Category Archives: Reviews

Story writers: Have I got a book for you…The Emotion Thesaurus

“Show, don’t tell”–we’ve all heard it and likely read it several times. Important advice for sure.

And not just for fiction writers. Nonfiction writers too.

Stories and anecdotes are popping up in blog posts constantly, in magazine articles, memoirs, even sales copy.  Why? Because stories are potent attention-grabbers.  When we write nonfiction, we need those story-telling skills just like novelists and short-story writers.

Showing rather than telling is easier said than done.  It’s tricky, challenging.

And just to be clear on what I’m talking about here: It means dramatizing your story by depicting its events, not just telling what happened.


Randy was upset and angry. She left the room, closing the door decisively behind her.


Randy glared at them, stomped out of the room,  slamming the door behind her.  They’re being ridiculous, she thought.

Showing rather than just telling, or telling much at all means showing a character’s emotion through her actions, body language, thoughts and even, most powerfully, her internal visceral reactions:  She started to heave.

But if you’r writing a story or did so recently you’ve probably noticed how challenging describing those emotions can be.  It’s so easy to latch onto the first wornout cliché that comes to mind.

It takes creative thought and work to come up with fresh expressions.

That’s where The Emotion Thesaurus comes to the rescue.

This super-useful book by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi is a brilliant and tremendous resource.  Why didn’t I think of that? I’ve been waiting for this book to come out in print and Kindle format.

It’s not a book of formulas but instead is a resource, a starting point for coming up with your own original words and phrases to express what a character is feeling.

The book starts with a fine essay on aspects of including the power of character emotion in your writing, portraying body language, including a POV character’s thoughts and internal visceral reactions,  avoiding those clichés and melodrama, identifying the root emotions, getting help from the setting.

This is one of the best essays I have come across on this vital part of story-craft.

But the heart of the book is the thesaurus.

It lists and thoroughly describes 75 emotions and the possible body language cues, thoughts, and visceral responses for each.

The dictionary-thesaurus type entries are alphabetically arranged for easy navigation and start with a definition, then list physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses, and other cues.

For example, here is the beginning of the entry for “anxiety”:

DEFINITION: mental apprehension and unease; a sense of foreboding


Rubbing the back of the neck

Crossing the arms, forming a barrier to others

Standing with one arm holding the other at the elbow

Clutching a purse, coat, or other object

Wringing one’s hands

Twisting a watch or ring


Hands repeatedly rising to touch one’s face

Fingering a necklace

Rolling one’s shoulders

Bouncing a foot…

That entire entry on “Anxiety,” quoted in part above, runs for a total of 319 words (my count).

The introduction also includes instructions on using the thesaurus, including the sage advice to “view entries as a launching point.” But there are also suggestions for twisting those worn-out clichés for fresh wording, trying related emotions, and several others.

The authors are the creators of The Bookshelf Muse website (, voted as one of the top ten blogs for writers for 2011 and 2012. The book can be ordered from the site in .pdf format or through Smashwords, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon (including the Kindle version).

By the way, at the website/blog you can find a listing ofa number samples from this thesaurus and also others: the “Weather & Earthly Phenomena Thesaurus,”  “Color, Textures and Shapes Thesaurus,”  “Character Traits Thesaurus,” “Setting Thesaurus,” and the “Symbolism Thesaurus.”

I’m glad I have my copy. I’ll be using it constantly.

Why not check it out?



Are you Overwhelmed with Things to do?

A review of  The One Minute To-Do List by Michael Linenberger

If your seriously into writing, you’re busy.  I know I am.  

Have you got a lot of projects going? Have you tried to-do lists and time-management systems in the past–but they didn’t work that well for you?  Consider a new approach to the old time-management challenge.

A couple weeks ago I was frustrated.

I have several wiring projects I’m working on, and at times I didn’t know where to begin. I use a to-do list program called “Swift To-Do List 7.” It’s powerful and easy to get up and running. But I was struggling with setting my priorities and coming up with a schedule I would stick with.

I remembered that the author of the to-do list program I use has a blog ( that I have found helpful at times, so I went there and found a blog post that described a system that that author recommends. I tried it and found it quick to implement.  In fact, it’s called “The One-Minutge To-Do List.”

I’ve been using it since then, and it’s  helped me get a grip on my projects and  even defeat most of my procrastination tendencies.

For me, it’s a brilliant and powerful time-management tool.

Its core involves listing tasks you need to do into 3 categories:

  • “Urgent Now” for what must be done today. Period. (Recommended maximum number of tasks: up to 5 or so.)
  • “Opportunity Now”  for tasks you’d like to do today if there’s time but should get to within the next 10 days. (recommended maximum : 20.)  And…
  • “Over the Horizon” for any tasks you can delay starting for over 10 days or more.

That’s not all there is to the system.

But that much you can get working for you right away. You can use this system on paper or with any of a number of to-do list programs, and be up and running in minutes.

By the way, you can download the book in .pdf format, free in exchange for your email address, here:

The book is a quick read, and I like his ideas well enough that I bought his advanced book:  Master Your Workday Now!: Proven Strategies to Control Chaos, Create Outcomes, & Connect Your Work to Who You Really Are.  It explores further refinements and additions to the core system.

Michael Linenberger knows what he’s talking about.

He has been a management consultant and technology professional for over 20 years. He previously led the technology department at the U.S. Peace Corps and has been called “The Efficiency Guru” by the Detroit News.  He has been a management consultant for over than 20 years. (Background information adapted from the author’s summary at

If you’d like to get a better grip on all the things you need to do, check out this book. It’s available as described above and in online book stores.

(Disclaimer:  I’m not affiliated in any way with Mr. Linenberger, except as a customer. And you can download his “One-minute” book free, just as I did.)

Do you have any favorite to-do list systems, programs or tips to share?

Additional resources:{time+management}&src=1


A Challenge for You: Describe these Sentences.

How would you describe the sentences in italics below?

A.  What kind of sentences are they?  They are obviously not simple subject-verb constructions or  what are commonly called compound or complex –or even compound-complex sentences.

B.  Do they work for you?  Do you find them effective, easy to follow, descriptive, and maybe even at times evocative?

C.  Are they grammatically correct?

1.  A pungent odor of dried coriander and bay leaves permeated the room; the scent mixed with garlic, a hint of bread, and darker overtones.

2.  Roman guards stood equally spaced at intervals along the wall, silhouetted against barrels of fire and the considerable light of the almost-full moon now setting on the horizon.

3.  The Lower City rose to her left, white boxes with dark windows and door slits, tiered row upon row.

4.  Sara moved through the street of the Lower City, holding an infrared flashlight that pulsed invisibly, something only Benjamin could see with the night vision goggles.

The quotations in italics above are from Amy Deardon’s novel  A Lever Long Enough (©2009, availabe at, including for Kindle), a novel I recommend. They were picked at random.

Here are my answers:

A.  They are called cumulative or loose sentences.  I call the segments added onto the main clauses “add-ons”  See more in the post here:

B. Yes. Yes.

C.  Yes.

Modern English constantly transcends what is taught in many books on writing–certainly many books on grammar.

Contemporary published writers, including best-selling ones, use the types of phrases illustrated in the italicized quotations above constantly in their writing. And effectively too. Often with lyrical beauty approaching poetry and with descriptive power.

Are they part of your writing arsenal?

Recommended additional reading:

Best books and courses:

Notes Toward a Modern Rhethoric  by Frances Crhistensen

A Modern Rhetoric by Frances Christensen and Bonniejean Christensen

Building Great Sentences by Brooks Landon, Ph.D., University of Iowa, 24-part lecture series, by The Teaching Company.