I’ll Tell You How I Feel

At the core of every story is the emotional experience. The emotional connection between the reader and the characters is what keeps the pages turning and the reader engaged in the story.

There are many tools out there that help writers create deep emotional connections. One of my favorites is the Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.

The book explains that to truly engage the reader in what your character is feeling, you can’t just tell them what’s going on, you need to show them what’s happening with the character. One overt way is through the actions of the character – what they’re doing in response to what they’re feeling. Internal dialogue is another communication tool for a character’s emotional state. What they’re thinking tells a lot about how they perceive the situation on an emotional level. Another element is the visceral reaction of the character to what’s going on. Sometimes involuntary reactions of the body, like ‘sweating profusely’ or ‘waves of nausea’, can communicate volumes about how the character is responding emotionally to a situation.

That’s where the Emotion Thesaurus comes in. It’s a fantastic resource of 75 emotions, broken down into list sections: actions, bodily reactions, and thought processes. Each of these sections contains suggestions to fill out your character’s emotional responses. Also included are cues for characters with a long term affliction of the emotion (for rich character arcs) and cues for expression of the suppressed emotion (for richer conflicts).

It’s not the kind of book you read cover to cover, rather a resource to flip through as you build your characters when in the planning stages, or during the editing process to strengthen them up. I’ve found it to be a very helpful tool when strengthening my characters during editing, but I also like to randomly flip through it just for fun to read the descriptions and traits for the sake of my own curiosity.

There are several other thesauruses in the collection, the other two most popular are the positive and negative trait thesauruses. I’m looking forward to using the negative trait thesaurus for building really deep villains. I also plan to use the emotional wound thesaurus along with it in order to create a villain that inspires empathy in the reader to make the conflict much more engaging.

Creating experiences that resonate on an emotional level with your audience is the goal of any writer. These thesauruses are just some of the great tools I have found to be helpful in that end. I hope you find them as useful as I do!

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