The Emotion Game


We love games in our home. Jeopardy, Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly, you name it. Anything that involves a bit of chance and a little expertise.

We especially love word games. Scrabble, Password, and Boggle are some favorites, and you can find copies of crossword puzzles spread around on almost any surface in the house.

We even make up our own games. My husband, Frank, is particularly fond of this. As a retired college professor, his idea of a great game is one in which the student (usually me) is given a cryptic question and challenged to find the right answer. So it’s no surprise when Frank purchased a copy of The Emotion Thesaurus to help him with his novel-writing that he found a way to incorporate a game. Here’s the way we play it with friends:

First, the challenger secretly picks out an emotion from the thesaurus and reads one of the “physical signals and behaviors” that accompany that emotion. The contestants each guess the emotion. If one of them is right, they win. If not, the challenger may choose an “internal sensation” or a “mental response” from the book for the same emotion. This keeps on until one of the contestants identifies the correct emotion.

So, would you like to play our little game? I’ll give you a set of clues and you guess the emotion. The answer is provided later. (No fair peeking!)


  • A wide grin
  • Singing, humming, or chanting
  • Getting the giggles

Got it? Here are some more clues.


  • A lightness in the chest
  • A fast pulse

How are we doing? Here’s one more set of clues:


  • Camaraderie with others
  • Imagining what could happen

So what emotion did you identify? Make your guess and click here for the correct answer.


Whether you enjoy playing games or not, as authors we know the importance of providing an emotional journey for our readers. To do that, we need to understand how emotions manifest themselves in our characters. The Emotion Thesaurus is the place to go to gain that insight.


I am especially excited to welcome Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, authors of The Emotion Thesaurus, to The Craft of Writing blog series.

Angela Ackerman Becca Puglisi

Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi are writing coaches, international speakers, and co-authors of the bestselling book, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression (now an expanded second edition) and its many sequels. Their books are available in eight languages, are sourced by US universities, recommended by agents and editors, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, and psychologists around the world. To date, this book collection has sold over half a million copies.

Long-time writing partners, Angela and Becca are passionate about helping others, especially writers. To this end, they co-founded the popular site Writers Helping Writers, a description hub for writers and One Stop for Writers, an innovative creativity portal for one-of-a-kind tools that give writers exactly what they need to craft unbelievably rich stories and characters. Originally created in partnership with Lee Powell, the creator of Scrivener for Windows and Linux, One Stop for Writers is now a shared venture between Angela and Becca.


Welcome, Angela and Becca, and thank you for joining us!

Angela: Thank you for having us! And your husband is awesome. I love the game he created from the Emotion Thesaurus. That would be a fun one to do at writing conferences to sharpen everyone’s show-don’t-tell skills when it comes to emotion.

A note to readers: Because Becca and I are basically the BORG from working together so long, we’ll each answer a question in turn.

How did the two of you meet and decide to work together?

Angela: We actually met on an online critiquing site called The Critique Circle. We each wrote Kidlit & YA and started critiquing one another’s work. I think we really connected with the other’s style of writing, values, and desire to gain more knowledge. In fact, we took an entire year to study the same writing craft books so we could discuss the same concepts and help each other fill in the blanks. I think this really helped us become strong collaborative authors.

What prompted you to write The Emotion Thesaurus?

Angela: We both struggled with showing our characters’ feelings as it seemed like they were always rolling their eyes, smiling, and shrugging. Becca and I felt like our inability to write emotion in a more compelling way was holding our stories back, and so we decided to build lists of different emotions and how a character might express them. Becca had already started keeping track of a few emotions, so that kickstarted us. We blogged these lists and the response was so huge, we realized this was a widespread problem, not just for us. So, to help everyone, we put all our research into a book.

What made you decide to write other books on the craft of writing?

Becca: The Emotion Thesaurus was fairly well-received, so we knew that we were on to something. As Angela said, the issues that pushed us to write that book were universal in nature, and it made us think: What other writing problems did we have in common with authors? So we started exploring those areas of struggle at the blog in the form of various thesauruses. When people began clamoring for them in published form, we knew we had more books to write.

I hear you have a new book out entitled The Occupation Thesaurus. Tell us about it.

Becca: As with all of our books, The Occupation Thesaurus is about helping writers accomplish more with fewer words—to streamline their writing and do more with less. As authors, when we reveal a character’s job, we simultaneously show certain things about him or her, such as their beliefs, priorities, desires, and needs. So an occupation can cover a lot of characterization ground, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It can also provide much-needed conflict scenarios, hint at motivation in the form of unresolved past wounds or unmet needs, and offer symbolism opportunities. So this book is really about educating writers as to the importance of choosing character occupations carefully. If anyone wants to check it out, they can find it here at our bookstore.

What single piece of advice would you give to new authors?

Angela: Tough to narrow it down to a single piece of advice, lol. I think what I would probably say is to not be in a rush. Developing strong storytelling skills takes time. Can anyone belt out a book and publish it? Yes. Should they? Not if their intent is to have a satisfying career if their skills are not at the level needed for that to happen.

Writing a story is something that, at first blush, seems like it would be easy. But the more we study strong writing and understand the many, many elements that go into a powerful reading experience, the more it becomes apparent that we need to work hard to become great storytellers. Opening our minds to learning and not getting caught up in timelines gives us the freedom to truly focus on elevating our craft. We end up putting out better books…ones we are proud to have our names on.

Besides your own books, what book on the craft of writing would you recommend?

Becca: I don’t think I can narrow it down to just one J. Story structure has always been this big confusing mess for me, and Michael Hauge’s Writing Screenplays that Sell was a gamechanger because it brought clarity to that whole process. And when it comes to the nitty-gritty of how to tighten up your writing, I adore Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. There’s so much meat there, and it’s a resource I refer to often. Here’s a big list of books for writers we personally recommend.

What do you do when you want to get away from writing for a while?

Angela: If I am at home, I usually end up in the kitchen. I love to bake and try new dishes, but I honestly don’t have a ton of time between the books Becca and I write, our blog, our subscription site One Stop for Writers, and building/practicing workshops for online and in-person teaching. So for me, taking the time to prepare a special dish for my family always recharges my batteries. I also love to travel, and so that’s another way I refill my creative well. I love visiting new countries and experiencing new cultures. So far, my favorite countries have been Vietnam, Italy, and Australia.

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

Becca: Our Writers Helping Writers’ bookstore page contains information on all of our books, including full descriptions, sample previews, and ordering information. As for One Stop for Writers, Angela has created an excellent walkthrough video that shows authors the tools and resources that are available there. And if you’d like to catch up with us on social media, you can find us on Facebook and Twitter (Angela and Becca).

Thank you, Angela and Becca, for sharing your expertise with us!

Thank you so much for having us! It is always nice for us to reflect on how we started and how we are all on the same path. Happy writing to all!


  • Kay,

    Thank you for featuring this book and its authors. I haven’t heard of this before so it’s a new resource. It sounds like an excellent help for writers indeed! And what a fun game to start off with! Thank you.

    • Good morning Barbara! You are right about The Emotion Thesaurus. It’s an amazing resource for writers.

      Glad you enjoyed the game. Frank seems to have an unending ability to find something creative in everything he does.

      Stay well!

    • Hi, Barbara! Thanks for stopping by and for playing :). I think Kay came up with a really great game to show how various clues can be used to show a character’s emotion.

  • It’s great to hear how people have ideas, and then go forth and make them a reality! Angela and Becca have done just that! I have always imagined what a person looks like as they express an emotion, but as you say, I fall into using that same mental picture throughout the story. It’s comfortable to think we’ve created the perfect description/picture in words, but then on review we realize that a character is constantly raising their cheek, or shrugging, chuckling … making that character predictable and colorless. The Emotion Thesaurus would truly help to vary those overabundant usages, and communicate more about the deeper emotions in play. Thank you.

    • Good morning, Judy! I know what you mean about having characters “show” their emotions in predictable, boring ways. My characters tend to shrug, grin, and their eyebrows go up and down like yo-yos. The Emotion Thesaurus is a great resource to break through the usual stuff and give our readers an emotional experience they won’t forget.

      Hope you are staying well and safe!

    • Thanks for reading, Judy!

  • Fun game, thanks, Kay!

    • Linore, thanks for stopping by. I notice you have a new book out. I’d love to hear about it.

      “Miss Tavistock’s Mistake: Clean and Sweet Regency Romance: Brides of Mayfair, Book One”

  • Angela and Becca, Welcome again to The Craft of Writing blog series.

    Now that The Occupation Thesaurus has been released, do you have plans for another book?

    • Thanks so much for having us, Kay! Regarding other books, we haven’t thought that far ahead. With this release just behind us, the thing we most want right now is to slip into a coma, lol. But we tend to publish books every 12-18 months, so we should have a pretty good idea of our next project this time next year.

  • Love the game…although I didn’t get it right. I have the Emotion Thesaurus on eBook but I want to get a hard copy so I can make notes in it too. It has been tremendous in helping me get unstuck when my character is tempted to “roll their eyes” for the millionth time in my book. Great interview with valuable content. Thanks to you all for sharing.

    • As authors whose characters were constantly smiling and shrugging their shoulders, it’s nice to know that our book is also helping others to overcome those emotional crutches :).

    • Lori, Thanks for stopping by. I agree The Emotion Thesaurus is a “must-have” for authors.

      Btw, will there be a sequel to “A Firm Place to Stand?” I hope so!

  • angelaackerman1

    Thank you all so much for playing along, and thank you Kay for having us. Emotion is such a struggle area for so many of us, and the writing flow is a precious thing to preserve. I know before we started the Emotion Thesaurus I would hit a spot where emotion was important in a scene and my momentum would crash to a halt because I couldn’t describe the emotional reaction in a way that really clicked. It was frustrating to be pulled out of the writing flow, and then you get mad at yourself, question your abilities…UGH. So I think that’s the way that the ET helped me the most – to inspire ideas so I could stay in that writing flow and do more with my limited writing sessions. 🙂

  • Good morning! Wow! Angela and Becca really demonstrated that necessity is the mother of invention. I planned to download the Kindle edition of The Emotion Thesaurus, but sprang for the paperback after seeing Lori’s comment about making notes. Great idea. I can’t wait to get my copy, especially since I’m starting a fresh project with new characters. The timing of today’s post is outstanding for me. Thank you, Kay, Angela, and Becca! BTW, love the game. I missed the mark a little but it sure got me thinking.

    • Lisa, thanks for stopping by. I also like to read craft books in paper format. It’s easier to find the section I’m interested in than in ebook format.

      Btw, I’m excited about your new book, “Stork Bite.” Can’t wait to see it hit the shelves. What a great title!

      • angelaackerman1

        Hurray for good timing! Lisa, I hope you love the book – thanks for giving it a try. I think probably the print was a good decision if you are a note-taker; we hear from a lot of folks that the either prefer print or they get both because they realize that if something is within reach they tend to remember to use it more and it keeps the words flowing.

      • Thank you, Kay!

      • And thank you, Angela. I expect to have many takeaways from the book, and I’ll thank you in advance for strengthening my fiction!

      • And thank you in advance, Angela, for strengthening my fiction!

  • Just wanted to chime in and confirm how valuable The Emotion Thesaurus has been in my writing. Not only do the various physical actions offered in the book provide variety and depth to the writing, but if I close my eyes and imagine the character actually doing what I’ve written, it helps me know my characters better.
    So there’s a double benefit to this method!

    • angelaackerman1

      Frank, that’s a great point. I do the same too! That’s actually how I “test” if a body language idea seems right – can I picture them doing it when they are feeling that emotion? Does it seem natural to them? If so, I know I’ve hit on the right expression and just have to craft it in a fresh way. 🙂

    • And thank you, Frank, for coming up with The Emotion Game. No pressure — you just have to come up with a new game for each future blog post. 😎

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