Thursday, May 17, 2012

29 Upping the Emotional Level of Your Work with THE EMOTION THESAURUS

Have you seen the Random Acts of Kindness Blitz going on all over the blogosphere this week? It would be hard to miss, but the backstory behind it is a little harder to find. And that's deliberate because the creators of this wonderful movement are crazy modest! Their original idea was to do something to celebrate the release of their book THE EMOTION THESAURUS, but there was a whole lot more promotion for every other writer on the planet than for themselves. So, in case you missed the book's release, let me shout it from the rooftops. THE EMOTION THESAURUS is an amazing book based on the popular tool that Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi had as a regular feature on the Bookshelf Muse, their wonderful blog. I had the good fortune to beta this for them, so I know it is a fantastic tool, and I highly recommend it. Want to know more? Read on!


What is The Emotion Thesaurus?

ANGELA: It’s a tool to help writers show, not tell, emotion. Formatted similar to a thesaurus, the ET explores 75 different emotions, and lists out possible body language cues, visceral sensations (like shivering, a flush of heat or adrenaline, tightness in the throat, etc.) and thoughts a character might experience for each. The result is a brainstorming guide to reference when a writer is struggling with a fresh way to show the reader what a character is feeling.

What prompted you to create the Emotion Thesaurus?

BECCA: Back in 2004, the stars aligned, God smiled, and Angela and I hooked up with the same group of writers at Critique Circle. One of the first things I realized when I started seriously examining my writing was that my characters were always shifting their feet, narrowing their eyes, and fidgeting. To come up with new ways to show emotions, I started a list of physical indicators that I had seen in books, observations I had made, and phrases I had experimented with myself. Right about then, Angela opined that her characters were always biting their lips, nodding, and smiling or frowning. She began a discussion in our critique group about how to convey emotions through different indicators. When everyone responded that they struggled with the same thing, I shared my bare-bones list of emotional indicators. We agreed to contribute to the list and Angela kept a master copy.

That was how the idea started. It grew when we began The Bookshelf Muse and decided to open with a series of blog posts that covered this material. The information was pretty well received and people started telling us they’d love to have it all in a nifty book format. And...vĂ³ila! An Emotion Thesaurus was born.

How did the Emotion Thesaurus change your own writing?

ANGELA: well as Becca mentioned, it got us out of the eye rolling/shrugging/smiling camp, but for me, that was only the start. Overall, it forced me to really understand what telling was, a lesson I could apply to all aspects of description. I began thinking more about how the words I used and the descriptions I chose could create an emotional response in the reader. After all, that’s the goal--connect with the reader and make them FEEL.

Every aspect of the writing process comes back to emotion: character, storyline, description, theme, etc. Our goal is to use empathy to connect the character and his struggles to the reader. We write to offer them an emotional experience, hopefully one that will remain past the last page because it holds a personal meaning to their own life journey. It is in our nature to hunger for meaning, and to search for answers. So when an author writes emotion well, not only does a window open into the character’s world, one opens within the reader as well.

What are three common mistakes you see writers make when writing emotion?

BECCA:

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.

The Emotion Thesaurus is available in ebook, PDF & print...which is better? 

All three are awesome! LOL, no, really it's all about what the writer needs. The print book is handy because each entry is a 2 page spread like an open sandwich, meaning you can see the whole entry at once. Ereaders are smaller, so you can't do this, but the digital copies have handy-dandy links so a writer can move from entry to entry easily. 

Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi are possibly twins separated at birth, living in different countries. The Bookshelf Muse blog duo are co-authors of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression. Listing the body language, visceral reactions and thoughts associated with 75 different emotions, this brainstorming guide is a valuable tool for showing, not telling, emotion.

29 comments:

  1. This looks fantastic! Will definitely be getting myself a copy.

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    1. You won't regret it. Honestly. It's wonderful.

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  2. Awesome interview. I loved hearing how Angela and Becca met. And their idea for RAOK was brilliant.

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    1. Wasn't it brilliant? My hat is constantly off to them. They have the best--and most generous--ideas.

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    2. Becca and I meet in strange ways. The first time, we were supposed to meet up at Magic Kingdom after only knowing one another online. I had forgotten her phone # at the hotel and was worried I'd never find her! But, I turn, and there she is, taking the same ferry as my family to MK! Then this year, I tell Becca I'm going to Arizona on vacation, and find out she is too...the same week! We ended up 2 hours from one another, so met up for a visit. TOTAL KISMET when it comes to us, I tell you. So this book was meant to be. :)

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  3. Where has this book been all of my (writing) life? Thanks!

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    1. Have you looked through it, Toni? Isn't it aweseome?

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  4. I can't wait to get my hands on a copy!

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    1. I can't wait to hear what you think when you do. Such a great tool! :)

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  5. Oh my, what an intro! Thank you for the kind words. I don't know, I suppose most people would think I'm nuts for not going all out cover splash on our release, but I sort of feel that the people who need this book will find it. I am very proud of the book's content. If other people agree, it is my hope they will be excited enough to review it and tell people about it.

    Besides, I am no good with the whole 'Buy my book!' thing, and would rather ask the people who wanted to help with a launch to instead do something bigger and much more worthy. :) Becca and I are super passionate about writers. I can't think of an industry like ours where people help each other every day and offer encouragement when we all know how tough it is to write a great book and get it published.

    Each day I am in awe of the spirit it takes for us all to do this (with a side order of crazy too, lol) and still have the energy to help others succeed, too. Something so incredible should be celebrated! :)

    Thanks so much for having us here! You know how much I love this blog!

    Angela

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    1. I am right there with you. I know we are supposed to promote our own work, but I'm just not comfortable with that either. And honestly, with The Emotion Thesaurus, there is no need to push or promote. It is such a great tool that it will sell no matter what you do. So good for you for helping other writers -- not that you don't do that every day already. It's part of what makes you and Becca such amazing people. And I'm so grateful to have you be on the blog like this. It's especially meaningful since one of the blog first blog posts I ever wrote was about discovering the blog version of the Emotion Thesaurus. I didn't know anything about blogging, and I remember the excitement of sharing something I had found that I felt was really special. I feel the same way sharing the book with people. :D

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    2. You are way too good to me, Woman! Maybe you should do my promoting, lol--you're good at it!

      But then that's just it--I get way more exciting promoting someone else than myself. I think this is why group promoting can be so great to get involved in. :)

      Angela

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  6. Woot! Thanks for all the kind words! We're so excited to see this book helping people with their writing. When we first started our list of cues, we didn't think much of it more than a desire to fix an annoying problem. Who knew it was so common? It's so incredibly gratifying to see other people benefiting from The Emotion Thesaurus, too.

    Thanks so much for tooting our horn for us ;). Like Ange said, we both kind of suck at that.

    Becca

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    1. Which is probably why I feel like I can't toot your horn enough :D

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  7. The "camouflage" comment above is strange spam.

    I should really get an e-copy of The Emotion Thesaurus. I'll put it on my Amazon wishlist, so I can get it once I have money on that account.

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    1. It is so worth the money! You'll love it. I'll admit, I probably don't use it as much for the dialogue cues and reactions as I do when I'm stuck on exactly what my characters are feeling. I tend to write in dialogue--after I already know where the story is going. So then I have to go back and analyze why the reactions are the way they are and cue readers in. The Emotion Thesaurus is INVALUABLE for that. It's like emotion brainstorming.

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  8. These ladies are awesome and the book is just as helpful! :)

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  9. Another great point of reference added to my Kindle. This book is great.

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    1. I love having it on my iPad. It makes it so easy!

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  10. Whoo! Hooo! I'm glad this awesome team gets a shoutout too. Their site and their book are both fabulous.

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    1. Isn't it about time? LOL! There's such a thing as too much modesty. :D

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  11. Brilliant. Ordering my copy right now!

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  12. I want to sit on the curb and wait for my UPS guy to deliver my copies. I also bought one for my daughter who is about to get her BA in Creative Writing.

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  13. Great interview! :)

    I've been using Angela and Becca's emotion thesauraus on The bookshelf muse for a while now. Yay! I'll definitely grab a copy of the book soonest.

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  14. Oh my gosh you guys! Look at all the luv here! I am grinning like crazy right now. :) Thank you all so much. I just want to hug each and every one of you!

    Angela

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  15. I can't wait for my copy!! This is SO awesome!!

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  16. I want this book right now! I'm just about to start a rewrite, and have seen in my revisions that I repeat several phrases for emotion! I.want.this.now. Thank you for the heads up!

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