Let me preface this post by saying that calling the tools I use to (hopefully) make me a better writer "cheats" is a bit tongue in cheek. I've never actually come across writers who think using a thesaurus is a short cut, but I've read quite a few that I wish would use one. That being said, I've decided to blog about the tools I use in the hopes of not being one of those writers.
I tweeted about this earlier (@MaraValderran for those who want to follow), but I'll elaborate here. In scouring the B&N store on my Nook, I came across this wifty book called The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (available on the Nook and Kindle as well as hardcopy). I have to say that this book has been my saving grace for some really sticky points in my books. I'm a very conversational and dialogue driven writer, so when you get down to descriptors I am usually banging my head against the keyboard with a lot of choice expletives, but not exactly the kind of words I'm searching for. This book has really helped me to expand on the way I describe the emotions of my characters so that I am not depending on the dialogue so heavily and I am not resorting to just telling the reader how my characters are feeling ("He was sad. He cried."=lame). Instead, I can look up "sadness" from the list of emotions they give you in the contents, and find the physical signs of sadness, the internal sensations, the mental responses, cues of acute or long term sadness, cues of suppressed sadness, and even what sadness might escalate to.
Now, of course, you could just take exact phrases from the listings they give you. But I really like that it makes me think a whole lot more about everything my character might be experiencing in that particular moment. If my character has difficulty expressing what they are feeling, they might have more subtle signs of those emotions, like in their posture or voice. If they are emotional basket cases, they might have the more obvious signs. The point is, the listing is all over the spectrum and it has only served to help me get to know my characters better. I know that with some googling you can probably find all of the contents yourself, but that is more time consuming than I have patience for and I love the organized way the information is presented. This book is really the best five bucks I have spent.
But since we are on the topic of googling and tweeting and all the other social media babble...I tweeted my recommendation for this book earlier and received a tweet back instantly from @Thesaurasize that had my little writerly heart thumping away like a kid on Christmas with a shiny new toy in hand. I still recommend The Emotion Thesaurus whole heartedly because of its organization and ease of access, but I also have to recommend the website Thesaurasize that they tweeted back to me because it is full of awesome. If you type "sadness" into their little search bar, it comes up with 110 synonyms. They range from "aching heart" to "dismalness" and everything in between. "Quiver" is another great one to look up just to give you an idea as to the potential of this site. Like I said, full of awesome.
Another descriptor disaster for me can be in describing what people look like. I actually just went through and edited book 1 for the gazillionth time because I got tired of everyone having red hair and basic eye colors. In googling, I stumbled upon this great blog called "Descriptive Faces--A Resource for Writers" and I highly recommend it. The author Charity Bradford goes over facial expressions for various emotions as well as just regular old facial features like lip shapes and the like. Again, another excellent way to really make you sit back and think about what you are writing.
In my Nook book browsing for a better thesaurus than the one followed by a .com, I also found a book called The Ultimate Fiction Thesaurus by Sam Stone for $0.99 and think it was worth the dollar. In a good way. It's a nice exercise in expanding your descriptors and training yourself to really paint a picture for the reader. There are exercises as well as thesaurus entries for things like body type, voices, facial expressions, conduits of expression, body language, movement, and violence. That being said, it is only fourteen pages in length, so it doesn't go into quite as much as The Emotion Thesaurus but it does touch on topics The Emotion Thesaurus doesn't.