Setting Thesaurus Entry: Alley


Crates, garbage, garbage bins, empty liquor bottles, broken glass, plastic, oil spills, puddles, dirt, grime, grease, ratty blankets, cardboard, homeless people, rats, cockroaches, spiders, ants, bird that eat refuse (magpies, pigeons, etc), street cats or dogs, mice, employees on smoke breaks, broken & discarded furniture…


Wind shuffling trash into corners, dogs rooting through garbage, cats meowing, people coughing/talking in low voices or snoring if the alley is inhabited, music from clubs with back entrances, the clink of bottles, a trash bin lid slamming down, the crinkle of a trash bag as it’s emptied into a bin, garbage lids being knocked to the ground…


Rotting garbage, body odor, animal and human waste, motor oil, cooking smells drifting from open windows or restaurants, wet cardboard, mildew, vomit…


Bagged lunch from shelters, leftovers from restaurant bins, alcohol…


The rough bricks beneath the hand, using the wall to steady one’s walk, falling in a pile of garbage from drunkenness, grime sticking to the shoes, litter crunching underfoot, the cold metal of a garbage bin lid, forcing a heavy garbage bin open, rattling a discarded bottle to see if it has any alcohol in it…

Helpful hints:

–The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.

Example 1: The wind was howling like a pack of arctic wolves, but hunkered down under his newspaper-and-scraps blanket, Alfred could barely feel it. The bricks at his back were warm from the ovens on the other side. He took a deep breath, smelling the fresh-baked scent and hardly any dumpster at all. Pulling his rough cap down over his eyes, he burrowed into his warm corner with a smile.

–Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.

Example 1: (Simile) The smell in the alley was overwhelming, like a thousand cats had come to this specific place to do their business.

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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12 Responses to Setting Thesaurus Entry: Alley

  1. Pingback: Setting Thesaurus Entry Collection | Writers Helping Writers

  2. Joseph Katz says:

    I like the blog post about alleys, as you have some nice words to choose from.

    However, I couldn’t imagine and alley from example 1. I think because the description could fit a lot of places.

    This could be easily fixed by adding a few words to the first clause.

    Example 1: The wind was howling like a pack of arctic wolves in the tight alley,

    grimey alley, dark alley, etc.

    Now everything else said after this, places me deeper in that alley.

    Thanks for taking the time to blog. I have actually been working on something similar for some time now.

  3. Angela says:

    Gutsy, good luck in the workshop–I bet it’ll be great!

    Browneyedgirl, see us writers are strange. But at the same time, if we write that an alley smells like vomit, as a reader, you’ll have a instant recognition, right?

    Thanks Mary. It’s a good point to make that alleys differ in different countries. You might also see balconies with chairs, tables, Barb-b-ques, potted gardens…all kinds of stuff. 🙂 Location research is important.

  4. Mary Witzl says:

    Laundry strung from building to building is something you often see in Asian alleys. (Not where I’d fancy airing my pantyhose either, but when space is limited, you have to stretch it, I guess).

  5. Vomit

    That really got me.

    Hmmm. I wonder when or where I can use that vomit imagery.


  6. GutsyWriter says:

    Thank you so much. I’ve used all your guidance in my revisions. Taking a Gotham Writers’ Workshop. Any comments from anyone are appreciated regarding experience with online classes.

  7. Becca says:

    It’s a great “stinky” locale, lol

  8. Angela says:

    Thanks, every one! I think alley’s tend to feature in a lot of ‘darker’ writing…it’s a natural location for shady dealings. 🙂

  9. Bish Denham says:

    Oooooo, I can really see, smell, taste, hear, and feel an alley.

  10. Emily Cross says:

    i found this so helpful – thank you so much, my MC is actually blind so you’d be amazed by how much i have to learn in not relying on ‘sight’ descriptions but touch, smell etc.

    Anyhoo i’m sorry if this is a bit out of the blue and ‘pluggish by nature’, but i’ve started a writer’s forum
    where aspiring authors etc. can come and chat and discuss topics and ideas and basically help each other.

    I love blogging but it can be both hard to get a readership and connect with them so i thought a community forum would be a great way to network.

    The forum is only starting out but i’m hoping it will grow,

    I’d really appreciate it if you could take the time and have a look around.

    thanks emily.

  11. Windsong says:

    As always, wonderful job. 🙂 Thanks!
    I also like the end part on using words. Very true and helpful. 😀

  12. PJ Hoover says:

    You gals come up with the best locations! Alleys are useful. Always!

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