Review: The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression

By Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. Grade A

“All successful novels, no matter what genre, have one thing in common: emotion. It lies at the core of every character’s decision, action, and word, all of which drive the story. Without emotion, a character’s personal journey is pointless.”

This is the note with which Ms. Ackerman and Ms. Puglisi start the book. And I am sure that none of us would deny this fact.

One of the biggest problem areas for writers is conveying a character’s emotions to the reader in a unique, compelling way. This book comes to the rescue by highlighting 75 emotions and listing the possible body language cues, thoughts, and visceral responses for each.

A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression

Written in an easy-to-navigate list format, readers can draw inspiration from character cues that range in intensity to match any emotional moment. The Emotion Thesaurus also tackles common emotion-related writing problems and provides methods to overcome them.

This writing tool encourages authors to show, not tell emotion and is a creative brainstorming resource for any fiction project.

I have always been a lover of  descriptions in all the book I have read. But as a writer, I initially failed to create the same magic that the descriptions in my favourite novels spawned on me. After reading many a books on writing, I got my hands on Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s The Emotion Thesaurus.

A thesaurus of emotions? What was it supposed to be like? When, before I got the book, I’d imagine it as a book with the name of an emotion to the left and its different kinds to the right. But it didn’t seem quite perfect. What was it with this “ Thesaurus” that made it so popular and got it great critical acclaim?

The book equips the writers with every thing a character would do or react in a particular emotion of his. It explains every emotion with its Definition, Physical Signals, Mental Responses, Internal Sensation, Cues of acute or long term Emotion, Cues of suppressed Emotion, and a writers tip.

This is not a book for readers. This is a book for writers. Just tell the book what your character feels, and there you go with a list of expressions that your character would show in a particular emotion. This happens to be the vital guide to you if you are on your way to create beautiful and powerful descriptions in terms of emotions.

The book also teaches us the basic rule of writing fiction: Show. Don’t tell. I liked the approach of the authors with which they convince their student and a future writer.

From Adoration to Worry, there are a total of seventy five basic Emotions in the reference. Here is an example: Embarrassment:

DEFINITION: a lack of composure due to self-conscious discomfort


  • A flush that creeps across the cheeks
  • Visible sweating
  • Grimacing or swallowing
  • Ears that turn red
  • The chin dipping down
  • Coughing


  • Excessive swallowing
  • Lightheadedness
  • A tightening chest


  • A compulsion to flee (fight-or-flight)
  • Muddied or panicked thoughts
  • Thoughts searching for a solution


  • Crying
  • Running from the room or situation
  • Plummeting self-esteem



  • Pretending to not have heard or seen
  • Intensely concentrating on something else, actively ignoring others
  • A fake smile

WRITER’S TIP: Be wary of showing emotion too readily through the act of crying. In real life, it takes a lot to reach a tearful state and so it should be the same for our characters.

Though I couldn’t write everything about Embarrassment that it contains, the list is very long than this. And even more marvellous.

If you are a writer of fiction, I highly recommend The Emotion Thesaurus. Every beginner should have a copy of this amazing book. This is totally worth your money and it is certainly a long term investment if you plan to write for all the times to come.

This post was written by

Jasindah Mir – who has written posts on Vault of Books ||.
I am a seventeen year old, from Kashmir. I actually hail from Baramulla and currently live in Srinagar. I love reading books, writing poetry, watching movies and being in absolute solitude. And yes, did I mention, I hate my High School like hell?

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  • Shivank

    Thanks for providing an illustration from the book in your review.
    Makes decision-making easier. Also, thanks for the overall review.

  • Angela Ackerman

    Thanks so much for reviewing–I’m glad that you enjoyed the book!


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