Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Reader Empathy: Catch It & Keep It with Guest Angela Ackerman

Gluing readers to the page. This is a writer’s goal each step of the way, from gaining the attention of an agent, to compelling an editor to make an offer, and finally, to enthralling an audience.  We strive to make people experience something powerful when they read our words. To genuinely FEEL. To care., not easy? I know! Building empathy requires skill, knowledge and practice. Writers must become deeply in tune with a reader’s emotions and learn how to use these feelings to bind them to the story.

Make Outsiders Become Insiders

When a reader opens a book, they have certain expectations. They know the book’s genre and the jacket copy offers a peek into what the storyline is about. However at this point they are still Outsiders to the main character and his world. They have not yet invested in the hero or his journey. The author has a narrow window of time to draw readers in and convert them into close confidants. Insiders

Encouraging empathy is the way to make this happen. When readers are brought into the hero’s POV, they not only begin to understand the character’s world, they actually can share his experience. Empathy forms a powerful bond between character and reader, carrying them deep into the story and plight of the hero. They become emotionally invested and worry for him, with losses causing pain and frustration while wins are celebrated because readers care and want to see him succeed.

5 Ways To Encourage Reader Empathy

 Humanize your character. Real people have strengths, flaws and weaknesses. Characters must also have a blend of these. They should be imperfect and make mistakes, but also be likable. Give your hero at least one commendable trait that makes him worthy to cheer for. 

Get inside their bones. Make your protagonist believable by giving him common desires, emotions, worries and thoughts that an audience can relate to. These commonalities will resonate with the reader’s own beliefs and feelings, reinforcing that bond. Allow the character’s self doubt to bleed through to some degree, showing the reader his vulnerable side.

Clearly define the needs, goals, and stakes. Scene to scene, readers must always know what the character is fighting for. Leave no doubt as to what he is trying to achieve, why, and the cost of failure. 

Hobble characters through challenges that readers sympathize with.  Readers bring their own life experience to the book, so use it. Story conflict and personal stakes will remind readers of their own past where they faced similar roadblocks. Pile on challenges, make the hero work and sometimes fail, but also allow for successes on the journey.

Never betray the reader’s trust. Writers must know their characters inside and out, and make sure  actions, thoughts and beliefs align with who they are. If a character acts in a way that does not fit his nature, the reader will feel betrayed. Manipulating a character’s choices or actions just to bring about a plot twist or complication will always ring false. 

TIP: Showing believable emotion in your characters is really key to forging empathy. If you struggle in this area, a brainstorming tool like The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression  might help. Amazon’s ‘Search Inside’ feature offers a sample of this tool which pairs the thoughts, body language and internal sensations that go with a particular emotion, helping you to convey your character’s unique feelings clearly to readers. Also, thinking about your own emotional responses as you enjoy a book will help you as a writer looking to build that empathy link!


  Your Turn!

As a reader, what makes you empathize with characters? Why do you care enough to root for them? Let me know in the comments!

In honor of Angela's visit today and Seekerville's birthday, we're giving away one digital copy and one traditional copy of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.

 Angela Ackerman is one half of The Bookshelf Muse blogging duo, and co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression. Listing the body language, visceral reactions and thoughts associated with seventy-five different emotions, this brainstorming guide is a valuable tool for showing, not telling, emotion. Angela also writes on the darker side of Middle Grade and Young Adult, and is represented by Jill Corcoran of The Herman Agency.

Comment today! Check out our Birthday Presents!


  1. Great tips, Angela. I've added The Emotion Thesaurus to my Christmas list. I'm going to put three stars by it, so my hubby and daughter know I really, really, really want it. =)

  2. I'm a huge fan of Bookshelf Muse!

    I tend to empathize with characters who feel rejected on some level. Their vulnerability sucks me in almost every time.

  3. I've just been reading amazon reviews and a lot of the muddy reasons they gave lower scores for if it wasn't something that ticked them off was "I didn't feel the characters" -- must avoid that!

  4. I'm a little concerned that you guys keep beating Helen in. Can you make coffee? That's actually my real concern.

    I like leaded please. Real cream. No sissy stuff.

  5. I have the book. It is awesome.


  6. The most important thing for me is that a character is 3-dimensional, they have to be "real." If a character seems happy 24/7 or doesn't get tempted, upset or frustrated I don't like them, they're too perfect. They have to show a range of emotion, they have to have problems in their lives and they have to make mistakes.

  7. Keli, is that a new picture? So nice!

    So true in not betraying the reader by having your character be inconsistent. I can give a book a full first chapter but if I haven't engaged with the main character by the end, it doesn't matter how good the writing is, I have zero desire to go forward. It's why I'm SO GLAD when you can click look inside and read the first pages or chapter, because it's exactly what I do in the store.

    Tina, I'll make coffee. And it will be so spectacularly bad you'll be glad when Helen gets here. But at least we'll have coffee till then. =)

  8. I love that book!! I don't actually have it, but I use the link to the website.

    And I lvoe it when a character is tempted by cookies or doughnuts or thinks they'd love to scarf that lasagne but then they'd have to run a few miles. Because I'm always tempted by goodies.

    Gluttony. Mmmm.

  9. Hi Angela:

    You are just who I need to talk to!

    I can have empathy for someone because I have suffered the same pain in the past. I can have sympathy for someone because I can understand their pain and provide them comfort. Yet this does not necessarily make me like them or care what happens to them. They could have brought on their own problems.

    How do we get to caring? I believe that caring what happens to a character is the strongest page turner.

    I care most about Betty Neels’ heroines because they usually have suffered a grave injustice and yet they face this adversity with a nobility of spirit and an almost naive sense of optimistic courage. Given this kind of heroine, I just have to see justice done, virtue rewarded, and happiness assured. After one chapter, I’m ‘book-hooked’ and must finish the novel.

    I’m now reading Virginia Carmichael’s “Season of Joy” and after reading just one chapter I’m totally intrigued with both the hero and heroine. I’d like to have these people as friends. I admire them. I want to see more of them. In short, I’m captivated and want to lean what happens to them next.

    There is something special going on with the Betty Neels’ heroines and with the “Season of Joy” characters. Do you have anything or combination of things in your Emotion Thesaurus that generates ‘caring’ in the reader? This I would really like to know.


    Please enter me for a digital version of the Thesaurus.

  10. I didn't realize Season of Joy is available already. Woot. Going to go and download!!!!

  11. Angela is going to have to explain the Emotion Thesaurus to you, Vince.

    It's quite an amazing book.

  12. MARY CONNEALY is awesome ya'll. Just in case you didn't know that, I'm making it official in Seekerville Comment Land.

    And according to Vince, so is Virginia's debut Seasons of Joy!
    Go Virginia!

    I feel like I need to go find my daughter's pompoms and do some cartwheels and cheer. Because I can still do awesome cartwheels and probably manage a front flip here in cyberland.

    Rah Rah Shishgoombah, Seekers Rock the um.....Kasbah?

  13. The Emotion Thesaurus sounds like an excellent resource! I like *nice* characters, but when it comes to my own writing I think I sometimes make my characters too nice, and end up with them not seeming real. Trying to add behaviours, emotions and personality traits that are credible can be a challenge so I appreciate your tips.

    Tina, I'm heading off to bed now, so I'll pass on any coffee. But I'll be looking for some when I check in again tomorrow. I can leave a few fresh cinnamon buns on the table for anyone who needs a snack tonight. :)

  14. Im not sure that makes me empathize with a character. Some its easier than others. The past book I felt for the hero and heroine as both had lost a partner and each had a child they were looking after. One found her husband had been unfaithful and I felt for her. The Hero had issues that he thought would have him ridiculed and he was an amazing dad which had me.
    Reading books with someone in a caretaking role will have me empathising with them also.

    The ones I dont have empathy for are the self absorbed heroines or heros who are normally rich and think the world owes them a living etc like alot in the regency era. I get so frustrated with these types and want to hit them rather than like them.

  15. Oh my! Awesome post and definitely a keeper. The Emotion Thesaurus is definitely a book I'd like for my reference shelf. I peeked at it at Amazon and it looks like a great tool.

    Happy Birthday Seekerville!
    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.


  16. Angela, what a great post. I'm always trying to make sure I'm doing everything I can do to create empathy for my characters. I've read and heard a good way to do that is to really know your characters. I like how you put it, "Get inside their bones." Making sure I'm giving them common desires, emotions, worries and thoughts--things I need to remember. That and reminding areader what my character is fighting for.

    Susan May Warren says to give the character some of what he or she wants in each scene but not everything. I think this also keeps a reader flipping pages.

    Please don't enter me, I have the electronic version of Emotion Thesaurus. It's FABULOUS! Thanks for being here today!

  17. Excellent post! I agree as a reader. :-)

    Have a lovely day everyone!

  18. Welcome to Seekerville, Angela! Thank you for your excellent post. I hadn't thought in the terms of taking readers from outsiders to insiders. What a nifty way to think about building reader empathy.

    The book looks terrific. Will add it to my Buy list.


  19. Angela,

    It's so great to have you with us today. I love Bookshelf Muse and find myself there frequently.

    Thanks for today's post.

    Some authors get my heart pounding in fear and some move me to tears. I appreciate the tips today on how to move our readers. You gave me a lot to think about.

    Thanks again!
    Jackie L.

  20. Welcome Angela! I've been reading your blog for years and have the Emotion Thesaurus in hardcopy form now. That photo looks like it was taken in the Sedona, Arizona area!!?? When were you there?

  21. Angela,

    Thanks for the heads up on the writing book. I'm heading over to B&N to look for now!

    I think empathy is the key to readers relating to characters. The trick is to make the character feel so strongly about their issue, that the reader does too, whether that is an emotion/situation they can relate to or not.

  22. Great tips! They apply to drama scripts as well as fiction. Skits give a really short window to build that bond between character and audience.

    Hmmm ... I'm finishing a book on personal puppet ministry. The Emotion Thesaurus might suggest more ways a puppeteer could convey his puppet pal's emotions through vocal dynamics, gestures, and postures ...

    Please enter me for either ebook or traditional copy. Thanks!

  23. Angela, I love the Bookshelf Muse and was so excited when ya'll decided to print The Emotion Thesaurus in book format. Please enter me in the drawing.

  24. Angela, welcome to Seekerville.

    I have your book and love it. It's amazing how our minds get into a rut of showing emotion one way. You've expanded my horizons!!

  25. Hooray for writers who achieve that emotional connection with their readers. I LOVE an emotional read.

    Right now I'm immersed in 'A Season For Tending' by Cindy Woodsmall and have totally connected with the heroine, Rhoda. She's a quirky character with a unique gift that has left her at odds with her community. I think that tangible separation immediately creates reader empathy. And Rhoda is such a rich blend of contradictions -- soft-hearted, compassionate but fiesty and not afraid to speak her mind. Infinitely patient with the plants in her garden while prone to major impatience with certain annoying individuals. I think those 'inconsistencies' in her character are what make her real and have me totally enthralled.

  26. Character building and emotions are my fave parts of story development. It's just so much fun to make them do things!!!!

    And to make them do it kicking and screaming sometimes!!!

    I love characters. Angela, thank you so much for coming to our birthday party, chickie!!!! I've got a party hat for you....

    and a noisemaker.... ;)

    Her name is MARY CONNEALY.


    Hey, I brought chocolate... it's cool enough now to play chocolate games, so I'm dabbling.... Chocolate wintergreen patties, courtesy of Webb's Candies....Chautauqua Lake, NY>

    AND.... Ruthy's peanut butter chip brownies!


    Hey, Helen is clearly working hard on her new WIP so I brought more coffee... and creamers.

    Try the Almond Joy in Hot chocolate.


  27. Oh my goodness, what an incredible resource and definitely on my 'to buy' list after reading about it and viewing pages of it on Amazon.

    I love characters that jump off the page and come to life - you feel like you are experiencing the story through their eyes.

    Jodie Wolfe

  28. Keli, I'm honored I made your Christmas list! I hope it becomes a good tool for you!

    Christina, that vulnerability is so important, isn't it?

    Melissa, I know what you mean--I've seen this on Goodreads a lot as well. Creating the empathy link is critical to success, I think!

    @Tina, I am all for coffee. I would DIE without it, lol. Thanks for the welcome and the invite to join in on the party--you guys are awesome over here!

    @Renee, I really agree with this--that range of emotion is so important! A while back, Becca (my co-author) posted about 5 Emotions Ever Book Must Have--take a look if you like:

    Nancy, isn't the search feature great? Sometimes I'll get my hands on a really popular book, flip it open, read a few pages...and see there's no click for me. It might be the style, or the character's voice, or the character themselves, but that click has to happen quickly for me to buy.

    Virginia, temptation! That is mother's milk right there. At least when we write about food, it's fat free!

    Hi Vince! The Emotion Thesaurus book helps makes emotions more 'real' to readers by pulling on common visceral experiences and recognizable thoughts and body language.

    I think caring happens when we go beyond sympathy to empathy, and also see something inside the character we deeply identify with. You touch on injustice, and this is one of the core ways to grab a reader on a deep level.

    To care as readers, we need to see a few things: a character in a circumstance that seems unfair/unjust/difficult that triggers our own sense of morality, empathy with what they are experiencing (something that we can relate to because we have faced a similar dilemma and tumult of feelings in the past), and at least one noble or 'worthy' Character Trait that makes us believe the character is someone to root for. Even Anti Heroes can draw our empathy and cause us to care if they have the right blend of traits that gives us something to hold onto. We identify with their Wound (a physical or emotional hurt that has changed them and how they view the world) that made them somewhat unlikeable, while admiring something about them that makes them likeable on some level. (Dr. Gregory House is a good example of an Anti Hero).

    I hope this helps a bit--let me know!

    @Melissa, I love the idea of you channeling your inner cheerleader!!

    @Carol, I know, it's a difficult thing to balance. We want our characters to feel real, which means they need to have good and bad traits in their make up. Perhaps check out the 'Character Trait Thesaurus' in the sidebar of our blog for ideas on this?

    @Ausjenny, i think you're touching on the same area as Vince--that sense of injustice is often what grabs us. Every one of us has suffered injustice in some form, so when we see it, we identify with it immediately. It triggers our own memories and feelings of when we faced it ourselves. This is how we build that empathy link. :)

  29. @Cindy, thanks for the kind words!

    @Jeanne, giving the reader some but not all is a great way to keep readers turning pages! We see them strive and we begin to root for them--we want to see that success happen! Thanks so much for the kind words about the ET--we are so happy this book fills a need with writers!

    @Janet, thank you for the welcome. I am such a fan of writer support, so communities like this one that are bursting with it are a real joy for me--I am honored to be here!

    @Ganise, thanks for stopping in!

    @Jackie, so glad this post is helpful, and I'm also glad you're getting help from our blog, too! :)

    @Glynna, yes! We were in Sedona for a week this past Spring for a visit. We managed to see the Grand Canyon too--it was awesome!

    @Rose, absolutely. When the character's feelings and thoughts are authentic, the reader believes and cares too. Even if the situation or reality is completely alien to us, we care because the character does!

    @Linda, you are so right about scripts and plays. Actors of any form must be masters at conveying emotion through body language and dialogue, because the audience cannot hear their thoughts or feel their visceral sensations. I know a few actors that actually use The Emotion Thesaurus to help them create stronger body language as they convey their character's emotions.

    @SEEKERVILLE, Wow, WOW! Thank you all for the warm reception!! How great to meet all of you and be able to help celebrate your milestone! A big thank you for letting me be a part of it!

    Happy writing!


  30. Sorry, Tina, I don't even make coffee for hubs. Well, on occasion, but rarely. Never was a coffee drinker.

    Got an email last night that one of manuscripts finaled.

  31. Good morning Angela.

    The points you make DO appear so simple yet as with most everything else, take a great deal of study to execute.

    Another Seekerville keeper!

    I'd love to win your book! Thank you so much for offering and especially for being here today! Have FUN!

  32. The most important thing to me is that the character is vulnerable in some way. I dislike characters who are Strong! And Fast! And Hot! And Kind to Animals and Children! And Everyone Likes Them! Well, you get the picture. :)

  33. What a wonderful resource for writers! I have been told that I write with a lot of emotion, but I struggle with finding new or alternate ways to express those emotions in my characters. You can ony include so many flushed faces and chill bumps, then you need some variety.
    Please enter me for a copy of this great guide.
    Thanks for the informative post.

  34. Oh, and I'd love to win a copy. :D

  35. I couldn't resist and didn't want to wait and see if I win a copy here....I already ordered it on Amazon. Can't wait until it comes on Friday. :)

    Jodie Wolfe

  36. Great stuff! Thanks Angela. So glad to have you in Seekerveille.

    I care when the author manages to transport me from thinking I'm reading fiction to reading about a real situation with real characters.

    When the author is that passionate about her characters and their story, that's when she creates empathy in me, and I'm hooked.

  37. Angela, thank you for your blog and The Emotion Thesaurus. I love having those resources at my fingertips. The other day, I was completely brain dead and couldn't find the word to describe a characteristic. I went to the blog and scrolled down to the Characteristics Thesaurus and Voila', there was the word I'd been racking my brain for.

    I've got whole wheat bagels and cream cheese here but no coffee. I'm not a drinker of the stuff. It's about time to drag out the hot chocolate, though. These mornings are a starting to get chilly.

    Hope everybody has a great day.
    Happy B-Day, Seekerville!

    P.S. Don't enter me into the drawing as I already have a copy of The Emotion Thesaurus. =)

  38. Hi, Angela! I like to evoke empathy by making my characters do something that endears them to the reader, and also making them suffer some sort of injustice. Those two things always make me care about a character.

  39. Congratulations, Christina!!

    I'm joining Melissa in the cartwheel corner for you!

  40. Hi Angela, welcome to seekerville. I am a sucker for self-sacrifice. the characters who give up their own life, their own chance at happiness, their chance at true love, for someone else...that's when I'm going to cry.

    The end of Armegeddon when Bruce Willis shoves Ben Affleck back onto the space ship and blows up the asteroid himself, after saying goodbye to his daughter. It's a killer.

    I can think of other examples and as an author I am analytical enough to stop and think, "What happened there? What trigger did they pull that hit me so hard."


  41. Delia, great glasses AND...

    I love how you phrased the Hot! Strong! Fast!, etc.!!!

    I hear you.

    Too perfect is flat.

    3 dimensional is a heart-grabber.

    But what a great way of phrasing it in a comment. You rock!

  42. It is particularly a killer for me if a parent is sacrificing for their child and that might be all about being a mother myself. I suppose that I'm HOPING all those years spent at home, while a lot of the neighbor's wive's worked and drove nicer cars and build pretty homes, was worth it.
    I think it was but still, its hard to see the big houses go up and know my own choices have made that out of the question for me.
    And I don't mean we were poor, not if we lived frugally. We just had to make simpler choices.

  43. The emotional thesaurus sounds great. I need to get one for my books, sure, but also for my life.

    Then, the next time My Cowboy is being annoying, I'm just going to flip open a page and point to what aggravating thing he's making me feel.

    Then I'll flip to another page to help him figure out how he needs to be acting. (there is a page for that, right?)

    I may use it on RUTHY, too.

  44. Angela, you've added a layer of sweetness to my writing life! I took one peek at The Emotion Thesaurus and it jumped into my Amazon cart.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  45. Great post, Angela
    I've enjoyed The Emotional Thesaurus as a brainstormer help for writing (as well as my 'other' job as a therapist for teens and aduults on the Autism Specturm- they struggle with empathy a whole bunch)
    I love how you brought attention to "humanizing" your characters. I KNOW i write my heroes on the fairytale side of human during my first draft...and then have to bring them back down to 'earth' when I edit :-) But...whew...I really do like fairytales :-)

  46. Angela, thanks for helping us celebrate Seekerville's 5th birthday--AND for sharing these important insights into creating empathetic characters!

    I downloaded The Emotion Thesaurus last summer and have already found it extremely helpful. When describing my characters' emotions, I too often end up using the same or similar visceral descriptions--chest tightening, heaving a sigh, that sort of thing. Just recently when rereading my wip, I discovered my heroine was continually hiking her chin!

  47. Oh, examples?
    Probably not one that will be mentioned, but at the end of Emma (with Gwyneth Paltrow) where they kiss... the 'sweetness' of this freindship turning into something more is memorable, I think. We've seen the characters, especially Emma, in her flawed state and still fallen in love with her because her intentions have been good :-)

  48. Well, Delia, I get hot first and foremost. Then nice to grandma is good.

  49. I empathize with characters who have to fight against themselves to do the right thing; their own fears, hurts, loves, etc.

  50. Welcome to Seekerville Angela, What great tips.

    Glad you enjoyed Sedona and the Grand Canyon. We're headed for Sedona area now in fact.

    Enjoy and thanks for giving us those references also.

  51. I find it easy to invest in a hero who is an animal person. I guess it shows me he is caring, without being told. A tough guy with a soft spot.

    I recently bought the Emotional Thesaurus. It's wonderful for that elusive word that describes that certain look or gesture for an emotion!

  52. Already 51 comments? Wow.

    I love those characters who are wounded, who hide away to prevent more hurt. Give me a recluse!

    Would love the book.

    Peace, Julie who is desperately trying to fit her hoop skirt in her bag for Moonlight and Magnolias.

  53. Hi Sandra:

    I love Sedona but I think I love the drive from the north down to Sedona even more. I don’t remember the road but it surely is God’s country! Are you headed that way?


  54. Now, I am pondering the Never Betray a Reader's Trust. Let's discuss what that means to all of you.

    The only thing I can think of is when you buy FAVORITE AUTHOR'S book and are ready for an evening of reading pleasure only to discover it has an old copyright date and a new cover and you were dupped. Reader Beware, yes. But still get cranky.

    What else constitutes betraying the reader's trust? Hmmm????

  55. Oops..should be I STILL GET CRANKY. But you can get cranky too if you like. LOL.

  56. Yay Christina, yay, yay, Christina!

    Jazz hands, double pike, triple lutz, front round off...

    yay, Christina!

  57. Tina, I have had that happen. Not good.

    I often think betraying the reader's trust gets confused with what the reader expects from the writer and then the writer throws in something totally out of character for them. The reader thinks they have been betrayed and the writer thinks they have grown in their craft!

    Just my two cents.

    Peace, Julie

  58. Betraying the reader's trust? Being known for one genre, but writing in another yet communicating this switch in the marketing/promotional outreach. So reader expects one thing and gets another. Betrayal, even if the new thing is good.

    Setting up a story question at the beginning but never resolving it or doing so in a hurried fashion at the end.

  59. Angela,

    Wonderful post! I think I had a light bulb moment reading it about how to change my opening!

    And I've been wanting to get your book for a while now! Need some new ways to describe physical reactions to emotion!

    Thanks so much for visiting!

    sbmason at sympatico dot ca

  60. Hi Angela:

    I just downloaded the Emotional Thesaurus for my Kindle. I can’t wait to get and use this information. Personally, contest judges like my story and my comedy but they don’t like my hero and heroine.

    I think caring is the holy grail of writing. If readers really care about what happens to your characters, then they will keep reading even if they don’t particularly like the characters. They may do this even if they do not empathize with your characters problems. I can’t stand Dr. House. But I do care what happens to him – even when I want bad things to happen to him!

    You wrote:

    “To care as readers, we need to see a few things: a character in a circumstance that seems unfair/unjust/difficult that triggers our own sense of morality, empathy with what they are experiencing (something that we can relate to because we have faced a similar dilemma and tumult of feelings in the past), and at least one noble or 'worthy' Character Trait that makes us believe the character is someone to root for.”

    Wow! We want not only someone we can root for but also someone we actually do root for! If we are rooting for our team at a game, do we really want to leave early when the going gets tough? Would we leave the game during the sagging middle? This ‘rooting’ concept seems to be a big part of the puzzle.

    Make them care and they will follow you anywhere. : )

    However, do you think that what makes people care is different for each reader? As a man, I have a very strong protective instinct when a heroine is unjustly treated. I want to vicariously jump into the story and take care of the job myself. Women readers may not feel the same way.

    Mary Connealy posted on caring and she said to make readers care, have someone like the hero or heroine – even if it is just a pet. This makes excellent sense but then in Virginia’s new book, “Season of Joy” no one likes the heroine, she has to pay people to talk nice to her and even her cat hates her guts. Go figure! I just love her but it makes no sense. There is just more to it and I’ve got to get to the bottom of it!

    I think caring is very complex and even more perplexing.


  61. Got the Emotional Thesaurus.
    So odd to order it throught the computer and know I will walk to my Kindle and it will be there.

    My Instant Gratification Reflex knowns no bounds!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  62. Vince you saying she's paying people to like her and even her cat doesn't like her......does make me like her, or at least empathize with her.
    It's clear she KNOWS she's got a problem or she wouldn't be buying friends, so that's a honest quality. A likeable quality. A quality we can empathize with.

  63. Holy Comments, Batman! You guys are great! I'll do my best to keep up but if I miss someone, apologies in advance! If I miss a question, feel free to email it again if you like! :)

    @Bridgett, people like you are why the ET is in print! So many folks asked us to make an enhanced version, and I am so glad you did!

    @Audra, I am thrilled you are getting good use out of the book. Sometimes we need a bit of brainstorming help, and I'm happy to provide it. :)

    @Kav, we've all felt like an outsider, haven't we? That's the magic in this scenario for sure.

    @Ruth, woot I love noisemakers! Well, except when my kids get a hold of them, lol. *waves at Mary* Make some noise, girl!

    @Digging for Pearls, thanks for the kind words, and for taking a chance on the ET. I hope you love it! Do check out the blog as there are other similar tools there as well, and free. There's also a free PDF that is a companion to the ET called 'Emotion Amplifiers.' It's structured like the Emotion Thesaurus but it's for things that will change a character's physical and mental state, making them more susceptible to emotion and more 'reactive'. So, it helps to describe Stress, Pain, Exhaustion, Hunger, Dehydration, Attraction...and a bunch of things like that. You can find it in the Sidebar--if you find it useful, please let other writers know because I don't always remember to mention it. :)

    @Christina, congrats!!

    @KC, I know. Like so many things about writing, it seems easy, but we all know how hard it is to pull it all off in a compelling way. All we can do is keep at it!

    @Delia, I completely agree. The perfect characters are hollow to me. None of us are perfect. We are flawed and our characters should be too. :)

    @Paula, thank you! And this is exactly what the ET is for...moving past the gestures we overuse too much. Everything in moderation.

    @Pam it is about letting go of everything and suspending disbelief. That's when we can't stop turning pages. :)

  64. Congratulations Christina!!

    I missed your comment so I had to go back and see what all the celebration was for.

  65. @Clari, you are so sweet! I am glad the blog and emotion thesaurus helps you. We've tried hard to turn The Bookshelf Muse into a one-stop destination for description.

    @Melanie, this is definitely powerful, especially in the first chapter of a novel--it gets the reader on the MC's side right away. This is also key when you have an anti-hero. They have to do something right away that is likeable, so we 'forgive' their darker traits and actions.

    @Mary, I love self-sacrifice as well. Many of my novels have this in them. It's a great way to maximize the reader's emotional connection!

    @Ruth, definitely 3-D is where it's at. No one enjoys a cardboard cut-out.

    @Mary, I was a SAH mom too, and we pinched the pennies everyday. I still SAH but write full time now that the kiddoes are teens. But I know I made the right choice to stay home with them--they always know I am here for them and we are very close. I have a ton of respect for SAH and Working Moms--not everyone is in a financial position where being a SAH is viable. All we can do is the best parenting job we can! :)

    And it's funny, as I wrote the ET, I found myself thinking of the people around me, and myself, and what an emotional experience 'feels' like. In reality, we are all body language experts--most of communication is nonverbal, meaning we are picking up on emotions all the time, even when someone doesn't say a word. :)

    @Jan, thanks for taking a chance on the ET--I really hope you find it helps you write and revise!

    @Pepper, I have had a few teachers mention that the ET might be good for teaching kids more about their emotions, and how to interpret the actions of others as emotional cues, so I'm glad you use it this way too!

    @Myra, Glad the ET is helping! My big crutch gestures are shrugging, grinning and hand movements. I always do a search for these and try to eradicate them!

    @Bish, nice to see you here! I agree, characters who want to grow and chance and overcome their own weaknesses are a powerful draw. We all want to be better than we are--this is something we can identify with as readers.

    @Sandra, Have fun!

    @Donna, I think having a soft spot for animals or kids is a good way to show some depth, especially for characters who seem closed off/misunderstood or even slightly abrasive. It makes me feel like they are worth getting to know and that there's more to them than it first appears, so I shouldn't judge.

    @Julie, I think all characters have wounds, just as we do. Some just show it a bit more. I find it attractive when someone tries hard to mask a wound, but we see it's there anyway. :)

  66. This should be like workshops. We have to repeat the question.

    Melissa hurrahed Christina and I missed the question.

    Well there it was BURIED in her coffee comment.

    That is so wrong Christina.

    Congratulations on your contest final.

    Which contest?

    Which manuscript?

    Altogether now Seekerville, let's do the wave and cheer Christina.


  67. Someone else has already mentioned it, but I love a hero who is closed off and wounded because of a past hurt. The wounded warrior is definitely my cup of tea :)

    I'm putting the emotional thersauraus on my wish list!

  68. This reminds of an interesting topic -but I have to talk fast. Must leave for a day job.

    Consider anger.

    Now the next time you get angry, really, blind red angry, STOP.

    Track back the anger.

    I mean back track the steps of what the action was in your day and what emotion that caused.

    99 percent of the time your anger response is not to being mad.

    It's to another emotion..






    But most of us grew up knowing how to express anger not the other emotions. In fact they generally confuse or embarrass us.

    But we must respond.

    So we get angry and lash out.

  69. Angela, you are so right about masked wounds!

    Tina's latest comment ties into that I think.

    Peace, Julie

  70. Oh, WOW, what a truly GREAT post!!!

    Welcome to Seekerville, Angela, and I am SO ONBOARD with you, girl, and THRILLED that you have addressed this today!!

    Of course, I sure could of used your post a few years back when I was writing my second novel where the heroine was the vixen/villain from the prior book. My agent and editor had GREAT qualms that I would be able to make this Charity O'Connor likable in A Passion Redeemed, especially after I received so much mail asking me to "slap Charity for them," or wanting to see her "maimed" or "killed." So trust me, I had my work cut out for me, but hopefully I got a running start in Charity's book and then made the high jump by the end of the series, in which, in my and many other readers' opinions, Charity has become their favorite character.

    Thanks for an absolutely EXCELLENT post, and man alive, would I LOVE to have that book. Amazon, here I come ...


  71. @Tina for me, betraying their trust can happen on different levels, but the most frequent one is when a author characterizes a MC as X, and then they end up doing Y, which totally conflicts with the MC's personality. I get so angry when something happens in a novel and I say, "What? She would never do that!"

    Usually, this action is to steer the plot in some way, making the whole story now feel contrived. I feel betrayed when this happens, because I liked and trusted the character, felt I knew them, and then BAM, I find out I didn't know them at all...or at least the author misled me, playing with my emotions.

    @Julie, this is exactly how I feel!

    @Patricia, that is definitely a type of betrayal. This is where the sample 'read insides' can be helpful..trying out a book before buying. Sometimes the cover doesn't convey what the book is about either--very frustrating.

    @Susan, HURRAY for light bulb moments! I love these. :)

    @Vince, thanks for giving the ET a try! I know how you feel about House. I think I really, really wanted him to deal with his wound, and become a good person, but in many ways, this didn't fit with who he was. It didn't stop me from hoping though! As season continued however, I felt that the change would not happen, and grow less invested in what happened to him. I think maybe it went on for a few too many seasons without enough personal growth.

    I do think the reader's personality will come into it and determine the extent of connection with a character and their plight. For example (and this is an extreme one to illustrate a point), if in real life I was a survivor of a kidnapping who fought and clawed my way to survive, and then years later I read about a character in the same scenario who gave up under the stress and pain and fear, while I might emotionally connect with her plight and her feelings, I would only connect with it so far. Because of my own personality, I dealt with being in that same situation so differently it would keep me from 'fully' being able to immerse myself into the character's world.

    Bottom line, your core traits and beliefs as a person will affect how you read, and which characters you are drawn to. ;)

    You will have to figure out why you like the heroine int hat book! I read a book like that called 'Cracked Up To Be'. The MC was a terrible person and did everything she could to drive people away from her, even if she had to hurt them to do it. She self-sabotaged her entire life, but the root of it all was that she was punishing herself because she believed she was responsible for the rape and suicide of another school girl. So, she did and said awful things, but all the way through it, you know there was a reason why she was doing it, yet it was not until the end of the book where the author fully revealed the full scope of what happened to this other girl and the MC's role in it all. The effect was powerful.

    @Mary, thanks! I hope it becomes your new writing best friend!

    @Annie, thanks! I love the wounded hero. We are all wounded in some way, and we all feel inadequate. It's easy to identify with, isn't it?

    @Tina & @Julie, yes, definitely. One of the things we do in the Emotion Thesaurus is to show where an emotion might go. So for example, 'Adoration' might lead to Love, Desire, Frustration and Hurt. Most emotions can lead to something positive or negative, depending on what the author wants the character to feel. :)

  72. I definitely love the wounded warrior. One of my all time favorites is Van Helsing. I've been waiting for years for another one to come out and now I hear Jackman will me replaced by Cruise. Not sure I like that at all.

    Contest, not sure I can say which contest just yet since it hasn't been 'officially' announced. This was for my western. In which my hero and heroine are tormented, the heroine more so. Empathy, the right balance of empathy. Got to have it, just not over the top.

    Anyway, maybe I should drink coffee, might help me think straight.

  73. Okay, I don't even know where to start here.

    True to Seekerville fashion, the comments rock as much as the post.

    CHRISTINA-- YAY!!!!! My contesting little heart is all warm and fuzzy for YOU!!!

    VINCE-- You remind me of my favorite professor (just wait, not the way you think). I went into his office and he looked like he'd been chased down the street. He was pale, and sweating and sort of shaky.

    His book had been reviewed by a historican he really admired and he had just got up the guts to take a peek. He was SO RELIEVED the guy didn't tear it to shreds, but couldn't read the rest. I read it for him and it was glowing!

    That's sort of how I feel. *wiping the sweat off my forehead* RT reviews are nice but if Vince doesn't like it, I'm in deep doo.

  74. _-----It is particularly a killer for me if a parent is sacrificing for their child and that might be all about being a mother myself. I suppose that I'm HOPING all those years spent at home, while a lot of the neighbor's wive's worked and drove nicer cars and build pretty homes, was worth it.----

    Love that. All my college friends are working mothers and I know we all have struggles.

    But a 600K house and two trips to Disneyland and new cars and a trip overseas EVERY YEAR isn't the struggle.

    I'll still choose my crappy old place and clunkers. But... there's a lot of sacrifice. And then you get nailed for being 'lazy' or 'letting yourself go.'

    And never being able to pee by yourself.

  75. Oh, Tina.... You nailed it.

    Anger stems from something else.

    And also I've heard that depression is anger 'turned inwards'.

    So, when a character is sad, I try to make them angry at them selves first, then sad because that is a double whammy.

    Angela, this post is really awesome. Just a great conversation.

    What I love about the ET is that it comes with gestures.

    For those of us retiring, West Coast types, gestures don't come real naturally. I need some Italian blood.

    But the ET gives small physical hints to emotion, and I struggle to write those in. There are only so many times you can cough and raise your eyebrows and roll your eyes.

  76. TINA--

    Also left a fb message for Helen. I think she's working on her ms. Sounds like I should do some black out time, too.

    Nah. Too disciplined. :D

  77. It's good to see Angela here! This post is one reason why I like her so much. Great post! Thanks, Seekerville crew, for hosting, and thanks, Angela for sharing this! :)

  78. CHRISTINA--congrats on the final! I look forward to hearing which contest when you're able to share!!! Happy dancing for you!

    MARY--you made me laugh with your ideas of using the ET on Mr. Cowboy when he's being annoying. I love the way you think! :)

    TINA--your thoughts on anger are spot on. It's a secondary emotion, always caused by something else, following a different emotion.

    Loving this convo today. :)

  79. Julie L, yikes to the hard emails you had to endure! I guess you took on the challenge though, because if Charity went from hated to loved, you creating a very satisfying transformation through character arc growth--not an easy thing to do!

    @Christina, I love Van Helsing. I had not heard about Cruise replacing Jackman. Now I have a sad! I love Hugh as Van Helsing!

    @Virginia, I think all of us Moms are particularly sensitive to that sacrificing dynamic. And amen to never having a minute alone to pee or shower! I remember that well!

    @Karen, you are so sweet! How lucky I am to know you and have you in my corner!

  80. GREAT stuff - I'm reading a book right now that has TOTALLY grabbed my empathy - gotta do some analysis.

    TOTALLY wanting the emotion thesaurus -either format works for me! PLEASE enter me!

  81. I just saw on The Bookshelf Muse that a portion of the proceeds from The Emotion Thesaurus is donated to Heifer International.
    Now I love it even more!

  82. I humbly apologize for dereliction of duty. The coffee pot has been "dutifully" replenished for the day,

    Just got in a few minutes ago, booted my computer, and found Mary Virginia's note!!!

    Oh, it's good to be missed. To know that I have FRIENDS!

    As for the emotion thesaurus, I ran across mention of it in a post some time ago. I went to the Bookshelf Muse web site and read through the WHOLE THING. Loved it and have referred to multiple times.

    Helen (who has been going to bed early lately 'cause she had to get up early)

  83. Hi Tina:

    That sounds a lot like displaced aggression. As in “You Are Not The Target”.

    Now, if we could just channel that aggression in the right place (or should we turn the other cheek?). But beware: there is also displaced affection as in John Edwards and the Arnold. Sometimes you just can’t win. : )


  84. Hi Virginia:

    Talking about professors, I had one who quoted a review of a philosophy book that has since become a cliché. I think all writers should know of this review.

    “Professor X’s book contained much that was good and much that was new. Unfortunately what was new was not good and what was good was not new.”

    This is a review to be feared. : )


    P.S. I’m supposed to be doing my taxes! Final deadline: 15 October! I’m suffering from ‘displaced attention’.

  85. I love this post, and it's so true. I will read and re-read books that make me stand up and cheer for the characters. Usually those characters are ones that either I wish I could be, for feel like I can completely relate to. They're human, they're vulnerable, they make mistakes, they love deep and lose deep, or they have unrequited feelings. Authors who do it right have my undying loyalty forever :)

  86. Hi Mary:

    It may be a vicarious guy thing but just maybe, if no one likes the heroine, not even her cat, and she’s a real babe, maybe I got a chance with her. No, that couldn’t be it. Could it?


  87. Hi Angela:

    I think the next Dr. House is the new Sherlock Holmes character on Elementary. Just a hint.


  88. YAY!!!!!!!!!! CHRISTINA!!!!!!! Can you give us details? Are you sworn to secrecy? We want to know, girl!!!!!

  89. Tina said: 99 percent of the time your anger response is not to being mad.

    Mary says: 85% of all statistics are made up on the spot.

  90. It's something of a running theme in my books (because I happen to believe it) that men in particularly substitude anger for most soft negative emotions.
    So if they want to cry, they get mad.
    If they get embarrassed, they get mad.
    If they're scared, they get mad. These see those emotional reactions as soft or weak so they substitude a 'stronger' emotion. I try and do that in my books. A man storming off furious when something hits him hard enough he wants to cry.
    Of course the reader needs to know what he's doing and what he's really feeling.

  91. I like a brooding, wounded hero, too.
    Melanie Dickerson's hero in The Merchant's Daughter is a great example.

  92. Vince, I am so totally telling Linda on you.

  93. Hey hey, helen's back! I don't drink the coffee, but if it's flavored I like to smell it.

    And Oh, to pee alone!!

    I may write an Ode to the glorious state I hope one day to enter into again.

  94. Vince, would you really want a woman who couldn't even make friends with a cat?

    Cats have excellent intuition. They know wwho feeds them. End stop.

    The sequel covers the cat. I'll make Cruella DeVille into a wounded heroine. Everyone will fall in love with her.

    I have perfect confidence that I can pull it off.


    Why, using Julie Lessman's technique, of course.

    I will write with her 2nd book in hand...

  95. This comment has been removed by the author.

  96. I like my characters to be realistic. I'm with others who've already shared that they don't care for characters who don't have a problem one. However, in some stories. I don't mind if my antagonist doesn't show too much of a soft spot that endears me to him or her. I don't trust him anyway. He may be trying to show one, but it's a lie.

    Sometimes I want four dimensional characters so they'll literally come off the page. :-) It might be interesting to actually sit and talk with them a while. Although they'd probably drive me even crazier if they did spring to life.

    I have seen body language thesauruses, and I'd be interested in The Emotion Thesaurus.

    Sign me up.

  97. Angela, thanks so much for being with us today! And for your great resource for writers. I'm always looking for better ways to show emotion!

  98. I love these words, "The cost of failure". Talk about tension! Great post Angela! :) And Congratulations Christina!!!

    eva maria hamilton at gmail dot com

  99. I'm zoning in on Virginia's peeing alone comment...or rather NEVER peeing alone. Motherhood is like that, isn't it? Bathrooms can be very busy places.

    Thanks, Angela, for great info and a super book on emotion!

    YAY, Christina!!! Whoo-hoo!!! Woot!!! Tell us as soon as you can. Please?

  100. Tina, great point about displaced anger.

    Mary's comment dovetails nicely.

    You two girls are a great team! :)

  101. I cannot begin to tell you how hilarious and spew inducing to come in and read the comments I missed from bottom up and have you all lusting after peeing alone.

    I nearly lost it.

  102. I have been loving The Bookshelf Muse for years and having the Emotion Thesaurus on my Kindle is great. Thank you so much!

    I think this is the toughest and most important aspect of writing. If I don't care about the character the plot doesn't matter.

    Well, I suppose if it was easy we wouldn't all be here commiserating, would we?

  103. Virginia, sweetie, if you're gonna save Cruella DeVille, please please please save her BEFORE she makes puppies into a coat. It's just so stinkin' hard to come back from that.

  104. Hi Virginia:

    You asked:

    “Vince, would you really want a woman who couldn't even make friends with a cat?”

    You make that sound like a negative. I’m a dog person. A woman like, Calista: rich, beautiful, and ready to change? Would I want Calista: you betcha sista. (If I wasn’t happily married, that is.)

    BTW: Your Calista has only one ‘l’ while Callista Gingrich, that's Newt's Callista, has two ‘l’s. Is this something deep that needs to be explained in a literary review? : )

    Back to taxes.


  105. Hi Virginia:

    You asked:

    “Vince, would you really want a woman who couldn't even make friends with a cat?”

    You make that sound like a negative. I’m a dog person. A woman like, Calista: rich, beautiful, and ready to change? Would I want Calista: you betcha sista. (If I wasn’t happily married, that is.)

    BTW: Your Calista has only one ‘l’ while Callista Gingrich, that's Newt's Callista, has two ‘l’s. Is this something deep that needs to be explained in a literary review? : )

    Back to taxes.


  106. My just-turned-two year old can pick the lock on the bathroom door.

    Can you imagine???

    I wouldn't bother to even lock the door, but it takes him about 3 mintues to reach the drawer with the kebab sticks, extract one, get back to the bathroom and pop the lock.

    I can usually finish in that time. If I don't take a quick nap.

  107. MARY- You've been through the editing process so you know how things get changed...

    The cat originally had a very bad habit of expressing her anger on any shoes left out of the closet.

    That was too gross. So, in the final version she just leaves teeth marks.

    Personally, turning puppies into coats might be less of a cruel trick than pooing in someone's shoes.

  108. Vince--

    I think I tried to use names that didn't set off spell check. :)

  109. ANGELA---

    Can you tell us about the reaction when you first brought the ET into the light?

    Was it a huge success? Or a slow burn??

    When I first saw it, I gotgoosebumps. It's BRILLIANT!

  110. First, Annie, I agree. I love a guy that's been kicked and has still managed to develop into a hero-man because that's so hard to do!

    Tina, you are so right about that, the trigger emotion resulting in anger.

    I was a crisis interventionist for kids and that was part of our life-space intervention... we'd track back to show them why they acted like total brats.... and to recognize that there are other ways of handling it without manhandling the teacher or sticking pins in small animals.

    That recognition of the origin of the anger is huge.

    You are smart.

    YAYAYAYAYAYAY CHRISTINA!!!! Happy dancing for you!!!!! Huzzah!!!!

  111. Hi Angela:

    The intro to ET mentions that you are interested in ‘monsters under the bed’ and you write YA and middle grade books.

    Some years ago I read a very good book titled, “The Monster Under The Bed” by Stan Davis. It was about the future of education. I wonder if this book might be of special interest to you.

    BTW: The links in ET are fantastic when used on my big desktop computer. There is a real value to getting the digital edition even if you already have the paper copy.
    Thanks for your post! I’ve really benefited. I need this information.

  112. Thanks Angela. This is such a great post on what you need to do to create memorable characters.

    I already have Angela's awesome book so let someone else win.

  113. Angela,

    Just stopping by to say that I appreciate the publication of ET and like Virginia, I would like to hear more about how you developed it. Thank you for such a wonderful brainstorming tool. I hope that the copies go to those who can use them; once I saw the sample pages, I did not hesitate to purchase my copy.


  114. @Joanne, glad this conversation is shedding some light--good luck!

    @Donna, Yes Becca and I really believe in paying it forward however we can. We are so very lucky to have what we have and live where we do. I recently visited Tanzania and it was eye opening to see how a big portion of the world lives. Only 15% of the people where we were had electricity or running water. 15%! So the long and short is that each year Becca and I are choosing a different charity and making a donation from our proceeds.

    @Helen, that coffee smell is heavenly coming in at the end of the day! And wow, you went through the entire blog? You deserve a medal!! There are a bazillion posts! I think the Setting Thesaurus alone has over 100 entries!
    @Chris, I agree--I am in awe of authors who can so deeply affect me through their characters, making them feel like real people. It's a gift!

    @Vince I haven't watched Sherlock yet--is it good? I so rarely have time for TV, but I try to catch the best shows.

    @Mary, if you ever get a chance to hear Michael Hauge speak, do. He's a screenwriter, but boy does he know his stuff when it comes to character motivation. You're right--anger is almost never the root emotion--something else is. Anger is often the response, and how the root emotion presents itself or escalates. Too, personality types affect expression of emotion. Some people are more reactive, while others simmer like a crock pot. Some use big gestures, others don't. Men and women act differently as well, and often different things will trigger a reaction. I love emotion--it's just so cool. *geeks out*

    @Tina, antagonists are interesting. After all, in their eyes, THEY are the hero of their story. They have goals, needs and desires that might even be similar to that of the hero, but it is the METHOD to which they choose to achieve their ends that differ, and which casts them into the role of villain.

    I find the best characters are the ones I think about years after the book experience is over. That's making an impression!

    @Missy, I'm so happy you guys invited me! Everyone here is really offering up some great food for thought--this is a great discussion!

    @Eva, thanks!

    @Debby, thanks for commenting!

    @Tina, I think it's kind of hilarious how we keep coming back to peeing alone or not. You can tell there are a lot of mothers here!

    @Debra, emotion can be soooo tough. I mean, not only do we have to show it authentically and in a fresh way, it can't be overdone or it comes off as heavy-handed and melodramatic, but too little and the reader might be confused about WHAT the character is feeling.

    @Virginia, that is kind of awesome--he will come in handy of you ever lock yourself out of the house or car!
    Can you tell us about the reaction when you first brought the ET into the light?

    Was it a huge success? Or a slow burn??

    Haha, this is a blog post in itself! The cliff note version is this: when we started it on the blog, people thought it was really cool. Word spread and our followers grew. When we decided to turn to another type of descriptive thesaurus, a lot of people emailed us, asking us for more entries, asking us to turn it into a book. Finally I created a facebook group for people who wanted this, because I figured that was a good way to keep track and see if this was really a viable idea.

    When we said we were going to do the book, it was well received. and when we released it, I was so utterly terrified. People loved the blog version--it was linked all over the place, mentioned in conferences, newsletters, magazines...and I was FREAKING that people would be disappointed. That they expected something more. Better. That I failed everyone.

    But then reviews came in...and they were good. And some were from people who didn't know us from a head of broccoli, so that was awesome! I think that's when that terror left me and I began to hope that we'd achieved our goal of creating the type of resource people really needed. :)

  115. @Ruth, a lot of character growth happens when we ask ourselves why. Understanding how a leads to b and leads to c is both powerful and freeing. I think it's great you led kids through this process :)

    @Vince, that is an interesting title for a book on education! I bet there's some good revelations in it. :)

    And WOOT I am so pleased that you are happy with the resource! I know some people like the digital version, while others prefer hard copy. I know a bunch of people who have both so that no matter where they are, they can access it. I prefer the paper copy myself, I think because I like all my writing references that way. I think I 'absorb' information better when its printed.

    @Natalie, so nice to see you here! Thanks for stopping in and I'm glad you enjoyed the post!

    @Piper, Becca and I started the ET because we were frustrated over how to show character emotion. We found ourselves re-using the same gestures: the frowns, the eye rolls, the shrugs and sighs. We wanted to write fresh body language, but we just needed a way to kickstart our brains to think beyond the 'common/overused' gestures. We looked everywhere for a tool or resource to help us, but found nothing. The few books on emotion were 'how to' write it, not how to SHOW emotion.

    Becca shared a small list she'd started on different gestures she'd collected, and so we decided to start profiling emotions brainstorming gestures and actions with them. Originally our critique group helped us, but it petered out so Becca and I created The Bookshelf Muse. We figured if we were struggling in this area, others might be too.

    Thanks for taking a chance on the book, too! I hope it helps you a ton as you write. :)

    And thank you all for being so welcoming and asking such great questions! It's been a real pleasure to hang out here with you today!


  116. Angela, I was sooo glad when the thesaurus came out! Downloaded it to my iPad and nary a day of writing goes by that I don't consult it many, many times. Also, thanks for the settings thesaurus at the website.

    What makes me like a character -- a sense of humor and, even in the midst of adversity, respect for the other characters. Unless, of course, a character is just too low-down to respect ;-)

    Nancy C

  117. Tina, about betraying a reader's trust ... very little about a story bothers me more than a "you have got to be kidding me!" ending that feels as if the writer did't know what to do next and also didn't wrap up major loose ends.

    Christina, congratulations. Hope you can share details soon. Cheering you on!

    Nancy C

  118. Wow, Angela! What a great idea for a book! Downloading it as soon as I write this comment. I am such need of this concept for enriching my character's responses.

    Thanks Seekerville! Great post!

  119. Great post Angela--and just what I needed right now. Hmmm...think I'd better add THE EMOTION THESAURUS to my Christmas Wish List too--sounds like a valuable resource. ~ When reading, I always seem to care more for the character who's been unfairly blamed for something, but of course shines later in the story! ~ Thanks for visiting Seekerville today (guess I'm the "fashionably late" arrival--if pajamas can be called fashionable, LOL). Blessings, Patti Jo

  120. I love The Emotions Thesaurus...It is a great tool.


  121. I so struggle with empathy. I feel empathy for characters who are vulnerable either because of age, disability or circumstance. I'm trying very hard to make my main character likable and so far 4 out 5 of my critique group say I'm getting there. She's got a lot of strikes against her but apparently that isn't enough.

  122. I empathize with people who are "real". And that includes the whole person. The Emotion Thesaurus looks like a great help in understanding people.

  123. Hi Nancy, that's great that the blog collections and ET are helping--music to my ears! And I couldn't agree more about an ending that frustrates. I remember one book that ended with everything that happened being in the character's head, and there was NO set up. I mean NONE. And I was like, Are you kidding me??? Worst ending ever.

    @Lyndee, thanks for giving it a try--i hope it becomes a useful tool for you as you revise!

    @CatMom, so glad this post was a help. And hey, PJ's are the best part of being a writer!

    @Melinda, Glad you are happy with it!

    @Lisa, it can often take a lot of passes to tweak the 'little details' that help readers feel empathy for our characters. I find that showing a bit of kindness early on toward something or someone is a good way to start the ball rolling. I have this tiny bit where my MC helped her brother with his shoe laces before school--a tiny detail, but something she didn't have to do yet she did. It can make a difference.

    @Janet, yes characters really have to feel real and have warts just like the rest of us. I have a hard time empathizing with characters who have perfect lives--wealth, beauty, friends, etc. Even if the big pull is loneliness, this isn't enough for me. I need something more--I need to see they have real conflict to deal with, not just the 'lonely and doesn't fit in' angle, especially when everything about the character's life comes on a silver platter.

    Great comments, all! Thanks for adding to the discussion :)

  124. So simply put yet so rich with writing wisdom. I'm directing many fellow writers to this great post! Thank you!

  125. This comment has been removed by the author.

  126. This is going on my wish list. I can't wait to own this book. I empathize with any one who gets their heart broken in a romantic endeavor. The misery is so.... well, miserable. See why I need this book?

  127. i would like to be in the running for the ET - it sounds wonderful. i must go check out your website.

    as for Virginia's toddler's lock picking skills... hoo boy, i am so glad my three year old isn't that skilled. probably because i just let him in and haven't locked any doors so he wouldn't develop the lock picking skill. i'm still laughing over the whole idea of peeing alone and lock picking toddlers.

    Angela, thank you for sharing today.

  128. I always root for the character that seems rejected by all

  129. Many of my favorite characters have a very different personality than I do, but I aspire to be like them and admire their traits which I lack. Characters who have similar personalities are naturally easy to relate to as well.


  130. Awesome post, Angela. (As always.) I especially love the advise to humanize our characters by giving them flaws. I have a tendency to want to hold my mc's flaws too close to her chest, which makes it hard for readers to form that connection. Think I need to print this post out and tape it to my wall :)

    Thanks so much for sharing this!


  131. Jean, thanks you! I'm glad you found this post helpful! Best of luck on your writing!

    Cindy, LOL. I think we all get stuck sometimes, right?

    Deb, thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

    Sheila, I agree. I always root for the underdog. :)

    Lady Dragonkeeper, I know what you mean. This has to be the number one reason why I love writing. Through our characters, we live so many lives. We can focus on our own demons, or live the very best version of ourselves--it's all up to us!

    Martina, nice to see you here! I hope you are all refreshed after your vacation! I want to see pictures! :)

  132. Angela's awesome, isn't she? And I can personally vouch for her ability to grab a reader's interest, since her stories are always engaging.

    Thanks so much for hosting her!

  133. Becca!! The other half of the great Emotional Thesaurus. Welcome!

  134. I've loved the Bookshelf Muse since a writer friend recommended it to me. You talk about things like "knees" and how to write about them. Adore that! One of the things I'm working on is getting more emotion from my characters so it's not just what they're doing, but also how they feel about what they're doing. The Emotion Thesaurus is on my wish list.

  135. I am so impressed by this blog's following. Wowzers! It's hard to think with empathy when you're so blown away by great stats.

    Okay--here goes. Empathy is awarded when someone faces tragic circumstance like amputation with determination and little whining.
    Linda A.

  136. What makes me empathize with a character is when their flaws are understandable. Their fatal flaw may be as cruel and ugly as can be, but if the reason behind it is understandable (how they were treated in the past, their family upbringing, etc.) then I sympathize with the character's plight. Even if he/she brought it on his or her self.

    In short, the protagonist needs to be realistic and relatable. I MUST be able to 'become' the character.

    Great post! Thank you. :)

  137. Ha Becca, you are si biased, but thank you!

    Tina, Becca is the real rock star. I can't wait for the world to see her fiction!

    Mertianna, Thank you! So glad you are being helped by our content. And yes definitely, reflection through thoughts really adds another layer of meaning and depth to emotion. This is why we made sure to add the thoughts that are often associated with each emotion. Happy writing!

    Linda, yes, you nailed it. We definitely get close to characters who behave with incredible strength and honor when bad things happen, because deep down we hope we would have the same courage ourselves!

    Thanks again for all the great overstating, everyone!