The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expressionby Becca Puglisi, and Angela Ackerman
When I get into the rewriting stage, I have two books fending off coffee mugs, empty printer cartridges and Milka Haselnut chocolate wrappers for some desktop space. The first is a long-time companion– a hard-cover Roget’s International Thesaurus, 4th edition from 1977 donning a dashing orange cover offset by black binding and gold lettering. I have lugged my 1316-page faithful friend with me since childhood, coffee stains and complicated tab coding and all. What Roget lacks in slimness, he makes up for in his inexhaustible fastidiousness fondness for just the right word. About a year ago, much to Roget’s chagrin, a newcomer joined our cozy little twosome – The Emotion Thesaurus, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.
When I first introduced Emotion to Roget, I could almost hear the old man’s snickers at the 161-page black and blue paperback newby, “You call yourself a thesaurus?” But Emotion could hold her own with 75 different root emotions beginning with “Adoration” and ending with “Worry.” Perhaps Roget’s smugness, was simply an expression of his anxiety.
But amongst shelves upon shelves of “how to” books, what makes this one distinctive? The Emotion Thesaurus not only aids my efforts to show a particular character emotion, the index of emotions helps me pinpoint what my characters are experiencing in the first place. Once I know the emotion, Ackerman and Puglisi equip me with a complete arsenal of emotional behaviors to set loose on my characters. With this book, I can make my spurned lovers tug their ears (anguish), my teenage space explorers repeat the same things over and over (amazement) and my murder suspects scout for exits when entering a room (paranoia). Because even the best writers sometimes need guidance to help overcome old habits like the trusty nod, the knowing smile and the terrified shriek.
The Emotion Thesaurus breaks down each emotion into three elements: physical signals (body language and actions), internal sensations (visceral reactions) and mental responses (thoughts). The authors also include three additional categories: Cues of Acute Long-Term [enter emotion here], May Escalate to (other emotions listed), and Cues of Suppressed [enter emotion here]. As an added bonus, every emotion section ends with a Writer’s Tip such as the benefit of describing a character’s appearance by having the character interact with his or her environment.
Just as fictional characters should interact with their settings, fictional works should interact with their readers. A feat accomplished through emotion. In his book entitled, Writing for Emotional Impact: Advanced Dramatic Techniques to Attract, Engage, and Fascinate the Reader from Beginning to End
, Karl Iglesias tells writers that their mantra should be, “I’m in the emotion-delivery business, and my job is to evoke emotions in a reader.” Sol Stein in On Writing states, “Manipulating the readers’ emotions is exactly what the author should do…” In Immediate Fiction: A Complete Writing Course
Jerry Cleaver writes, “The emotions we’re feeling are the emotions of the characters. What they feel, we feel. The better the story, the more we lose ourselves in the characters, the more we become them. If they’re excited, we’re excited. If they’re sad, we’re sad.” For Ansen Dibell, emotion must cause a reaction. “Thought or emotion crosses the line into plot when it becomes action and causes reactions.” And of the three things that Orson Scott Card states a writer owes a reader in Elements of Fiction Writing – Characters & Viewpoint: Proven advice and timeless techniques for creating compelling characters by an award-winning author, “Emotional Involvement” is number two.
The Emotion Thesaurus is the result of collaborative effort by Becca Puglisi, a YA fantasy and historical fiction writer, and Angela Ackerman, a Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction. Together the two of authors host the website, “The Bookshelf Muse,” an award-winning online resource to help writers in their writing efforts. With their book, The Emotion Thesaurus, they have also presented writers with an indispensable resource — and one that Roget and I will always be sure to include, even if it means foregoing the Milka.
Still not sure how I feel about this book? Just see me stroking its cover, doodling its name with hearts and confiding all my secrets and desires into its pages (love).