“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 (http://thebookshelfmuse.blogspot.com/), 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?