Thanks so much for all the great comments last week. I had such fun reading your thoughts and your must-edit words. It’s always so comforting to know we’re not alone in our struggles, isn’t it?
So, now that we’ve confessed together, let’s take a look at some tools that can not only help you in the area of unique and effective word choices, but can actually increase your ability to portray characters more realistically than ever before.
There are several books out there that you can use for resources. The first four are by Angela Ackerman:
The Emotion Thesaurus, The Positive Trait Thesaurus, The Negative Trait Thesaurus, and Emotion Amplifiers (this last one, as of today, is a free ebook on Amazon). These books give you internal and external ways that people express different emotions. Then there’s Strong Verbs, Strong Voice by Ann Everett, which simply gives synonyms for common actions. Or you could just go to the old standby, Roget’s Thesaurus. Now obviously you don’t want to just pluck the descriptive material from these books and plunk it in your story, but they serve as great springboards when you’re feeling stuck.
The most effective tool that I’ve found, though, is my own word journals. What I’ve done is start lists of common emotions and actions, then spend time where people congregate, watching for how they show these kinds of things. And anytime I see a unique expression or action, I jot it down and add it to the list. And I’ve asked people I know to tell me how certain emotions affect them physically and psychologically. (One note: do not ask this when they’re in the midst of said emotions or you just might get a demonstration of a physical reaction that you don’t want. <gg>)
For example, here are a few of the entries I have for Nervous:
can’t keep leg/foot still while sitting; picking at cuticles, flipping through same magazine over and over; spilling water because hands trembling; tapping table with finger; rubbing/tugging at eyebrow; have to grip hands hands together to still them
Nausea; collywobbles; vomiting; aching muscles; knuckles ache from fists; too warm; too cold; hands get cold; headache; icepick in temple; faint;
On edge; snappy; inappropriate anger; misdirected anger; can’t focus; can’t find words
…and so on.
There are several benefits to creating your own word journals. First, you don’t have to worry that someone else is reading the same book you are and using the same phrase/words that you are in their book! Second, you gain insight into how those around you feel and react to emotions, which gives you insight into your characters. Third, you can just keep adding to your list as you find new phrases/actions/words. Fourth, you’ll discover unique words and phrases. For example, collywobbles is how my dad describes that uneasy, slightly nauseous feeling in the gut when you’re really nervous. What a cool word! And lastly, the words and phrases you use will have a true-to-life feel because that’s where they came from: real life.
If you already have word journals like this, terrific! If not, give it a try. Choose those actions/emotions you need to get rid of and start looking for new, unique, real-life ways to show them.
And, as always, have fun!