The Emotion Thesaurus, A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression (Second Edition)
by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi
Book Review and Commentary February 26, 2019
Emotion vs. feeling. We tend to use these words interchangeably but they really are different. In writing fiction and creating character expression, it’s important to understand that they are closely related but distinct. The Psychology Dictionary defines emotion (fear, joy, surprise) as a ‘complex reaction to situations around us.’ Feeling is defined as any sensation, a ‘self contained experience of phenomena. Feelings (jumpy, alarmed, brave) are subjective and are independent of the sensory modality.’ To simplify, we might say emotions happen to us physically, and feelings are more of a mental portrait because it requires personal introspection.
In Ackerman and Puglisi’s second edition of The Emotion Thesaurus, they address the power of emotion in fiction. The whole point of the book is that ‘readers don’t want to be told how a character feels; they want to experience the emotion for themselves.’ This book is a great addition to any writers resource library. It’s a how-to and in-depth book on how writers can craft emotion on the page. The advice here is professional and precise, easy to follow, and explores some 130 emotions. For example, for the emotion of dread, they list all the physical signals and behaviors, internal sensations, mental responses, acute or long-term responses, signs of suppression, escalation, de-escalation, and associated power verbs.
The authors cover dialogue, vocal cues, body language, thoughts, visceral reactions, backstory, emotional wounds, and subtext. I have other thesauruses by Ackerman and Puglisi, but this one is really their finest. I prefer the print version to the Kindle because it’s great to have the book open on my desk for a wide view of the lists to jump-start me in exploring character motivation/reaction to discover the precise behavior that fits.
My Recommended List—
Best Writing Books I’ve Read.
Mystery and Manners, The Nature and Aim of Fiction by Flannery O’Connor (review here)
Author in Progress, a No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Really Takes to Get Published by Therese Walsh, Editor & the Writer Unboxed Community (book review here)
How to Write Short Stories and Use Them to Further Your Writing Career by James Scott Bell (book review here)
Creating Characters, The Complete Guide to Populating Your Fiction, by the Editors of Writer’s Digest (book review here)
Dialogue, The Art of Verbal Action for the Page, Stage, & Screen, by Robert McKee (book review here)
The Annotated Dracula (Bram Stoker), Annotated by Mort Castle (book review here) (Also The Annotated Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte) Annotated by K.M. Weiland)
How to Write Like Chekhov, Advice and Inspiration, Editor Brunello and Lencek (book review here)
Steering the Craft, A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, Ursula K. Le Guin (book review here)
Writing Wild, Tina Welling (book review here)
Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg (book review here)
Method Writing, Jack Grapes (book review here)
Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury (book review here)
On Writing, A Memoir, Stephen King (book review here)
More Craft Books I’ve Read and Recommend:
Writing Fiction, A Guide to Narrative Craft, by Janet Burroway. All the basics of how to write: the writing process, show vs. tell, characterization, fictional atmosphere and place, story structure and plot, point of view, theme, and revision.
Story, Robert McKee
Story Trumps Structure, Steven James
The Fire in Fiction, Donald Maass
The Art of Fiction, John Gardner (I reread this book once a year, it’s that good)
Making Shapely Fiction, Jerome Stern
The Art of Character, David Corbett
Getting into Character, Brandilyn Collins
The Secret Miracle, the Novelist’s Handbook, edited by Daniel Alarcon
Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande
The Faith of a Writer, Life, Craft, Art, Joyce Carole Oates
If You Want to Write, Brenda Ueland
Reading like a Writer, Francine Prose
Elements of Style, Strunk & White
Best Editing Books for Writers:
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne & Dave King
A Dash of Style, Noah Lukeman
The Grammar Bible, Michael Strumpf & Auriel Douglas
Line by Line, Claire Kehrwald Cook
The Careful Writer, Theodore M. Bernstein
Fowler’s Modern English Usage, Second Edition, Ernest Gowers
Chicago Manual of Style
Words Into Type, Third Edition, Skillin & Gay
Do leave me a comment!