fiction, I would require my students to have a copy of The Emotion Thesaurus, Second Edition. In my opinion, it's a tool that should be on every writer's shelf. Or even better, sitting next to the keyboard ready for use.

Dialog tags can be fun to write. Check it out. You may be surprised that you find it fun, too.

Later,







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