Elizabeth: Atlas of Emotions

A few weeks ago, in her post Your Empathy Quotient Jeanne talked about the role of empathy in crafting compelling, believable characters.  She also referenced Emotions Revealed, by Paul Ekhman, a book I talked about in a Discovering Faces post back when I used to watch the television show Lie to Me, which was based, in part, on Ekhman’s work.

Not only is reading other people’s faces/body language/tone of voice and knowing what those people are feeling is outside of my skill set in real life (as confirmed by the quiz on Jeanne’s post), but figuring out what words to use to show what a character is feeling in my writing, can often be equally daunting.

Cue the Atlas of Emotions.

According to Atlas the website:

“The Atlas is an interactive tool that builds your vocabulary of emotions and illuminates your emotional world.”

Though intended as a tool for people to understand emotional experiences, in order to enable helpful, constructive responses, I’ve found it to be a very helpful writing resource.

“The Atlas of Emotion was commissioned by the Dalai Lama, . . . goal of this Atlas is to help us be aware of our emotions. Awareness of our emotions means understanding how they are triggered, what they feel like and how we respond. “


The Atlas takes the five universal emotions – anger, disgust, enjoyment, fear, and sadness – and describes the states of intensity for each, ranging from the least intense to the most intense.  These states can be very helpful when thinking about a character might be feeling as the tension in your story is escalating.

Looking at the emotion “enjoyment” for example, the possible states range from sensory pleasure to ecstasy, with a lot in between.


For each emotion, you can also look at how one might potentially respond to it.  Again, looking at “enjoyment”, responses include indulging, savoring, and seeking more.


In the timeline section, you can walk through an example that shows how an emotional trigger, in a particular context, can lead to feelings and physical sensations and, ultimately, a response.

Impediments and Antidotes

One part of the Atlas that I’ve found to be a great resource is the chart of impediments and antidotes.  It contains a mapping, of sort, for how to counteract emotional states, which can be helpful in thinking about how one character might react to another character’s emotions, both in positive and negative ways.

For example, the entry for “annoyance” is “patience and open mindedness”.

For one who may be considered empathy-challenged, I’ve found this Atlas to be a great addition to my writer’s toolkit.

Check it out and let me know what you think.

7 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Atlas of Emotions

    • Just be careful when you dig in, Michille, or next thing you know it will be a few hours later. Well, . . . maybe that was just me. 🙂

      • LOL, oh no, it wasn’t just you! I was there for a good 20 minutes, and it definitely could have been longer. So pretty! Sometimes the options are really good. Take a nap, talk it out. I notice there’s nothing really good for frustration, though. I quote: “Suppress, be passive-aggressive, insult, quarrel, scream/yell, brood/simmer, undermine.” I won’t quarrel, yell or scream, and the other options, while they can temporarily provide some relief, don’t ever seem to help the situation. I guess “try again” would cause a frustrated person to want to put a fist through the computer screen. (However, because of the description of the emotion, I was able to provide that positive option.)

  1. I love The Emotion Thesaurus (and all the other thesauruses Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi have written). It’s similar to this site, geared for writers, and is about as dog-eared as any craft book I have. In fact, it’s my go-to book when I’m stuck on an aspect of character.

    I will check out this site more when I’m back from vay-cay. Thanks!

    • Yes – I have those books too and find them very helpful, especially when there is a particular nuance of an emotion that I’m searching for an just can’t quite think of.

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