Website Review: Bookshelf Muse

Issue 61

Website Review:

The Bookshelf Muse

By Erin M. Hartshorn

Copyright © 2011, Erin M. Hartshorn, All Rights Reserved


The Bookshelf Muse is a blog, written by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, that has several ongoing thesauri with individual entries to expand the way a writer thinks about depicting emotions; settings; symbolism; and color, textures, and shapes. Each thesaurus starts with an entry defining what it is for -- how the entries enhance our ability to add description to our writing, and why we should care about that particular element.

For example, the symbolism thesaurus says, in part, "Symbolism, when used correctly, adds another layer of connection to our reader, pulling them more deeply to 'feel' as they read and it contributes to a stronger attunement to the plight of the protagonist." That entry also discusses why the blog authors focus on current literature and gives examples of themes that will be explored (redemption, loyalty, alienation, a fall from grace).

The setting thesaurus displays lists of sensory information for each given setting. Have you ever thought about adding taste into a description of waiting in line at a bank? (Do any of your characters actually go into a bank, rather than just using an ATM?) How about the smells of a video arcade? These details help to ground your writing in the concrete, making it more real for the reader. The setting choices range from the mundane (garage, airport check-in, closet) to more historical or fantasy oriented (gallows, dungeon, Egyptian pyramids) to science fiction (cryogenic sleep chamber, spaceport, spaceship). Each setting also includes examples, showing how the choices you decide to use can affect the overall mood of the piece.

The emotion thesaurus gives lists of actions that might show the given emotion -- emotional beats that take you beyond your heroine sighing and rolling her eyes or your antagonist scowling or grinning in anticipation. Some of the behaviors presented could mean a variety of things (for example, under Reluctance, "Glancing at watch" is listed, but it's also listed under Impatience), which indicates that you may need more than one beat to show what your character feels -- thus, more variety. The emotion thesaurus also includes entries for male vs. female reactions (not all of which I agree with -- they include clenched fists as a male anger response, whereas I have written females who clench their fists at their sides because they want to lash out but fear repercussions if they do so) and for sarcasm or verbal disrespect -- again, useful as jumping-off places for including a constellation of reactions.

The color, textures, and shapes thesaurus takes one-word descriptors that may be overused -- rectangle, yellow, transparent, bumpy -- and provides examples of objects, both natural and manmade, that can be used for comparison, synonyms, and weak and strong examples of description of the concept. The bad examples may be overblown, they may miss the mark by calling something else to mind (such as a "bumblebee yellow dress" that implies the presence of black stripes as well), or they may be contradictory or self-conflicting, but for each, an explanation of where it falls short is given.

The site also has sporadic other content -- braincandy (the latest was a list of sites that made good references, such as the Nonverbal Dictionary and the Fae Dictionary), blogs you can't live without, plus all of their archives on many topics labeled "Tender Morsels" (time management, grammar, pacing, agents, and more). This blog is an excellent resource, whether for reading on a regular basis or checking when you're sure you've used the same description five times in the past three pages.