Setting Thesaurus Entry: House Fire


Smoke (light & white, drifting at the ceiling level in a haze to start, then billowing plumes darkening to sooty black as plastics, oils, chemicals, varnish and paint etc are consumed), flame, coals, flames licking the walls and sweeping across the ceiling, fire ropes chewing…


The crackle of flame, the woof sound as something catches fire quickly, plastics melting and dripping into hissing puddles, the creak and groan of timbers contracting, cries for help, glass breaking, roof caving in, floor groaning, someone banging on a door, shouting…


Smoke will pick up the smells of what’s burning and at what stage. Walls, wooden furniture, etc will have a smokey campfire-ish smell at first, plastics a sharp, acrid smell that will burn the nose and throat, but as the fire progresses the smoke will grow…


Gummy, acrid ash coating the tongue, phlegm, the occasional gulp of fresher air if leaning out a window to breathe on a second story or above window


rubble underfoot, cutting feet on glass or wood splinters, searing burns, intense heat, blistering palms from touching something too hot, pressing a towel or shirt to the mouth and nose in an attempt to breathe cleaner air, wrapping shirts around hands to protect..

Helpful hints:

–The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.

Example 1: I crammed myself tight into the corner so the flames couldn’t find me. Mr. Bear’s hard plastic nose dug into my chest but I didn’t dare loosen my grip on him. Across from me, the dolls on my shelf began to change, their fine blond ringlets shrinking into black frizz and then crumbling into dust. They stared at me, black bristles poking out their heads, their smiling faces shifting and drooping, crying plastic tears. I pushed my face into the soft fur of Mr. Bear and pretended I was at Grandma Hiller’s, hiding in the linen cupboard, waiting for her to find me…

–Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.

Example 1: (Simile) As Mary lay there, her face pressed to the warm floor boards, she pulled in a final, reedy breath. Time slowed, and darkness began to close in on her like the heavy velvet curtains that signalled the end of a theatre performance…

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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10 Responses to Setting Thesaurus Entry: House Fire

  1. Danyelle says:

    *shivers* I can hear, smell, and see this. You are amazing! Thank you for the list.

  2. I think it’s cool how you called out the different smells for different materials – you have such a well-rounded approach to description

  3. Angela says:

    Bish, Ouch is right. I would never wish fire upon anyone. Such a terrible force.

    Shannon, you crack me up. And yes, do send it on–I’d like to see how it turned out. 🙂

    Julie, I’m glad I got this one right. I’ve asked a few people to look it over in the field to make sure I didn’t miss anything huge.

    Martha, so glad you found your way over here and the post is just what you needed. 🙂

    Dean, you are on a roll! Buy a lottery ticket!

    Mary, Thanks!

    Stina, LOL!

  4. Gee, where were you when I was working on my last book? I had to torch my house just to figure it all out. 😉

  5. Mary Witzl says:

    This is another great post, Angela. I’m impressed by all the good work you put in on these.

    The image of melting dolls’ faces will stay with me for a long time!

  6. deandean says:

    Am I lucky today!! first, I got paid for some drawings, then a friend I haven’t seen for a long time called and this!! I found a blog really worth following..

    So I’m now a follower and bookmarked this page so I can come back anytime I want… easily.

    More Power!!

  7. Martha W. says:


    I was referred over here by a gal in RWA during a discussion on desription and the senses. Wow, am I glad I made the trip.

    Just in time too! The opener on my new ms is a fire scene… and look what to my wondering eyes should appear?? lol.

    Awesome post! I’ll be stalking your blog for sure.

  8. Julie Musil says:

    My husband is a firefighter and can relate to your mood words. Great stuff!

  9. See how you are? You post things like this, and I become utterly dependent upon you! ha ha ha. You really are a blog I couldn’t live without.

    P.S. I have 1-2 more days worth of work and then I think I’m ready to query. If you want to see the final version (just for fun – no crit. obligation) I’d be happy to send it to you. 🙂

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