One of the most useful writing aides I have found along my journey has been The Emotion Thesaurus. In the constant quest to show readers our characters’ actions and let them deduce the underlying emotions and thoughts for themselves, The Emotion Thesaurus provides engrossing lists of physical tics, physiological sensations, and other characteristics that can be used to display a character’s internal state without reusing the same ones again and again.
This isn’t just for icy, passionless Vulcans trying to understand emotion-fueled humans. For instance, the early drafts of one of my novels was full of people “swallowing hard”. It works as far as it goes, but when everyone is doing it all the time, it weakens. The Thesaurus provides lists of actions and physiological symptoms, organized by emotion (anxiety, concern, fear, etc.). Each emotion is also cross-referenced with other similar ones (in the ebook version, these are linked for easy reference).
I enjoyed just flipping through the Thesaurus, getting ideas for actions that could set different characters apart in the way they expressed similar emotions.
Each emotion also has a section of “Internal Sensations”, to help in figuring out what a character is experiencing and feeling physically as he is experiencing whatever emotion the scene calls for. Is his gut spinning? Is he feeling hot, which might make him rub sweaty hands on his shirt, or mop his forehead? Perhaps his muscles go weak, making him grab something for support or sit down, or even just breath more heavily. All these details can help you tie together exactly what is happening to your character to craft a convincing emotional reaction.
The clear organization includes helpful sections and lists, with similar groups of emotions all tagged and crossed-referenced (e.g. Adoration, Love, and Desire are linked to each other). There are also notes of escalation, as (for example) Adoration could turn into Love and Desire, or turn into Frustration and Hurt if not reciprocated or deserved by the subject.
The Emotion Thesaurus is a very useful guide for all aspects of showing your characters’ emotional lives, and how their emotions interact with their biological states. I highly recommend every author consider adding this title to your reference library; you won’t regret it!
The book is available in ebook and paperback versions on Amazon, here. Authors Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi have also published Emotion Amplifiers, a companion volume to the Thesaurus, available from Amazon as a free ebook.
The authors’ website can be found at WritersHelpingWriters.net (here). Cover is used with permission of the authors.