In the immortal words of Samantha Sang and the Bee Gees, “It’s just emotion that’s taking me over, caught up in sorrow, lost in the song.” Unfortunately novels lack accompanying singers who let the reader know how characters feel.
One of the most difficult aspects of writing is portraying emotion. Sometimes that is fine – a little ambiguity can be good for a story – but other times writers rely on tropes or telling instead of showing to illustrate a character’s inner world. Unlearning these bad habits can be difficult. Luckily, some great resources exist to help writers learn how to represent feelings on the page. The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi is one of those resources.
The Emotion Thesaurus acts as a guide for portraying emotions. It begins with a brief explanation of the do’s and don’ts of writing emotion including descriptions of common clichés, the need to vary the intensity of a character’s feelings, and the danger of relying too heavily on thoughts or dialogue. From there, the book delves into the different types of emotions. Readers can find examples of how to describe anger, confusion, desire, embarrassment, indifference, paranoia, rage, worry, and dozens of other feelings. I know that it may sound silly to need a resource like this, but seeing emotions well-written can be incredibly helpful for authors.
As with any reference material, The Emotion Thesaurus has its potential pitfalls. A writer shouldn’t simply replicate the examples in the book but should instead use them as a jumping off point. And, of course, sometimes a scene needs a writer to break the rules and tell instead of show. It all relies on the author’s ability to understand his or her own work.
Even if you aren’t interested in actually purchasing The Emotion Thesaurus, I suggest that you explore its preview pages on Amazon. The intro and most of the first chapter are available to everyone that way, and both sections provide some interesting food for thought. (Make sure you check the Kindle preview rather than print preview; it offers a better look at the bulk of the text.)
If you know of other great resources for writing emotion or if you have written about the topic yourself, please share! This can be a difficult subject for authors to wrap their heads around, so any advice is appreciated.