Books, paper, pencils, pens, pen jars, DVDs, CDs, librarian, stacks, shelves, bookcases, dust, colorful paperbacks, tomes, dictionaries, encyclopedias, students, senior citizens, stamps, ink, filing cabinets, staircases, computers, microfiche, newspapers, pamphlets…
Quiet, cell phones quickly silenced, whirr of AC or heaters, fans, etc. Breathing, shushing, ping of a text message, muffled/hushed talking, librarian reading to children, excited children’s voices, books dropping, turning pages, flapping pages, paper ripping, coughing…
crisp paper, musty carpet, dust, air conditioning, minty breath, cigarette smell coming off a librarian or patron, leather, spicy cologne, perfume, old carpet, air freshener, cleaning products odors, pencil shavings (floor polish, pine sol, Windex)
gum, breath mints, chewing tobacco, biting on pencils (wood taste), ink transfer (from newspaper to hand to mouth), sipping water from a public fountain
slippery pages, rough leather, smooth desk surfaces, static from carpet, scratchy seat cushions, hard, uncomfortable plastic chairs, brushing away leftover eraser debris off a table or term paper, a cold plastic library card handed over, typing on keyboards, pressing…
–The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.
Example 1: The librarian read aloud from a brightly-illustrated book, holding it aloft for the children to see. No one saw; instead, toddlers flipped over on the colorful carpet, sucked thumbs, and stuck their rear-ends in the air. The narration continued in a voice that hid a smile…
–Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.
Example 1: (Simile)
Volumes crammed the shelves, all sizes and colors. The oldest ones sat on the highest shelf, out of reach of the children’s sticky hands. Scripted gold lettering, faint as breath, could still be seen along the spines…
Think beyond what a character sees, and provide a sensory feast for readers
Setting 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.
On 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.
Well-kept old books sometimes have a wonderful spicy vanilla smell.
Glad these setting descriptions are helping everyone. And yes I agree–libraries soothe us on a level that few things can. As writers, we have an extrordinary bond with books and places that encourage reading. It just feels good to be in a library.
Mary Witzl says
I love the ‘scripted gold lettering faint as breath’ — and all the other descriptions here, too. But there is something about the description of a library that soothes and comforts me above all. And Marcia is right — the taste and smell of a pencil, and the feel of the slick coolness of the paint against your lips as you click it against your teeth — does evoke all five senses. Lovely work.
Although the library setting might not be as helpful to my rewrite as the beach setting, I have to say that your “Emotional Thesaurus” has helped me, in so many ways. Thanks for helping me deal with the “Show vs. tell” part of my memoir about our life in Belize.
Love this! I have a rather long library scene in one of my older WIPs. This makes me want to pull that up and play with it!
These are all so vivid. I have to second the pencil- and ink-in-mouth tastes. Putting anything in the mouth, food or otherwise, has the potential to evoke all five senses — taste, smell, touch and sound (crunching, tonguing, teeth clicking on the object, etc.)and sight.
PJ Hoover says
Nice! And great setting for kids. I especially love the taste section. How perfect is that. Pencil in mouth. nice!
C.R. Evers says
You guys continue to amaze me!