I write dark, emotional books. No fluffy cotton candy feelings in my writing. But still, I sometimes struggle to name the overall emotional tone of a scene, or label a character’s feelings.

I know. I know. I’m a mental health counselor, naming emotions should come easy to me. In my defense—on a daily basis I only deal with five basic emotions: sad, mad, anxious, numb, and sometimes happy. So if the emotion I’m aiming for in my writing is more nuanced than those five, I’ll waste too much time trying to find the exact perfect name for it, then be lost inside my head  trying to figure out what someone feeling that emotion would do. So I’ve found a short-cut.

 The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression


Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi.


Here’s how I use it. I get to a scene where I want there to be some elusive feeling that I can’t quite name. I open the Emotion Thesaurus to the Table of Contents and start scrolling the list of emotions. When I find an emotion that I think fits, I flip to that page and read:


The Definition

The Physical signals

The Internal Sensations

The Mental Responses

Cues of Acute or Long-Term (this emotion)

Cues of Suppressed (this emotion)


I use the information in these categories as a spring board to inspire me to create the right tone to the scene. It also helps me ensure that my characters are expressing their feelings with their visceral responses, their thoughts, and their physical actions. Showing, not telling the emotion.


I don’t re-invent the wheel every time a character needs to feel something. I just pick up my Emotion Thesaurus.



What tricks, tips, shortcuts, do you use to write character emotions?

About the author: abbieroads