Why Every Writer Should Get The Emotion Thesaurus

Posted July 16, 2015 by Amanda Shofner in Writing / 3 Comments

emotionthesaurusBecause writers are evil beings who are cruel to their characters. Wait. No. That’s not it.

It’s because common problems that arise in manuscripts revolve around how writers describe what’s happening. I’m trying really hard to avoid the cliches like “Show don’t tell” and “avoid adverbs” but a lot of that contributes to wooden stories.

Yes, sometimes you need to tell, not show. Yes, some adverbs are good—tell me how you intend to write a book without using “not.” I’m not here to discuss the merits of that advice.

To demonstrate, let’s take this example:

“How dare you,” he said angrily. He felt so betrayed by what she had done.

“I have my reasons,” she snapped.

Boring. These words—despite “describing” what’s happening—serve to distance the reader. Do you feel his anger? Do you feel the betrayal? I don’t. And yet, it’s not uncommon to stumble across this type of writing.

That’s where The Emotion Thesaurus comes in.

The Emotion Thesaurus lists 75 emotions, giving its readers the emotion’s definition, physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses, cues of acute or long-term of the emotion, and—my favorite—cues of the suppressed emotion.

Now, in my example, we’re in the male’s POV—because “he felt” indicates we’re in his head—and YES, “he felt” distances readers also, but let me get to my point. If he’s angry, we can flip to the page for ANGER in The Emotion Thesaurus, pick a few of the behaviors it gives us, and rewrite.

Here’s what I’m going to choose: a carefully controlled voice (suppressed anger), hitting something (physical signs), and flared nostrils (physical signs).

He slammed his fist into the wall. “How dare you,” he said, his words low and quiet. His nostrils flared.

Now we’re getting somewhere. But we still have the betrayal to cover. Betrayal isn’t listed, but we have emotions like HURT and HUMILIATION, and those will suffice. I’m going to choose swallowing hard (hurt physical sign) and pain in chest (humiliation internal sensation).

He slammed his fist into the wall. “How dare you,” he said, his words low and quiet. His nostrils flared, and he swallowed hard against her betrayal. Why had she done it? A pain, sharp and deep, stabbed his chest as he waited for her answer.

Ahh. Isn’t this fun? Now, because we’re in the male’s POV, we can’t be privy to the female’s motivations. But we can suggest them. Let’s say she really does have her reasons, but she has done him wrong, and she feels regret and remorse for it.

He slammed his fist into the wall. “How dare you,” he said, his words low and quiet. His nostrils flared, and he swallowed hard against her betrayal. Why had she done it? A pain, sharp and deep, stabbed his chest as he waited for her answer.

She winced. “I did it for—” She broke off, looking down at her feet. “I’m sorry.”

There. The end result—with a little help from The Emotion Thesaurus—gives us far more insight into the characters and concrete images to visualize the story. He’s no longer saying words angrily, he’s demonstrating his anger with his actions.

No lie, I used The Emotion Thesaurus when I was revising A Veiled Truth, and it’s a large reason why I think A Veiled Truth is my best story to date.

I dare you to grab a copy of The Emotion Thesaurus on Amazon and see if it helps you as much as it helped me.

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3 responses to “Why Every Writer Should Get The Emotion Thesaurus

  1. Chris Nelson

    I read every word of this post, becoming increasingly amazed at how simple the purpose of it was, and how elegantly and clearly Amanda lead us through it. Wow.

  2. Monica

    Thanks for sharing this resource Amanda. The show, don’t tell thing is something I struggle with. Your post was not only helpful, but encouraging. Definitely going to check out The Emotion Thesarus.

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