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Wednesday, September 16, 2009


"He looked angry."

"She was sullen."

"He was happy."

Telling leaves the reader with nothing.

I can tell you the little girl in this picture is sad, but that doesn't describe her facial expression. It tells me one thing about the scene, but it can't show me everything I want to know.

Back in 2008 the lovely ladies (now just Lady) at the Bookshelf Muse started the Emotion Thesaurus. They did their best to make a complete list of emotions and physical "tells" that would cue a reader in to the character's emotions.

And they did an awesome job.

But I really think every author ought to have their own thesaurus like this where you describe emotions and scenes in your own words. It's best to do this separate of a story. When you aren't under pressure and stressed it's easier to visualize body language.

Wednesday Workout

Pick three emotions and write a one or two paragraph description of the emotion.
--> Describe only what can be seen.
--> If it helps, imagine a character in a soundproof room. Watch them and describe the actions.
--> Save your work for reference when you get stuck during writing or find yourself in a rut.

Let me know how it goes!


  1. What a fantastic idea, to start my own emotion thesaurus. Because this is a problem I've had again and again: using empty modifiers that tell instead of show. Great and timely post.

  2. I've visited the emotional thesaurus a few times and from what I remember it had mostly quick ways to show an emotion. It didn't come across to me as tellish.

    But I agree, it's good to come up with your own ways of showing emotion.

  3. An emotion thesaurus is a great idea. Thanks for the link.

  4. I would love to go back and add to all our entries for the emotional thesaurus. My writing has grown so much since starting it, there are just so many other ways I can think of to express each emotion.

    You're exercises are great--the more we practice, the more options we discover to express ourselves!

  5. ...back to the youngster on the sidewalk, I've encountered that expression before. My own daughter, no doubt the same age and most definitely the same attention span. Hunched over and facing away from the crossroad almost defiantly...my gut whispers of utter boredom to the point where she's accepted the day as a waste of twelve hours and can only hope for a brighter tomorrow. With things like "Dora," and a bowl of ice-cream.