Wooden pews, arranged into rows, a shelf on the back of each pew holding a bible and song book, an altar, pulpit, crucifixes, crosses, rosaries, decorative banners with key scenes depicted from the bible or symbols of a specific religion, flowers, clean, polished surfaces, high windows, stained glass windows, statues of important religious figures (Virgin…
Preaching, whispering, coughing, babies crying, children squirming against the benches, feet shuffling, hymns, piano or other instruments, choirs singing, prayer, crying, heavy breathing, silence, talking, muttering, sighs…
Incense, cologne, perfume, hairspray, soap, burning candles, wood polish, cleaners, cough drops/gum/mints, clean linen
watered down wine, tasteless wafers, gum, mints, cough drops
a wafer dissolving on the tongue, a child tugging on a sleeve as the whisper questions about when everything will be over, the hard benches numbing your buttocks, shifting, crossing and recrossing legs, kneeler board digging into knees, bumping & brushing against other people, shaking hands with those around you, making the sign of the cross, feeling…
–The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.
Example 1: Holding my bouquet tightly, I stepped up to the oiled wooden doors and peered through the crack. My breath caught at the beautiful job my sisters had done with the church. At the end of each pew a deep red bow adorned a cluster of white calla lilies, which not only matched my wedding colors but somehow drew the eye up to the stained glass windows above, as if they had been fitted into the church just for this day. Stunning candelabras stood to each side of the altar, their silver stems gleaming and the candles’ honey scent reaching all the way here to the anteroom. I bounced on my toes, spotting Adam, who stood at the front with his best man. As the white-robed priest swept his hand toward the back of the church I stepped back and slid my arm through my father’s. It was time…
–Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.
Example 1: (Metaphor) Jimmy wiggled on the bench and then gave his collar a tug. This was probably the most boring day of his life. His clothes itched, his shoes squished his toes and the man up front just talked and talked. Mom called him a priest, whatever that was. Jimmy looked at the man’s black dress and white collar and wondered why he was wearing his penguin costume when it wasn’t even Halloween…
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.
Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
Mary, I appreciate you adding in those orors. I agree smell is a big part of church. Love the shoe polish one–I’d forgotten that one!
Mary Witzl says
For me, church has so much to do with smell. We were Protestants and went three times a week when I was a child. My main memories are the smells of cheap wooden pews (no fancy wooden decorations in our rustic church!) and toiletries. The smell of fabric, newly washed or dry-cleaned; the smell of powder on elderly skin, of hair that had been freshly permed, Brill-creamed into stiff waves, or sprayed. The smell of men’s carefully polished shoes, of skin scrubbed with soap and splashed with aftershave. And the smell of tiny babies, of sweat, of hymn books and the Bible. And finally, the smell of dozens of people all sitting together on a hot day, listening to hellfire sermons for hours on end. The smell of fear.
I think you did well. Thank You!! Of course I am a non church goer too.
I think you did well, Thanks!
As a non church goer, this list may be woefully incomplete. If anyone has more sensory detail to beef up the entries that would apply to a majority of churches, please let me know and I’ll add it to the entry.