recommended by Jodie Renner, freelance editor
Fiction writers are always hearing this critical advice from writing gurus and editors: "Show, don't tell." And for good reason. Showing is bringing a scene to life on the page, so the reader feels they're right there with the characters. Telling the readers what's going on or how someone is feeling falls flat, doesn't engage the reader. Don't tell us your character is sad or angry or frustrated or delighted - show us through their actions, reactions, and emotions.
But one of the biggest challenges facing fiction writers is to find just the right words and imagery to convey characters’ emotions so the readers feel what the character is feeling. Trying to think of different ways to show characters’ reactions like fear, rage, worry, amusement, doubt, rage, joy, embarrassment, confusion, anxiety, shock, relief, jealousy, anguish, impatience, and so on can be a lot of work and very time-consuming, even exhausting as we try to recall similar situations and how we felt.
As a content editor, when I read a scene, I’m constantly trying to visualize the movements, body language, facial expressions, physical sensations, and inner reactions of the characters in various situations, and analyze whether the words and phrases the author has chosen really capture the emotions expressed. For example, a client might have someone’s eyes widening in anger, where to me they should have their eyes narrowing or glaring in anger, and widening in shock or surprise or fear. And when I question something, I always like to offer alternative examples. But I feel I’m no expert, so often I have to really think about situations I’ve been in and how people acted when they were indignant or angry or nervous or depressed or whatever.
The good news is, my job has suddenly become much easier—and so has yours, as a fiction writer. Recently I discovered the perfect resource to find just which facial expressions, actions, and body language are best for expressing various emotional states, as well as likely internal sensations and mental responses.
It’s called THE EMOTION THESAURUS, A WRITER'S GUIDE TO CHARACTER EXPRESSION, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, and the way they’ve laid it out makes it quick and easy to choose from a variety of spot-on actions, mannerisms, voice inflections, attitudes, and facial expressions to portray any given emotion. The book has a list of 75 different emotion entries, each with pages and pages of both external and internal indicators for each emotion. For the A’s alone, we have Adoration, Agitation, Amazement, Amusement, Anger, Anguish, Annoyance, Anticipation, and Anxiety.
For ANNOYANCE, here are just some of the indicators on the list:
DEFINITION: Aggravation or mild irritation
• A pinched expression
• An exaggerated sigh
• Taking over a project due to impatience: Here, I’ll do it.
• Narrowing eyes
• Crossing the arms
• Tapping a foot, fidgeting
• Swatting at the air
• Lips pressed into a white slash
• Clenching the jaw
• Folding the arms across the chest
• Hands that briefly clench
• Tugging at clothing
• A gaze that flicks upward
• Holding the head in the hands
• A sharp tone
• Speaking in short phrases
• A sharpening tone, using short phrases when speaking, clipped answers
• Rigid posture
• Nodding, but with a tightness to it, like one is holding back from saying something
• Throwing the hands up
• Rubbing the brow as if to ward off a headache
• Avoiding looking at the person, staring downward
• Pressing a fist to the mouth
… and lots more, followed by these other subcategories, still under Annoyance:
CUES OF ACUTE OR LONG-TERM ANNOYANCE
CUES OF SUPPRESSED ANNOYANCE
And they’ve even added a writer’s tip at the end of each emotion.
I bought the Kindle edition and like it so much I've ordered the paper version. One of my clients pointed out that it’s also available as a PDF from Ackerman and Puglisi's blog, The Bookshelf Muse. My novelist friend really likes the PDF as she can have that right up on the screen when she’s writing scenes, and flip to it easily for ideas.
This book is available in both Print and Digital formats through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the iBookstore, and Smashwords. Or, download the PDF straight from their blog (sidebar). They also offer a free companion PDF called Emotion Amplifiers, which covers fifteen conditions (Pain, Stress, Attraction, Exhaustion, etc.) that can compromise your character's mental and physical state, ensuring they become more emotionally volatile. You can find it in the sidebar of their blog.
Jodie Renner, a freelance fiction editor specializing in thrillers and other fast-paced fiction, has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: WRITING A KILLER THRILLER and STYLE THAT SIZZLES & PACING FOR POWER (Silver Medal winner in the FAPA Book Awards, 2013). Both titles are available in e-book and paperback. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.