Friday, December 19, 2014

The Emotion Thesaurus

I'm in the show, don't tell school of fiction writing. 

For better or worse, depending on the sensibility of the reader, I include a fair amount of description in my fiction. This is both conscious (a desire to mold round, sympathetic characters in vivid physical landscapes) and unconscious (a reflection of my sometimes fine-grained sense of detail, a carryover from the observational journal writing I did in my teens and twenties).

In the process of editing my novel, I inevitably find characters repeatedly doing some of the same thingswalking, sitting, standing, smiling, listening, lookingand experiencing a common subset of emotions (happiness, sadness, excitement, worry).   

To challenge myself as a writer and keep the experience fresh for the reader, I strive to change the words and phrases describing these actions and states as much as possible. And I generally prefer to communicate emotions through non-verbal cues and body language rather than directly tell (telegraph) what a character is feeling inside, though I make exceptions for more stoic or introverted characters.

Roget's Super Thesaurus and have helped me dig out individual words for simple actions, but single words are rarely enough to convey characters' emotions. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression, which includes 75 emotional statessuch as amazement, curiosity, love, desire, depression, and nostalgiagoes much further

Each state has a two-page entry which begins with a definition and follows with five sub-categories: physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses, and cues of both acute/long-term and suppressed emotion.

The first entry, adoration, is defined as "the act of worship; to view as divine." 

Thirty-two physical signals are listed next, including "becoming unaware of one's environment or other people" and "keeping trinkets, pictures, or articles of the subject."

Internal sensations and mental responses follow. Gratitude's internal sensations include "a release of all bodily tension" and a "heart that feels full"; among gratitude's mental responses is "desiring to repay another's kindness and support."

After sensations come cues. One cue of acute or long-term adoration is "a sense of destiny (of belonging together)." Cues of suppressed adoration include "watching or observing from afar" and "creating chance run-ins." Branching off of the cues of acute emotion is a section

Each entry ends with a writer's tip. The tip for regret mirrors the main purpose of this book:  "Watch for possible description crutches. Is the color 'green' used too much? Does a sensory sound (like wind rustling through the trees) happen in multiple scenes? Keep track of these details to avoid overuse." 

If you know a creative writer who wants to expand their horizons—and their craftconsider gifting The Emotion Thesaurus this holiday season.

                                     More pieces about writing on Truth and Beauty: 


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