I’m so pleased to welcome Angela Ackerman, who blogs at The Bookshelf Muse along with Becca Puglisi. The two recently released The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, intended to help writers show emotion instead of telling or relying on the same few overused gestures.
This comprehensive book offers myriad body language cues, sensations, actions and thoughts related to a whopping seventy-five emotions—all in an easily digestible list format.
Angela, a middle grade and young adult author, is represented by Jill Corcoran of The Herman Agency. She lives in Canada and believes strongly in writers helping other writers. That’s this blog’s mission, too, so I’m especially excited to feature her today.
Welcome to the Seven Questions series, Angela!
1. Tell us about The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression. What is it?
Thanks so much for hosting me today, Laura! The Emotion Thesaurus is a unique Show-Don’t-Tell guide for emotion. So many writers struggle with how to show a character’s feelings without falling into the trap of explaining the emotion to the reader, or using gestures that are overdone (smiling, shrugging, eye rolling, frowning, etc.) This book acts as a brainstorming tool by profiling seventy-five emotions and then listing out possible body language cues, visceral reactions, thoughts and actions for each. Suggestions cover a range of intensity levels to ensure writers can find something that fits their character’s individual emotional experience, including situations where a person is trying to hide what they feel. There are also how-to sections that explore writing techniques for showing emotion, including avoiding problems like telling, melodrama and clichés.
2. How did you and Becca come up with this innovative idea?
Becca and I belonged to The Critique Circle, an online critique site for writers. There, several of us were complaining that our characters were always grinning, shuffling their feet, clenching their fists and clearing their throats to show emotion. We began brainstorming different ways to convey feelings and then started The Bookshelf Muse and the Emotion Thesaurus, sharing our lists with other writers. When our site went viral, it became clear just how widespread the struggle with emotional showing was, and how badly writers needed a resource like the ET.
3. Who’s your target audience for The Emotion Thesaurus?
Writers and screenwriters primarily, but we also believe this is a valuable aid for teaching creative writing at all levels. We have several teachers who have brought the ET into the classroom with amazing results. I think, too, actors would benefit from it, because it’s a one-stop resource for showing emotion in multiple ways. To be successful, actors must become masters of body language, and this book is all about nonverbal communication.
4. Your book launch was very unusual. Please tell us a little about your Random Act of Kindness event and the results of that campaign.
Becca and I see a lot of “Buy my book!” marketing, and that just isn’t us. Yet, we needed some way to announce the book to the world, so we decided to stay in our comfort zone and launch the book in a way that wasn’t ‘all about us.’ We believe in our book and the value it holds for writers, and we felt confident that the people who needed the resource most would find it. So we took a big risk and instead of the ‘big book splash’ approach, we put all our energy into something we both care deeply about: the Writing Community.
The industry is rough out there right now. Every article you read is Self-Publishing vs. Traditional, Amazon vs. Publishers, etc. Evil this, Evil that. The Writing Community needed something good to focus on, something to remind us that we are all working toward the same goal: to get wonderful books into the hands of readers. Random Acts Of Kindness For Writers was all about creating a way for both writers and the industry to celebrate and thank other writers who have helped, inspired and supported them.
5. In terms of helping writers with their craft, what creative writing book or books have inspired you?
Oh wow, I have so many favorites! If I had to pick five books that really helped guide my writing, I would say Writing The Breakout Novel (Maass); Description (Wood); Self-editing For Fiction Writers (Browne & King); Save The Cat (Snyder) & Writing Screenplays That Sell (Hauge).
6. When and why did you start The Bookshelf Muse, and how has it evolved?
We started The Bookshelf Muse in 2008 (Four years! It doesn’t seem that long.) as a way to start a platform, connect with other writers, and share what we ourselves were learning. Throughout, Becca and I have always stuck close to our roots: Writers Helping Writers. As a natural progression of working toward publication, we’ve branched out a bit toward also helping writers with social media, but for the most part, we stick to the area of description, and techniques that can get it to the next level.
7. What advice do you have for other bloggers in terms of building an audience?
The best advice I can impart is this: understand your audience. When a blogger knows who their ideal audience is, then they can define what it is that they need most, and what they may not be getting elsewhere. This provides the opportunity to fill that need and build a successful and supportive hub for this group. Blogging is not about bloggers, it’s about the audience. It’s about what we can give and contribute. If a person stays true to this, the rest will come.
Thanks so much for having me on your blog, Laura. The very best part of being a writer is the people I meet. When I started, I felt so alone. Then I found blogs and the writing community. I swear, my whole life changed!
Thank you, Angela! Stop by The Bookshelf Muse to learn more about Angela and Becca and The Emotion Thesaurus.