Emotions and how to show them


“Show, don’t tell” is a literary expression used by writers. It means add description to your story, characters, and setting. Your readers want to be able to crawl into the pages of your book and stand next to your characters, to experience their thoughts and feelings.

Anton Chekov once said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.  

If you struggle with Show don’t tell, you need to get your hands on a book called The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. 

Many aspired or new authors have a hard time with that method. This book describes feelings in details, from the physical signals and internal sensation, to the mental responses, and cues of acute or long-term effects. One important thing to remember is that you know your story, and your characters’ feelings. Your readers don’t. That’s why you have to show them.

I asked someone to proofread one of my first drafts. In one scene, a cop comes to the door, holding a child’s hat in an evidence bag. He asks the mother whose child had disappeared if it was her daughter’s. Her mouth fell open, and her knees buckled. She had to brace herself against the wall for support, asking him “Where did you find it?” I saw everything through my mind’s eyes, but didn’t write it like that. My proofreader didn’t see the character’s reaction, and didn’t feel the agony. The way I wrote it made it sound like my character didn’t care. Why? I didn’t know how to show her emotions.  

Some add four or five senses to give more description. I love this great example I found on a blog that talked about Show, don’t tell. I don’t recall what site, nor can I find it, so I can’t give credit to them. Know those are not my words except the ones in red.

Tom crawled through the tunnel on his hands and knees. He winced [feel] as a sharp edge sliced through his fingers. He had to keep his head low to keep from scraping against the low ceiling. The slippery sharp rocks were beautiful [sight] but deadly. One false move and he could be cut to ribbons. He took a deep breath, the pungent smell of flowers [smell] letting him know he neared his destination. A dim light shone in the distance, so he knew he was almost to the end. The light shined on the rocks, making them resemble precious jewels.


I believe there was a line in another version that said something about the taste of blood when he instinctively brought his finger to his mouth. I bought The Emotion Thesaurus as soon as it came out, and couldn’t devour it fast enough. I learned to show emotions with clarity, something I couldn’t do before. It’s one book you won’t want to do without. 

Do you struggle with Show, don’t tell? How do you deal with it? Leave a comment below. 




Writing Resources Writers Read

Oops… is that a tongue twister? Not intentional, but I hope it got your attention.

As writers we need to read. It’s part of learning the tools of the trade. We read fiction, non-fiction, and what some call self-help books. I want to share a few of them.

The first one is STORY by Robert McKee, whose success comes through in his voice. It’s available in both audio and paperback. I strongly recommend the audio version. McKee reads the work himself and is enjoyable to listen to. It has been slimmed down, and it really, really teaches a lot of vital structure. Though he teaches on the principles of screenwriting, it’s so much more than that. You will benefit from this amazing work. 

robert mckee story

Another great book is James Scott Bell‘s Write Your Novel From the Middle. It doesn’t matter if you are a pantser (like I am), a plotter, or anyone else in between, this book will help you on the many aspects of structuring your novel. It is available as an eBook, and in paperback. This quick under-100-pages read packs a punch, and delivers a quick method. I highly recommend it.


One amazing tool no writer should be without is The Emotions Thesaurus,by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. If you struggle with ‘show don’t tell’, this book is a must-have for you. Don’t tell me your character is angry. Show me his nostrils flaring, and his clenched fists. It gives you not only physical signals of someone who’s angry, it also tells you the internal sensations, like grinding one’s teeth, muscles quivering. What about mental responses like irritability, poor listening skills, and jumping to conclusions. Yup. They’re in there. This work came out in 2012, and it still ranks #4, #7, and #21 in three different categories on Amazon. It is by far the best thesaurus you’ll ever get your hands on.


Did you ever hear someone say I love my Flip Dictionary,but you had no idea what they were talking about? You’re about to find out. Barbara Ann Kipfer‘s FLIP DICTIONARY is  a must.  It’s for those times when you know what you’re trying to say, but can’t come up with the exact word. It doesn’t give definitions but instead, words related to the one you’re looking for. It’s a reference book you absolutely need on your desk, next to your keyboard (that’s where mine is at all times). Whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, you will benefit from this book, which provides thousands of entries.

flip dictionary

I have one more for you. The Writer’s Book of Matches by Staff of Fresh Boiled Peanuts and Phillip Sexton. It contains with 1001 prompts to help you ignite your fiction and get over writer’s block. When I’m stuck and can’t come up with any ideas, I have to walk away from the computer, and from my office. This book gives me a chance to do that. I go sit in my recliner, and flip through it.

Writer's book of matches

We all need resources to help us on our writing journey. What books have helped you?