There can be few writers who haven't heard of 'The Emotion Thesaurus'. It was my bible when I first started writing in 2012, and I still keep it by me whenever I write a new story. My guest today is Becca Puglisi, co-author of this thesaurus and its sequels and, with the recent publication of her setting thesauruses, I'm delighted she found time out of her busy schedule to have a chat with me.
You’ve collaborated on several books with Angela Ackerman now. How long have you known each other?
Angela and I met in 2004 when we both joined Critique Circle. We happened to find each other, fell in love with each others’ work, and immediately became critique partners. Four years later, we joined forces to start our blog (then called The Bookshelf Muse), and the rest is history.
Who was it who came up with the idea for your first thesaurus, ‘The Emotion Thesaurus’?
As with most of our efforts, we both played a part in the The Emotion Thesaurus’s success. While editing one day, I realized that my characters were constantly smiling and shuffling their feet, but I didn’t know how else to show what they were feeling. I needed more clues to show their emotions, so I began keeping lists of the cues associated with various feelings. When I brought the information to our critique group, we learned that every single person struggled with this. We all started working to flesh out the lists, but interest dwindled over time until Angela and I were the only die-hards left. When we began our blog and were trying to figure out what content would help readers and keep them coming back for more, Angela had the brilliant idea of highlighting one emotion each week. And The Emotion Thesaurus was born.
How do you go about writing a book together? Does it ever lead to arguments?
I can honestly say that Angela and I have never had an argument. Truly. We don’t always agree, but we’re both open-minded and respectful, and we recognize each others’ strengths. When there’s a strong difference of opinion, we tend to defer to whoever is more experienced in that area.
When it comes to co-writing, we have a fairly simple process. Together, we figure out what information would be useful for writers and come up with a template. Then we split in half the text that needs to be written; Angela drafts one half and I do the other. When it comes time to edit, we trade content so I’m editing her work and she’s tidying up mine. Then we switch again. By this point, the work has become a combination of both of our styles and it’s difficult to tell who initially wrote what.
Which, out of your thesaurus set, is your favourite? Was one harder to write than another?
You know, I love The Emotion Thesaurus because it’s helped so many people. The number of authors who write to us and say that the light bulb came on for them after reading our book…it has a soft place in my heart for that reason. But my personal favourite is The Negative Trait Thesaurus. The information in the front matter about character wounds and the effects they have on personality was such an eye-opener for me. I feel like writing that book gave me a good handle on character arc, which had never been my strong suit. I believe the content in that book is a game-changer, and for that reason, it’s my favourite.
As for difficulty, the character trait books were definitely the hardest to write because so much of the content was based in psychology. Neither of us being therapists, we had to do a lot of extra work on those—a ton of research, testing of our information to make sure it was correct, and vetting by experts in the field. The pressure to get everything right pushed us to work harder on those books than on any of the others.
I’ve been following your fabulous blog, Writers Helping Writers, since 2012 when it was ‘The Bookshelf Muse’. What are you trying to achieve with this blog?
Well, it started as a platform to build an audience for when we publish our own fiction one day. But the more writing advice and thesauruses we shared, the more we realized how much our content was helping others. And that really excited us. So we shifted gears and changed the name to better reflect what we wanted our blog to be: Writers Helping Writers. And that’s really our purpose—to share what we’ve learned with others.
Can you tell my readers a bit about your new initiative, ‘One Stop for Writers’.
One Stop For Writers is an online resource that contains all of our thesaurus content, along with many other tools and references, in one convenient spot. We call it an online library because so much of what writers need can be found in this one place. The thesauruses are all cross-referenced and searchable. We have customizable worksheets to help with character building, scene setting, symbolism, and much more. We’ve also recently launched a story structure tool to help writers structure their stories in a way that will resonate with readers. We love this site because so much of what writers need is in one location, so it saves time and helps them be more efficient and productive.
You and Angela are busy ladies. Do you have any time for your own fiction?
Every six months or so, Angela and I will talk about our fiction—mostly in a nostalgic and wistful tone, lol. Fiction writing is our passion; it’s how we got started in this business, after all. But our nonfiction books are doing so well, and writing them is always a learning experience for both of us. It’s rewarding on a number of levels, and we’re aware of how fortunate we are to have had a measure of success in this field. So we want to make the most of it while we can. If we could do both, we would. For now, our focus is on nonfiction, knowing that we’ll have time to get back to our fiction eventually.
What do you think is the biggest mistake new writers make?
Hmmm. I’d have to say that a lot of new writers fall into the trap of thinking that they’re ready to publish before they truly are. I’ve benefited greatly from the rise of self-publishing and have a lot of good to say about it, but one thing we lost when the gatekeepers of traditional publishing became optional rather than required was a sense of accountability. I would advise all new writers to get into a critique group or find a partner. Reliable critiquers committed to offering honest feedback can give new writers a better sense of when they’re ready to take that big step.
What next for Becca and Angela? Any more thesauruses?
Well, after the launch of our Setting Thesarus books last month, we’re taking it easy this summer. But in the fall, we hope to get started on our next publication: The Emotional Wounds Thesaurus. This is the one we’re currently highlighting at the blog and people have been clamouring for it to be turned into a book, so that will be our next big project.
If you would like to buy one of Becca and Angela's thesauruses, they can be found here (UK) and here (USA)
You can read Becca's previous guest blog on 'Show not Tell' here.
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.