Setting Thesaurus Entry: Dungeon

CAUTION: This entry is graphic in nature and may be offensive to some readers


Shadows, cells, stone walls, dirt or stone floors, filthy straw scattered across the floor, chains fixed to walls, rats, shadows, flickering torchlight from torches in iron sconces, iron bars, feces, spiders, beetles, roaches, oily smoke, moaning, bones, skulls, heaps of clothing scraps, screaming prisoners in ragged clothing, buckets/barrels of fetid water…


Screams, moans, cries, weeping, pleading, iron bars slamming shut, the creak of leather, chains clinking, the squeak and skitter of rats foraging, the hiss of steam, the slap and crack of a whip, the crunch of bone, rattling chains, the clink and click of gears on torture devices, torturers laughter, swearing, yelling questions, labored breathing, Iron doors swinging…


Feces, sweat, coppery blood, rot, mildew, oil, smoke, decay, infection (festering wounds, etc), urine, cold stone, iron, briny drinking water, rotten meat, dust, ash, dirt, leather…


Prisoners: blood, oily, brackish water, sweat, rotten or stale food (meat, bread, scraps, weevil-spotted gruel) Guards/visitors: Wine, ale, bread…


Tight leather straps or manacles on wrists and ankles, the drag of a chain, fingers wrapped around cold steel bars, scraping up food from the floor with fingers, fending off other prisoners, sweat and blood running down forehead or trickling down sides, probing a wound or bruise, eyes/face swollen after a beating, scuffing bare feet against the cold dirt..

Helpful hints:

–The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.

Example 1: I huddled in the corner, shivering and burning in turns, the fiery cuts on my back weeping steadily. Shaking, I closed my eyes and touched a dry spot on the wall, moving my finger in soft, slow strokes. In my mind I saw Mary, sweet Mary, and held onto her smiling face until I could no longer ignore the approaching heavy footsteps of Hudo, my captor, torturer and soon, executioner…

–Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.

Example 2: (Metaphor) The giant man approached in heavy, deliberate steps, his smile a flash of black decay. A bloodied leather apron covered his sweaty girth and he carried a maul in one hand. I wept as the demon’s thick hand grabbed a handful of the rags I wore and pulled me out of my cell…

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.

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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, an online library packed with powerful tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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21 Responses to Setting Thesaurus Entry: Dungeon

  1. Riv Re says:

    Definitely glad I stumbled upon this post! I’m writing a dungeon torture scene soon, and this helped a lot!

  2. Thanks Lilly and everyone. Your support means so much to us!


  3. Lilly says:

    I came across your blog yesterday and I’m totally taken by it. You have done a marvelous job and I truly appreciate it. THANKS!!!

  4. Ooooh Angela, these are very frightening. I have to admit that they sent chills up my spine. Great work.

  5. Matthew Rush says:

    I don’t know quite exactly what to say.

    Honestly your posts are so awesome and helpful and give so freely of your knowledge and experience that I’m usually too intimidated to even comment at all.

    Thank you. That should do it for now.

  6. Cher Green says:

    I was sent her from This is a great find. I can see that you’ve worked hard on this blog. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Ooo – this one has a really cool tone. I bet your fiction just pops. Thanks again for the great resource!

  8. Mary Witzl says:

    We just took our students on a field trip to a local castle with a (once) very well-used torture chamber. This rings all too true. Thank God the smells were no longer a feature!

  9. Kelly says:

    Creepy yet extremely thorough!

  10. Angela says:

    Hi Gail–I’m glad you found me! Thanks for the great info on webinars on your blog!

  11. Gail says:

    Your emotional thesaurus entries are incredible and so very helpful!!! Actually, all your thesaurus entries are great! I can’t believe I haven’t found you before now!!! Well I’m a follower now. Feel free to come ove to my blog and check it out. I’m all about sharing my emotions 🙂

  12. Angela says:

    Kay I’m happy to have tripped onto a type of resource writers will really find helpful!

    PJ & Conda, I know I have many teachers who visit and offer this resource to their classrooms. I figured better safe that sorry. 🙂

    Bish, I’m glad I got it right. I’ve only read about them and seen them in movies but would like to see an actual one some day.

    Elegant, I am so glad you found us and are enjoying the site!

    Tricia, lol!

    Stina, I agree!

    Marcia, thank you! If you figure out the time travel thing, can I come with you?

    Ralfast, excellent example! I so agree.

  13. Marcia says:

    Love the specific detail. You do outstanding work on this blog. Do know it’s appreciated! Oh, and if I ever time-travel back to medieval times I plan to behave myself.

  14. I think I need to add a dungeon to my YA contemporary high school. Great for detentions.

  15. Oh, yikes, you took me right down there. But you warned, so I was a willing visitor. Eeps.

  16. So awesome. Your blog is my absolute favorite! Just discovered it two weeks ago, and you’ve already helped me through two scenes that were previously empty of all description!! Thanks you!

  17. Bish Denham says:

    Ooof! You are so good at this Angela. In the islands, because of the slave trade, there are dungeons. Two, that I know of, one on St. John, the other on St. Croix, have drawings carved/etched into the walls, put there by slaves. When I was a kid the dungeon on St. John still had the manicles hanging from the wall….

    Potent stuff.

  18. Excellent–and wise to post the disclaimer.

  19. PJ Hoover says:

    Love your disclaimer and the location!

  20. Kay says:

    I appreciate all the effort you put into compiling these.

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