A Writer’s Best Resource For Showing Not Telling

The Emotion Thesaurus by Ackerman and Puglisi

Christmas came early for me this year in the form of Amazon’s marketing genius. While buying yet another book on writing, I spied an intriguing title under Amazon’s Frequently Bought Together headline:  The Emotion Thesaurus. What in the world is that?

It’s Christmas, your birthday, your anniversary, and Happy Writer’s Day all wrapped into one beautiful gift from authors Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. These attractive, talented, wonderful, intelligent, funny (No, I don’t really know them, but I’m grateful, okay?) women have compiled a resource that every writer would probably shell out fifty bucks at least for, but Amazon is only asking $12.32.

So let me unwrap this divine present from the writer goddesses for you. Pick an emotion that a character would feel. I’m feeling pretty Adoring towards Ackerman and Puglisi right now, so let’s use it. Keep in mind as I take you through this in depth entry for Adoration, that there are 74 more emotions covered in this book.

First you get Adoration’s definition. Next comes a list under the heading Physical Signals. This list includes thirty-two outward indicators that a character might be experiencing adoration. These signals would be obvious enough that not only your reader should pick up on them, but the other characters in a scene should be able to observe that the character exhibiting them is Adoring someone or something. For example: lips parting, nodding while the subject speaks, releasing an appreciative sigh, etc.

I would have been thrilled with just this first list. Instead of writing telling sentences like, “The heroine adored her big brother and listened to everything he said.”  I now had a list that helped me come up with showing sentences like, “Big Brother spoke of his most recent battle, and Heroine listened with her lips parted, nodding encouragement every time he paused.”  However, the entry doesn’t stop there.

The next heading under Adoration is Internal Sensations. Ackerman and Puglisi give us seven more ways to show Adoration from the perspective of the character experiencing it.  This list included descriptors like quickening heartbeat, breathlessness, and feeling one’s pulse in the throat.

If our heroine adored a love interest instead of her big brother, she might want to be a bit more subtle and hide those outward cues. The Internal Sensations then become very useful. “Love Interest drew closer to Heroine. She bit back a sigh, but she could not help the pulse pounding in her throat.”

But wait! There’s more. Our next section is Mental Responses, a list of five. These are great for helping you craft inner monologue for your POV character or providing her motivation in a dialogue scene. For example, using the authors’ suggestion of “an inability to see the subject’s flaws or faults” gave me the idea for the following short dialogue exchange:

Heroine:  “Love Interest would be a great father.”

Best Friend: “You mean the guy who can’t keep a goldfish alive?”

Heroine:  “That’s different. A kid would ask for food.”

With Cues of Acute or Long-Term Adoration, things really get fun. Thirteen more suggestions are listed, and these could lead to some intense conflict:  stalking, fantasizing, and taking on traits or mannerisms of the subject. “Heroine could almost feel Love Interest’s caress as she flushed goldfish number twelve.”

The authors note that acute or long-term adoration can escalate to Love, Desire, Frustration, or Hurt and give you the page numbers for each of those emotions, so you can look up all the goodies they’ve given you for them, too.

The final section of the Adoration entry is Cues of Suppressed Adoration. Nine more ways of showing instead of telling are provided for you. The list includes clenching or hiding one’s hands to hide sweating or shaking, avoiding conversations about the subject, and creating chance run ins.

I’d give you another example, but what you really want is the link. Merry Christmas. The Emotion Thesaurus by Ackerman and Puglisi.

11 thoughts on “A Writer’s Best Resource For Showing Not Telling

  1. I love this book! My friend Jen introduced me to it, and it’s really helped me add variety to my descriptions. 🙂

  2. I’ve nominated you for a Versatile Blogger Award because I find your blog thought-provoking and inspiring.

    If you choose to accept, here’s what you need to do:
    1. Display the Award Certificate on your blog.
    2. Announce your win with a post. Make sure to post a link back to me as a ‘thank you’ for the nomination.
    3. Present 15 awards to deserving bloggers.
    4. Drop them a comment to tip them off after you have linked them in the post.
    5. Post 7 interesting things about yourself.

    Rule #6, whether you accept or not, is to keep being awesome. ❤

    (Also, do you have any good plotting/structuring resources you want to share?)

  3. A copy popped through my letterbox yesterday!

  4. […] the author will shake things up and (gasp!) have the character also punch a wall or door. Buy an Emotion Thesaurus and give me some variety, […]

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