Setting Description: Emergency Waiting Room


Automatic sliding doors, beat-up chairs (filled with people who have: broken limbs, cuts, red noses, bruising, scrapes, holding garbage bins to throw up in, are wearing surgical masks, are crying, have been beaten, are holding onto the person next to them for support, reading magazines, books, clutching at purses or holding tight to jackets slung over an arm, leaning back in their chair asleep), overflowing garbage bins, half finished coffee containers


Whispering, crying, uneven or distressed breathing, the sound of someone throwing up, moaning, groaning, whimpering, pleasing, praying, newspapers rattling, arguing, magazine pages flipping, the papery slide of a book page being turned, the pop and fizz of a pop can being opened, static-y police & security radios


Antiseptic, cleaning products, hand sanitizer, vomit, BO, sweat, booze breath, coffee, taco chips, perfume, hair products, cough drops, air conditioned & filtered air


Coffee in a container, pop, juice and water from a container, snack foods from a vending machine, mints, gum, nicorette. Most people try hard not to eat in the waiting room because of the risk of exposure to airborne and surface contaminants.


Thin padded or plastic seats offering little comfort or room, metal arm rails digging into forearms, making oneself ‘small’ and holding self straight to avoid touching those to either side, twisting the admittance band on wrist, rolling shoulders, crossing and recrossing legs, twisting a wedding band, rubbing eyes, pinching bridge of the nose, rubbing arms and shaking self in an attempt to stay awake

Helpful hints:

–The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.

Example 1:

I stared down at my hands, twisting and knotting them as if doing so would hold back the turmoil inside me. Despair roamed the room, expelled on the breath of worriers like me and those doing their best to bite down on the pain that brought them here.

–Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.

Example 1: (Simile)

After the symphony of coughing, hacking and wheezing that greeted Becky in the ER waiting room, she found the closest antibacterial hand dispenser and starting working it like a gambling addict hitting up a VLT machine.

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. The Urban Setting Thesaurus and The Rural Setting Thesaurus are 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, an online library packed with powerful tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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18 Responses to Setting Description: Emergency Waiting Room

  1. Great job, Angela!

    Having spent more time with my late husband in the ER than I care to remember, I’d add:

    Triage area
    Casting room (for broken bones)
    X-Rays/CAT Scan
    Blood pressure cuffs
    Isolation room for those with lowered immune system (there’s a name for it, but I can’t recall what it is).
    Heart monitors
    Admissions clerks taking information with computers on portable carts.

    I could probably come up with more, but it’s late. 🙂


  2. Since I’ve spent too much time in too many emergency rooms, your post struck a true chord with me.

    It seems you’re fond of zombies. I found a new author site that details a zombie I don’t think I ever before read about :

    Not mine. That would be too tacky. But blog just starting out. Lena shows great promise, and I thought it might be nice for all of us to pop in and surprise her with a warm, friendly hello. Roland

  3. KLM says:

    The whiff of hand sanitizer hangs heavy over this post, Angela. In fact, I feel a cough coming on. I hope I’m not catching something. Or worse, getting MRSA!!!! AHHHH!!!

    Hope your hubby is feeling better and life is getting back on an even keel.

  4. April says:

    Great post! I’ve recently learned to do this…to close my eyes and take each sense at a time. To actually put myself there in the moment and write it. Not on the first draft, necessarily, but certainly on the revision. I’ve been there in the ER, and you put me right there again while sitting at my work desk!

  5. Tahereh says:

    wow angela, i’m always blown away by your attention to detail! another great post!!

  6. Thanks everyone for sharing and commenting. Sladly yes, this one os personal experience, although my waiting time was closer to ten fun-filled hours. Still, I filled the time looking at the room and the people, knowing it was a perfect setting to blog about. It helped pass the time a bit.

    Sorry for everyone who is all too familiar with this one. Still I hope it helps anyone writing hospital ER room scenes (like the awesomo Lisa and Laura!)


  7. Wendy Marcus says:

    The crazies really do come out during a full moon. Can’t explain why, but working in an ER, I’ve experienced it!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Excellent post – sounds like you were speaking from experience there 🙂

    Shauna (murgatr)

  9. Great post! I write note like this every time I travel. 🙂

  10. Jaleh D says:

    The example with the simile made me laugh. I could perfectly visualize the gal working the sanitizer pump.

    Actually they were all great. The sampling of senses have a wonderful amount of detail. Even though I hope none of us need to experience an ER visit personally.

  11. There’s part of our WIP set in a hospital and this post makes me itch to edit! Great work!

  12. E. Arroyo says:

    Nice post. This is where I lack and it helps to think of it this way. Thanks,

  13. This is a place I know only too well. But at least the new Children’s Hospital ER is much nice than the old one.

  14. MaryWitzl says:

    I’ve worked in quite a few hospitals and this is a good assessment. Though depending on the hospital (and the country), you could definitely work in even more smells!

  15. Heather says:

    This is fantastic! It captured the feel of an ER room perfectly! Great inspiration, thanks!

  16. ralfast says:

    Great stuff and timely for me considering how much time I have spent in hospitals recently. There is something about the combination of antiseptic smell and the ever present glare of white halogen lights that really destroys me when I am in a hospital, especially if I have to spend a long, cold night in an Emergency Room corridor with a grieving relative.

  17. Terri says:

    Great job evoking a place we’d rather not spend too much time in!

  18. Angela, another extraordinary crafting post! Thanks for being so informative time and time again 🙂


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