For several years, editors and agents have recommended “showing” not “telling” and frequently use the Emotion Thesaurus as a means to show how it’s done. It’s simple really. Instead of saying “She felt surprised,” you look up surprise in the EMOTION THESAURUS and insert “Her mouth fell open and her hand flew to her chest after her fingers touched her parted lips and she gasped.” This, along with thirty other physical manifestations for surprise supposedly show the reader what the character is experiencing. Some border on the melodramatic, some sound suspiciously like other emotions in the thesaurus (amazement, happiness, fear, anger, relief, and disappointment), and some are unintentionally humorous (“gripping the sides of the head”). Yes, that’s what I do when I’m surprised.
The authors thoughtfully provide a basic definition of the emotion, the physical signals I’ve mentioned, internal sensations (lots of stomach gymnastics), mental responses (fuzzy thoughts?), and cues of acute surprise (“swearing or shouting”). There are physical reactions (internal, external, and extreme) and cues of suppressed surprise (some of which are listed in the not suppressed section) for 75 different emotions (!).
In addition to the repetition and melodrama, I felt as if the authors had sat down one day and said, “Show me what agitation looks like.” The fact that it reads exactly like anger shouldn’t come as a reason for your mouth to fall open and your hand to fly to your chest. Perhaps an actor could have helped them distinguish the subtlety between the many emotions. This book is the reason so many writers now are throwing in stomach growls, stomach clenches, stomach flip-flops, and stomach flutters without ever explaining WHY these emotions are causing such gastrointestinal upheavals. Showing isn’t physical manifestations of an emotion, showing is letting the reader know why the character’s lips are pursed.
This book would be useful for an author trying to get away from showing by giving him or her a starting point, but I wouldn’t use it as the authority. Their books would be sterile and much, much longer. No, the book could show some potential physical reactions to use as a launch pad for examining the author’s own emotions. I’d also have included some motivations for those emotions.
A good starting point, but it only scratches the surface of a character’s emotions and would be humorous if overused.