Monday, March 15, 2010

Emotion Thesaurus

Continuing with our Resource Week, one of my favorite internet resources is the Emotion Thesaurus, brainstorm of Angela Ackerman and her co-blogger, Becca. Angela is represented by Jill Corcoran at the Herman Agency, and writes Chapter Books, Middle Grade and Young Adult books starring clever, wacky characters.

Emotion Thesaurus started as an experiment on CritiqueCircle and evolved into a popular project on Angela's blog, The Bookshelf Muse.  When asked about the success of the project, Angela said:  "It still kinda blows my mind how well it took off—generally with the Internet it feels like whatever you need you can always find with a few clicks, but there was nothing to help with portraying emotions that we could find at that time."

I refer to the Emotion Thesaurus whenever I'm stuck trying to translate an emotion into a facial expression or physical reaction that "shows" the character's feelings instead of the usual smiled, grinned, frowned scowled, or my personal favorite--nodded.

For instance, to show my character is happy, I might consult the list under Happiness/Joy and replace her generic smile by having her bounce on her toes or move with a light, floating walk.  If I have two characters expressing resentfulness (Resentful/Sullen) instead of having both of them face each other with arms crossed, she might spin away in a huff and he may roll his eyes and mumble.

Be sure to check out the Expressing Cardinal Emotions: Male vs. Female, which illustrates how the different genders show emotions or react differently in emotional situations.

Here is just a random sampling to give you a taste of this rich compilation:

sitting/standing rigidly
muscles quivering
breathing deeply, noisily
laughter with an edge
talking in a carefully controlled tone
taking inappropriate risks

Rubbing at back of the neck, thinking of what to do next
False cheer, weak smile
Voice dropping or going quiet
Voice rising in anger
Denial (shaking head, whispering ‘no’ or a curse under breath)

Reaching out slowly to take something or to assist
Glancing around, uneasy
Backing away from a situation, trying to not be noticed
Stuttering, stammering
Making excuses, lying
Holding a hand up, warding someone or something off

Thrusting chin upward
Refusing to listen
Walking away from another person
Retreating into a personal space (bedroom, in front of the TV, shoving earphones in and tuning out)
Cranking up music to drown out someone else

The entire Emotion Thesaurus covers a comprehensive list of emotions and is organized as follows:
  • What is an Emotion Thesaurus?
  • Expressing Cardinal Emotions: Male vs. Female
  • Amusement
  • Anger
  • Annoyance
  • Anticipation
  • Confidence/Pride
  • Confusion
  • Contentment
  • Curiosity
  • Desperation
  • Disappointment
  • Disgust
  • Embarrassment
  • Enthusiasm
  • Excited/Elated
  • Fear
  • Frustration
  • Guilt
  • Happiness/Joy
  • Hatred
  • Haughty/Smug/Superior
  • Hopeful
  • Humble/Meek/Shy
  • Impatience
  • Indifference
  • Indignation
  • Jealousy
  • Love & Attraction
  • Overwelmed
  • Powerless/Defeated
  • Relief
  • Reluctance
  • Resentful/Sullen
  • Resigned
  • Sadness/Grief
  • Satisfaction
  • Shame
  • Shock/Surprise
  • Somber
  • Stubbornness
  • Sympathy/Empathy
  • Uncertainty/Unconvinced
  • Unease
  • Wariness
  • Worry
  • Wounded/Hurt
  • Addendum: Defensive
  • Addendum: Desire
  • Addendum: Doubt
  • Addendum: Energetic
  • Addendum: Exhaustion
  • Addendum: Fatigue
  • Addendum: Hunger
  • Addendum: Loneliness
  • Addendum: Pain (physical/emotional)
  • Addendum: Sarcasm/Verbal Disrespect
To access the Emotion Thesaurus, go to The Bookshelf Muse blog and check the right sidebar for the Emotion Thesaurus heading.  While there, you might want to also investigate Angela's other projects: Setting Description Thesaurus, Color, Texture and Shapes Thesaurus, and the newest, Symbolism Thesaurus.

Happy writing!


  1. Thanks for the shout out, Laurie! :)

  2. Hi Angela. Glad you could visit. Thanks for such a great resource. I consult it often. :)

  3. Sweet post! I just tried to start something similar because I wished there was a list like this. *slaps palm on forehead* wish I found it earlier, but woot!

    Thank you! I'll include a link to your blog on mine when I share this info?

  4. Thanks for linking to Spacefreighters and commenting, Charity. I'm glad you liked the Emotion Thesaurus. I thought it was such a great idea, I wanted to get the word out during our Resource Week.


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