Setting Description Entry: Desert


A landscape of sand, flat, harsh sunlight, cacti, tumbleweeds, dust devils, cracked land, crumbing rock, sandstone, canyons, wind-worn rock formations, tracks, dead grasses, vibrant desert blooms (after rainfall), flash flooding, dry creek…


Wind (whistling, howling, piping, tearing, weaving, winding, gusting), birds cawing, flapping, squawking, the fluttering shift of feasting birds, screeching eagles, the sound of one’s own steps, heavy silence, baying wild dogs..

Smellsarid air, dust, one’s own sweat and body odor, dry baked earth, carrion


grit, dust, dry mouth & tongue, warm flat canteen water, copper taste in mouth, bitter taste of insects for eating, stringy wild game (hares, rats) the tough saltiness of hardtack, biscuits or jerky, an insatible thirst or hunger


Torrid heat, sweat, cutting wind, cracked lips, freezing cold (night) hard packed ground, rocks, gritty sand, shivering, swiping away dirt and sweat, pain from split lips and dehydration, numbness in legs, heat/pain from sun stroke, clothes…

Helpful hints:–The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.

Example 1: When I started my journey across the winding dunes of sand, the sky was clear blue glass. Now, as I stagger toward mountains growing no bigger despite three days of walking, that blue glass is marred by flecks of swirling ash…vultures waiting for their next meal…

–Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.

Example 1: The dust devil swirled across the canyon like a rattlesnake on the hunt. (Simile)…

Think beyond what a character sees, and provide a sensory feast for readers

Logo-OneStop-For-Writers-25-smallSetting is much more than just a backdrop, which is why choosing the right one and describing it well is so important. To help with this, we have expanded and integrated this thesaurus into our online library at One Stop For Writers. Each entry has been enhanced to include possible sources of conflict, people commonly found in these locales, and setting-specific notes and tips, and the collection itself has been augmented to include a whopping 230 entries—all of which have been cross-referenced with our other thesauruses for easy searchability. So if you’re interested in seeing a free sample of this powerful Setting Thesaurus, head on over and register at One Stop.

The Setting Thesaurus DuoOn the other hand, if you prefer your references in book form, we’ve got you covered, too, because both books are now available for purchase in digital and print copies. In addition to the entries, each book contains instructional front matter to help you maximize your settings. With advice on topics like making your setting do double duty and using figurative language to bring them to life, these books offer ample information to help you maximize your settings and write them effectively.


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.
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18 Responses to Setting Description Entry: Desert

  1. Wow this helped me so much on my essay thanks I have altleast 20 things down for it from this website 😊❤️✨

  2. Juswan says:

    this is a very helpful extract where I could pick out some descriptions of the desert and how the climate is
    Thank you very much for doing this because it gives me the feel and the imagination that I am there now in the desert

  3. FIS EFISUW says:

    helpful school work !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. adiyan says:

    this has helped me so much for my gcse exams.that i am glad that somebody helped me

  5. Stanley says:

    Such vivid descriptions creates a desert picture in my mind. Feel like am already there.
    Was doing last chapters of my novel wanted to write something about cold deserts. I come from the tropics and have no idea about cold deserts, any information will see me through.

  6. Vasumanah says:

    This was very helpul for my essay, love it.

  7. Marian says:

    I do have one story that’s set in a desert land. But the greatest influence on me – in terms of living in so many different places – is that I always have people of different cultures and species having to live together, cooperate or deal with the various tensions that arise from their varying natures and customs. It’s a lot of fun. And because these stories are fantasies, they can be bizarre while still being realistic.

  8. Angela says:

    Wow Marian–what a great culture to draw on. Does your work ever reflect where you lived?

    And yes please–if you have descriptiors to add, go for it. Often I think of stuff after the fact, and each setting is so vast, there are infinite ways to describe!

    Thanks everyone as always for visiting and commenting!

  9. Marian says:

    I liked the low crime rate (because of the draconian penalties). It was so low that once, when my mom arrived at work to find the office open and burgled, 21 police officers showed up in response to her call (probably the most excitement they had had all week). The forensics people had to shove their way through the crowd.

    There’s also the lack of taxes. So provided you’re an indoor person, which I am, you might find it tolerable. Oh, and women always got to go to the front of any line (e.g. at the post office), and had the front seats of buses reserved for them.

    One thing I didn’t like was the censorship, which at times bordered on the ridiculous. For instance, the single government-owned ISP wouldn’t let you access the site, which contains lots of useful information about markets in publishing. Why? Because there’s some prominent Israeli whose last name is Ralan. It’s not the same person, but no one bothered to check before blocking the site.

    Television programs censor kisses or references to making love, and when I bought a scientific book on human anatomy, the naughty bits were blacked out with a Magic Marker. I once smuggled a Boris Vallejo book into the country and felt very daring. 🙂

    So it wasn’t a completely unpleasant experience, but I escaped to Canada as quickly as I could, and I prefer it here.

  10. Bish Denham says:

    Am starting to catch up on these wonderful posts! Is it OK to mention things I would include in your list of sights?
    Reptiles: snakes, lizards etc. Insects: spiders, biting ants, beetles etc.
    And sounds?
    The slither of sand sliding under the belly of a snake or lizard.

    Great stuff.

  11. Becca says:

    Gosh, Marian, that sounds intense. Did you like it there?

  12. Marian says:

    I actually lived in a desert (well, in the Middle East) for twelve years. Unbearable heat during the summer, up to 45 degrees Celsius, and equally unbearable humidity, since we were on the Gulf Coast.

    Since I didn’t have a car, I used to go grocery shopping after sunset, thinking it would be cooler. But the pavement had been baked in the sunlight, so the heat rose off it like a solid wave. And during the day, objects in the distance shimmered, it was so hot. Sometimes I would walk past stores just so their automatic doors would open and I’d feel cool air for a moment.

    The least little wind would raise puffs of dust, and a full-out sandstorm was a nightmare. Of course, one good thing about the heat and dryness was that the place was remarkably sterile. You don’t get too much insect or rodent life in an oven. The few plants that grew wild tended to be small, shrubby and tenacious.

    Now, of course, I am living in a country that is the exact opposite and I shiver my way through the endless winter months. 🙂

  13. Angela says:

    Thanks for all of your detailed posts!

  14. C.R. Evers says:

    I love how I feel like I’m getting mini lessons here! Do ya’ll give out diploma’s? ;0)

    thanks for all your work!


  15. Becca says:

    Angela thanks you, Pema! Or, I’m sure she will when she gets back ;).

    And PJ, thanks for the reminder. When Angela’s gone, this place just goes to pot…

  16. PJ Hoover says:

    Perfect! I have deserts, too! And how I remember to spell it right – with dessert you always want more, so there are two s letters. With desert, you want less, so there is only one.
    Hey – Please add this to your sidebar! I know you will, but I use your blog like every day and never want to forget something. It ROCKS!

  17. Pema says:

    Your words are so descriptive, it almost sounds like you’re posting this entry from the Arabian desert! 😉

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