I keep a copy of the FLIP DICTIONARY on my desk. Let's say I'm writing a dance scene. If I look up "dance" in the FLIP DICTIONARY, it gives me nearly a half page of dance terms. To narrow it down further, let's say my characters are country folk. Within dance terms, I come across "folk dance: belly, fling, hoedown, hornpipe, hula, jig, morris, reel, square, streathspey, sword." The FLIP DICTIONARY can't be beat for finding just the write word for an article or story.
The other book I keep on my desk is THE EMOTION THESAURUS by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. The table of contents starts with adoration, ends with worry, and has nearly every emotion you can think of in between. For every emotion listed there are a couple of pages dealing with that emotion. It works like this: let's say my character is agitated. THE EMOTION THESAURUS gives me nearly a page of physical symptoms for agitation: a reddening of the face, a sheen of sweat on the cheeks, chin, and forehead, rubbing the back of the neck, a wavering voice, avoiding eye contact, and on and on.
Both THE FLIP DICTIONARY and THE EMOTION THESAURUS make my writing more varied. They keep me from overusing certain words and gestures and help me find just the right way to get my point across.
I own lots of books on craft, but I use these two books nearly every time I sit down to write. Have you used either of these books? If so, do you agree they're indispensable? Or do you have other books on writing to recommend?