8-22-17 – Storytelling Art: The Emotion Thesaurus: The Best Writing Companion Ever Made?

Storytelling Art is a series about the kinds of storytelling methods I use and what kinds of material I use to make them. Today, we’re talking about The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.


The Emotion Thesaurus:

The Best Writing Companion Ever Made?


Today, I want to talk about an amazing writing guide that I use during my editing phase. It’s called the Emotion Thesaurus. I really don’t know how I could have written anything without it. It came out in 2012 when I was still making stories just for myself. I had no idea about this book until much later, and I’m grateful I did. Because I think every single writer worth their time should have this on the bookshelf for reference, or even an e-book version for those who prefer to work outside.

What is the Emotion Thesaurus?

The Emotion Thesaurus is a simple little guide with a big purpose. It’s essentially a thesaurus of different emotions ranging from happiness to sadness, anger, and fear. It may not look like much, but it’s an amazing tool. So how does it work? The beginning of the book is how to incorporate these emotions into fiction. It’s great advice that teaches you how to use the book to your benefit. It doesn’t just throw you in.

The entries are where it really shines. As far as the physical version goes, two pages from one side to the other consists of details about a specific emotion. I’ll use the very first emotion, “Adoration” for example The first page lists the definition (Adoration means to worship or view as something divine) and physical signals of how the character might act when feeling this way. Right away, you get an idea of how they want you to use this book. These actions go all the way. I’ll list just a few examples of what they describe for Adoration.


  • Lips parting
  • Walking quickly to erase the distance
  • Touching one’s mouth or face
  • Steady eye contact, large pupils
  • Leaning Forward


The list goes on throughout the entire page. The sheer number of examples it gives is extraordinary and impressive, to say the least.

The next subject is Internal Sensations. They’re what the character might feel inside of them. Going back to the Adoration example it lists fast heartbeats, being breathless and one’s mouth drying.

On the following page, we have mental responses. This is what a character will do when feeling this way. They might inch over to another person, or observe the person and drown out thoughts.

Then there are long-term effects, probably the most interesting part. Sometimes, you may not know how to treat someone who feels a certain way emotionally and how to incorporate it into the story. This part gives you ideas on that. Obsessiveness, weight loss, lack of sleep. These give you ideas for how to use the emotion to your advantage.

Then the page lists other emotions that it could escalate towards. Adoration could turn into love. So this would be something for a romance subplot that would give you ideas of how to treat certain characters.

Perhaps a soldier is in love with a commoner and the man’s adoration with her affects his training. Perhaps he can’t focus because, maybe, he saved her once from a group of thugs and the woman is trying to be affectionate with him, treating him out or something like that.

Anyway, that’s just one example of emotions. This book lists as many as it possibly could. For some occasions, it won’t list a specific one, in which case you would use a similar emotion. Every common emotion is listed in here.


Other Books

There’s a whole suite of these books too. Two of them are for character creation. These are the Positive Trait and Negative Trait Thesaurus. They follow the same philosophy, in that they give you character strengths and flaws used to make well-rounded characters and are to be used together. The other is the Urban and Rural Thesaurus about settings.

Positive Traits does the same thing as Emotion Thesaurus, only it lists associated behaviors, causes and even ideas you could use to bring out a character’s nature. It even lists movie examples of characters with this trait to give you an idea of how it works in a story setting. Negative Traits is similar, only it explains character flaws to balance it out.

Urban and Rural Settings are world building tools. You can guess what each of them does. Rural setting lists things you would find in a small neighborhood, say in farmland or a small suburban setting. Schools, habitats like deserts and forests, and even areas in a home. Again, it’s incredible how detailed everything is.

The Emotion Thesaurus helped me understand writing emotion so well that I always reference it. In fact, if you’re serious about any form a writing, be it a novel or simple fan fiction, you can’t go wrong here. I would recommend getting the whole thing, but if you’re really skilled at world and character creation, you could get by with just the Emotion Thesaurus. It’s pretty pricey though. Most of them are around 15 dollars. If you’re buying from somewhere other than Amazon, which has these at a discount, the complete set is roughly 85 dollars. Worth every penny, in my opinion. Even if you’re fine with e-book versions which are loads cheaper (the book of Emotion Thesaurus is 4.99), get them if you want to be serious about writing.


More Thesauri?

    I’ve also discovered that their main website, Writers helping Writers has a massive array of other thesauri (I think that’s the plural) for a ton of subjects. Color, character motivation, weather. If you fancy some writing help, I’d check those out too.

That’s basically it. I love these books and while they may not be for everyone, they’re all invaluable writing books that I use to improve my stories through self-editing.

That’s all for today. Take care, and remember, the inn is always open.

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