As a self-taught writer, I’ve stumbled around plenty in my journey to elevate my writing skills past college-level English class. I’ve joined writing groups and subjected myself to ruthless critique, attended a writing workshop weekend in the back hills of Virginia, and confess to relying heavily on the Internet. Along the pathway, I discovered an amazing site called THE BOOKSHELF MUSE. In its original incarnation it had lists of synonyms for all kinds of categories of words: colors, emotions, body parts, weather, and I consulted it often when stumped for a new adjective or way to express an emotion.
My editor is constantly on me to change things up, as all good editors are inclined to do, ruthlessly citing my overuse of certain words. I’ve moved past the rookie mistakes of using suddenly and maybe too often and clipped numerous instances of that and was. In my latest project, an erotic romance, he told me that if I wrote “he pulled her into his arms/chest” one more time he was going to scream, and even though he lives on the opposite coast, I’d hear him!
It’s tough to keep coming up with different ways of describing the same things: a frown, a sigh, a shrug, hair/eye color, or a myriad of other traits and emotions. And so I often rely on my buddies, Angela and Becca, at the Bookshelf Muse to hone my verbal skills. Only…they left me! Well, not really, they’re now called Writers Helping Writers and not only do they blog, offering helpful tips to the writing community, they’ve published their lists in three volumes in the form of
THE POSITIVE TRAIT THESAURUS
THE NEGATIVE TRAIT THESAURUS
THE EMOTION THESAURUS
I don’t buy many books any more, mostly reading on-line or with my eReader, but I broke down and bought these. It saves a lot of effort juggling windows on your computer as they’re always at my elbow whenever I need them.
Here’s a listing from the table of contents for each. Additionally, each trait/emotion has it’s own chapter and I’ve outlined a sample below.
- The Ultimate Hook: Characters Worth Rooting For
- Needs and Morals
- How Positive Traits Develop
- How to Build Characters from the Ground Up
- How to Show Your Character’s Attributes
- ONE HUNDRED traits, like: bold, disciplined, flamboyant, obedient, spunky…
- The Appendix: Character Profile Questionnaire, Character Attribute Tool, Category Breakdown Target Tool
- Flawed and Human: Characters Who Appeal
- What is a flaw?
- The Role of Flaws in the Character Arc
- The Role of Flaws within Relationships: Creating friction
- Villains and Their Flaws
- How to Show Your Character’s Flaws
- The Difficulties of Crafting Flawed Characters
- ONE HUNDRED traits, like: cocky, evil, flaky, foolish, humorless, macho…
- The Appendix: Needs and Lies List, Reverse Backstory Tool and Character Pyramid tool.
- Avoiding the Common Problems when Writing the Nonverbal Emotion.
- How to use this thesaurus
- Identifying the root emotion
- Utilizing the setting
- Visceral reactions as physical indicators.
- A chapter each for 75 different emotions
Sample Chapter for the emotion of
Definition: to be afraid of, to expect threat or danger
Physical signals: Face turning ashen, hair lifting on the nape or arms, body odor, cold sweats, clammy hands, trembling lips and chin, tendons standing out on the neck, a visible pulse…
Internal sensations: an inability to speak, shakiness in the limbs, holding back a scream or cry, heartbeat racing, nearly exploding, dizziness, weakness in legs and knees…
Mental Reactions: wanting to flee or hide, sensation of things moving too quickly to process, images of what-could-be-flashing through the mind, flawed reasoning…
Cues of Acute or Long-Term Fear: uncontrollable trembling, fainting, insomnia, heart giving out, panic attacks, phobias, exhaustion, depression, substance abuse…
Cues of Suppressed Fear: keeping silent, denying fear through diversion or topic change, turning away from the cause of fear, attempting to keep one’s voice light, a watery smile that’s forced into place, false bravado…
I don’t receive any perks for recommending these books, so this comes from my heart and endless hours spent trying to come up with just the right word or phrase. They force me to look at things from a different viewpoint, to expand my vocabulary and to avoid grabbing the first idea that comes to mind. Visit their site and take a look for yourself and if you feel inclined to purchase, it will only cost about fifteen bucks for all three volumes. You can also download them, but this is one of those times when having the book in your hands can be a tremendous advantage.
Don’t miss out on their blog and their resources. You’ll never run out of ideas with these tools in your box!
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