Interview: Angela Ackerman Discusses ‘Show Don’t Tell,’ the Writing Community and How to Build Your Blog

Angela Ackerman

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?

The Emotion Thesaurus

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.


About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
This entry was posted in Books, Seven Questions, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to Interview: Angela Ackerman Discusses ‘Show Don’t Tell,’ the Writing Community and How to Build Your Blog

  1. I love the idea of this book. I’m adding it to my Amazon Wish List.

  2. susielindau says:

    Love this post and interview! It makes me feel better about how long I have been working on my book! (1 year…) Great advice and I love their idea to focus on the positive.
    You should bring this link to my party today!

  3. Hi Jacqui–thanks for adding it to your list. 🙂 We created this book because Emotion is such a difficult area to write. Have a great week!

    Hi Susie, I think books take as long as they take. I have spent years on some books! Knowing it’s the best it could possibly be is a great feeling and worth putting the time into. Thanks for commenting!

  4. Great interview Laura!

  5. becca puglisi says:

    I can second every one of those recommended writing books. Great choices, Angela. Thanks for hosting her, Laura!

  6. 4amWriter says:

    Wonderful, engaging interview. I am always up for learning new, unique ways to write. This book sounds right up my alley. She also mentioned one of my favorite writing books, Writing the Breakout Novel. That has been an invaluable tool for me. I also like knowing that her book is helpful to teachers. I teach creative writing to children, and getting them not to write with overused or cliched expressions is a challenge. I bet this book will come in handy. Thanks for sharing.

    • I didn’t realize you teach children creative writing, Kathryn. One of my mentors does that on a regular basis and she always loves to read what they come up with. I’m glad you liked learning about The Emotion Thesaurus! And oh, I agree about Writing the Breakout Novel. It put some things in perspective that I hadn’t understood before.

    • I loved Maass’ book. If you ever get a chance to hear him speak, go! He’s an excellent presenter–I learned a lot from him.

      We love teachers! So many writers for children are in fact teachers themselves, including Becca, the co-author of this book. We love hearing how teachers use the books in the classroom and hope to get some teaching guides into place to make it even more of a classroom asset. Good luck with your writing and teaching, 4AM!

      • 4amWriter says:

        Actually, I was lucky enough to hear Donald Maass give a presentation at the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC, Jan. 2011. His wit and style are what compelled me to purchase his book, and I devoured it.

        Thanks for your kind wishes. I also wish you the best with your writing/publishing goals as well!


  7. robincoyle says:

    The Emotion Thesaurus is on my to-buy list! Great interview.

  8. jmmcdowell says:

    I’ve been seeing excellent reviews of this book, and it’s on my list-to-buy, too. Thanks for the author insight!

  9. Marcia says:

    I loved your unique approach to your book launch, Angela. You and Becca are such assets to the online writing community!

  10. kittyb78 says:

    Great questions and answers! 🙂 Insightful too.

  11. Laura: Been doing an on-line editing class and just began to catch up on my blog posts today. I have heard of The Emotion Thesaurus on Writers in the Storm blog. I loved hearing about it then and love it more now. It is a great tool and what Bookshelf Muse and Angela provide is a simple way to make our descriptions stronger, more visceral … carry a punch if you will.

    Another great Seven Question interview. Thanks to you and Angela 🙂

  12. Thanks, Florence! I really enjoy Writers in the Storm blog as well :). Good luck with your editing class!


  13. Pingback: Visiting The Bookshelf Muse, My Radio Interview and More Good News! | Laura Stanfill

  14. Pingback: Angela Wanders The Blogosphere | Writers Helping Writers

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