Interview with Anglea Ackerman

Thanks to Angela Ackerman for answering a series of interview questions for Uncovered Myths today!

1. Who (audience wise) were you thinking of when you developed the Emotion Thesaurus?  Did you think it would take off for those who never learned to read body language, for any variety of reasons, including lack of vision or hearing?

Becca and I created the Emotion Thesaurus because we knew a lot of writers were struggling with how to show emotion without reusing the gestures that lead to flat writing (the shrugs, frowns, smiles and nods, for example.) After we published it, we were amazed when other “unintended” audiences began contacting us…actors, psychologists, therapists and teachers to name a few, letting us know how the book was helping them act, treat patients, aid recovery groups, teach students and help kids with behavioral issues. It is very neat to know this book is helping people in a variety of ways, not just with writing emotion. I am thrilled to know it is also helping the sight and hearing impaired.

2.  When you created The Negative Trait Thesaurus and The Positive Trait Thesaurus, did you every worry about readers reading too much into the negative traits?  Having lived with OCD, I can picture people trying to list all of their own traits, both positive and negative, and see where they fit.  I wonder if they’ve been used in psychology classes too.

I will admit Becca and I sent a few semi paranoid emails back and forth when we were writing The Negative Trait Thesaurus because we were reading our own behaviors into the flaws we were researching. Because the traits we profiled in both books are rooted in psychology, and our job is to encourage writers to create characters that are authentic, the information does cross between the real world and fiction. That said, neither of us are psychologists, so we definitely don’t recommend using the books for anything other fiction. However, it can be interesting to think about our own past as if it were backstory, and try to better understand why certain traits are part of our personality. I know I learned a lot about myself writing these books.

3.  Has anyone told you they used the Trait Thesauruses to make a negative trait a positive one, or vice-versa, in the world they were writing?

Not specifically, but one thing we tried hard to convey in our book is that almost any flaw has positive aspects, and any attribute has negative ones. Take kindness. On the outside, this altruistic attribute doesn’t seem like it would have negatives, yet it does. A person who is kind to a fault will be self-sacrificing, offering to help whenever they can, even if they are overburdened or not the best suited for the task. This means they may use themselves up, or make a situation worse because they make mistakes. People without scruples will find them easy to take advantage of them too.

When writers create their characters, it is important they think of the wide range of each trait, and make sure they weave in both the positive and negative aspects of a trait into the character’s behavior. This is what really makes them feel authentic to readers.

4.  I imagine the future Setting Thesaurus is a tremendous undertaking.  I’m sure someone will always say: “My ‘setting’ isn’t like that.” You’ve offered so many of these settings on your site over the years.  I can only imagine how writers will use these settings, and try to age them, forward and backward through time.  Can you offer a sample a setting type you will cover?

We are terribly excited about our Setting Thesaurus Collection, which is so big we had to break it into two books, with possibly a third down the road. Whenever possible, Becca and I researched the setting in person, but as you say, experiences will vary, so people will still have to do some investigating themselves if they choose a setting that is in a specific part of the world. Some of the settings we’ve profiled are the backseat of a police car (I was falsely arrested for that one), a fire hall (firefighting gear is HEAVY!), an abandoned apartment building and an underground bunker.

5.  Thanks for all the free resources you offer to writers everywhere! Do you ever feel like you neglected writing novels for all the help you offer to other writers?

Honestly, yes. In order for Becca and me to create these resources, we have had to shelve our fiction for the time being. But we love what we do, and we love helping writers. When the time is right, we’ll slow down with our resource building, and return to fiction.

6.  Do you have many more Thesauruses planned?

Becca and I have a brainstorming list of ideas for thesaurus collections we’d like to create, plus we are working on a secret project we hope to unveil in May. There will definitely be more collections in our future!

7.  What has been one of the most inspiring messages you have received from readers?

I love hearing from writers that our books have helped them become stronger at writing, and that they have gone on to publish, be it traditionally or through self-publishing. I love fiction, and it will always be my first love, and so it is such an honor to help others get their books into the hands of readers.

Thanks so much for the invite April, and the terrific questions!

Thank you so much for all you do for writers!

Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi co-authored:

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression,”

The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Attributes,”

The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Flaws,”

Emotion Amplifiers: A Companion to The Emotion Thesaurus,”

With many, many more resources available at: Writers Helping Writers, Formerly The Bookshelf Muse.

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