Resources to Help You Tap That Emotion

Welcome back to the GWN blog! Today’s post is from C. Hope Clark about one of the most important aspects of writing. Emotion.

Here’s Hope!

Your character is hiding, and the antagonist knows she’s hiding. He’s speaking to her, taunting her, trying to make her commit to revealing where she is. He’s standing here. She’s standing there. Now . . . how do you show the fear without her saying, “I am so afraid!”

Writers fight hard to demonstrate sincere, realistic, credible emotion in their writing. The type of emotion that makes one cry, scream, or cringe at the words on the page is not lightly written. Many writers miss the mark by not rewriting enough times, or miss the opportunity to really milk a scene by hurrying to reach their word count when slowing down, breathing deep and reaching way down inside themselves can make a good moment turn great in a story.

How do master writers master their displays of emotion into stories? Are they that in tune with their feelings? Are they that sensitive? Emotions initially emanate from an author’s heart, but the interpretation of that feeling into the best words isn’t as easy as it looks.  That’s why writers today often fall back onto resource guides for hints on how to write emotion more keenly, precisely, or memorably.

As an author and a freelance writer, I’ve learned to use several emotional guidebooks to generate better beats, thoughts, or behaviors for my characters, stories, and features. Yes, my regular thesaurus could fill the bill, but the following guides make the job a bit easier, especially when you aren’t sure which word to look up.

The Emotional Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression – by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

Written by two authors of mainly the young adult genre, The Emotional Thesaurus jumpstarts your efforts to nail the right emotion. Take the example above. The emotion is Fear. Flip to the page for Fear and you’ll find its definition, physical signals of fear, internal sensations of fear, mental reactions, cues of acute or long-term fear, and cues of suppressed fear. Using examples from The Emotional Thesaurus, under Fear, our protagonist can: have her hands turn clammy, gasp in pain, flinch at a noise, shake, get dizzy or blind rapidly. She senses things moving too quickly to process or has flawed reasoning. She could fight the fear with a smile, overreact with anger or reply in a joking manner. So many options for such an outstanding key moment!

Building Believable Characters – by Marc McCutcheon

Writer’s Digest Books released this guide over a dozen years ago, but it’s still a grand source of character revelation, used by thousands. It leads you how to develop your characters, to include a thorough questionnaire. However, the bulk of the book consists of a Character Thesaurus, with 35 pages assigned to Facial Expressions, Body and Vocal Language. Learn which words and mannerisms best depict a particular emotion. Let’s use Fear again, relating back to the example. Our protagonist can stare saucer-eyed, stare catatonically, turn ashen, twitch facial muscles, or sense a wave welling up from her belly. The wonderful part about this book is that you not only learn emotional triggers, but you also gain tips on describing dress, personality, face and body, dialect, homes and names to best represent your character.

Writer’s Guide to Character Traits – by Dr. Linda Edelstein

This guide tends to get into character descriptions, but its format lends itself to emotional study as well. Learn how characters can react and display their emotions when it comes to being criminal, being sexual, being an adult, being a child, facing hard decisions, entering love, reacting to sudden change, using verbal vs. nonverbal communication. See how your character would react to varied situations, or what would drive her to abnormal behavior.

Readers read stories for the emotional tug. The best plot and the most complex characters mean nothing without the reader feeling the words. A thesaurus is a must-have, of course, and serves your purpose most of the time, but the time will come when a synonym won’t do. You want phrasing, visuals, and reactions as well. That’s why you need an emotional reference guide at the ready. And, of course, be willing to mark them up and dog-ear the pages. These are guides that remain on your writing resource shelf for as long as you’re in this business to write a solid tale.


C. Hope Clark is author of The Carolina Slade Mystery Series (Lowcountry Bribe, 2012; Tidewater Murder, 2013; Palmetto Poison, 2014), published by Bell Bridge Books. She is also founder of, selected by Writer’s Digest for its 101 Best Websites for Writers for the past 13 years. Her newsletters reach 40,000 readers each week. /


Cindy here again!

Great resources! Thanks so much for being here. Checked out your Twitter bio. My fiancé is a MENSA member too.

Happy writing!



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