Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Emotion Thesaurus

Countdown to rewrite: 10 days

Oh, goodness, my rewrite starts next week, and I need this book right now

Over at the Adventures in YA and Children's Publishing blog (which you writers out there should follow if you're not doing so already) they interviewed the authors of The Emotion Thesaurus.

Becca Puglisi pointed out three common mistakes writers make when writing emotion:
  • Not enough emotion. Readers need to feel what the character’s feeling. Yet I see so many characters who don’t seem to feel much of anything. Ways to effectively convey emotion: 1) Don’t name the emotion (She was overcome with sadness); show it (She rubbed at her chest, where a gnawing void seemed to have swallowed her heart). 2) Always show a character’s physical response to any event or conversation that elicits emotion; don’t rely on dialogue alone to get the point across. 3) Make sure events in your story are dramatic enough to elicit true emotion; if they’re not, you need to add some conflict and tension to the mix.
  • Weak emotional range. Humans have the capacity to experience dozens of different emotions, yet many writers tend to focus on the most obvious ones. Characters who only express happiness, sadness, and anger fall flat after awhile. To avoid this problem: For each scene, look at your character’s goal and the conflict that keeps him from achieving it. Then ask yourself: What does my character feel as a result of this roadblock? If the answer is always the same, try varying those roadblocks or throwing in a new conflict to broaden his emotional experiences. 
  • Repetitive emotional description. We created The Emotion Thesaurus because we found this problem to be a nearly universal struggle among writers. We’re all a bit stymied when it comes to writing emotion because we only notice and retain the really obvious cues, and we tend to rely on them. But any repetition weakens the writing. To avoid this problem: 1) Note the cues that you overuse, then search and destroy when editing. 2) Observe, watch movies, and jot down physical responses to different feelings. 3) Practice expressing old cues in fresh new ways (he clenched his fists becomes his fingers curled into trembling fists of knuckle and bone), and 4) use The Emotion Thesaurus to brainstorm new ways to express emotion.
These are all things I could improve on--I know I'll be using this information regularly, especially when revising and rewriting. 



  1. This seems like pretty good advice. I don't know about gnawing voids swallowing people's hearts, though. Seems a bit over-dramatic to me. ;) But I get the idea.

    1. Take it up with Becca, she's the one who wrote it. ;) I probably wouldn't write that to replace 'sadness,' but for a stronger emotion, sure.

      The points she made are spot on, though.

  2. Ooo, that sounds like an awesome book! Thanks for the suggestion.

    I actually really liked the gnawing void ;)

    1. I know, right? Super useful. :) There's also a free PDF called "Emotion Amplifiers" on their website right now. I've already used it!

  3. Apparently the InkPageant team are giving this book away this month! Looks really neat, so I might have to check it out.