Setting Thesaurus Entry: The Gallows


A mob-like crowd, edging close to the stage, people holding baskets of rotten vegetables or stones, the local law enforcer (police/sheriff/lord/constable/official/captain etc), rope, noose, a block of wood or platform, trapdoor, wooden structure and steps. cross beam…


The crowd cursing, yelling screaming, shouting, excited murmurs, the hard raspy breath of the prisoner, the drone of the religious representative offering last minute prayers or urgently requesting the prisoner repent his sins, confess, etc. The thump of heeled boots…


Stale sweat, body odor, dried blood, dirt, dust, the smell of pine or aspen if the platform is newly constructed, weather (sunshine beating off the planks of wood, flowers being carried through the air, rain, etc), cow or horse manure…


Sweat, tears, spectators meals brought from home (bread and cheese, water, fruit, etc)


The pinch and rub of raw wrists against rope, shoulders pulling and painful at hands being bound behind back, the solid planks underfoot, each step heavy and full of foreboding, flinching at being touched or trying to avoid being hit by a projectile, the hard, digging grip…

Helpful hints:

–The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.

Example 1: Halfway through a hot, stale breath, the floor gave way beneath Jess. For the smallest moment the jeers of the spectators faded and he was rewarded with an exhilarating memory of jumping off his uncle’s barn roof with his cousins. A sharp, stiff jerk brought him back and as the rope choked off his breath he understood: no soft pile of hay waited to catch him this time…

–Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.

Example 1: (Metaphor) A yoke of guilt bowed the man’s shoulders and sent his gaze to the ground as he approached the gallows. He didn’t look up, not once, not even as the noose settled around his neck…

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.


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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16 Responses to Setting Thesaurus Entry: The Gallows

  1. I don’t supposed you could do a post on renaissance festivals, could you? Like for tomorrow. 😀

    I went to one as a teen, and now I’m trying to remember it using all my senses. You’re so much better at this than I am.

  2. Voyagefan says:

    This is great! The images are really descriptive. I’ll have to try writing descriptions like this sometime! Great post!

  3. Henya says:

    Most inspiring. Well done.

  4. April says:

    Wow…you amaze me, you know that! Every time I read one of your posts, I’m inspired to take more time with each scene and make it real. This one gave me goosebumps and spiked my eyes with tears. Excellent. Thanks for the imagry and the inspiration.

  5. Thanks for all your hardwork!

  6. This is a very good writing exercise. It’s interesting, because I did something similar (but much less organized) for one of my stories-in-brewing (the one I am currently most satisfied with the “mood”). I wrote down a number of words I wanted to include/inspire me, and only when I had done that did the various characters form in my mind. I never thought about the possibility for doing so for each scene, though, and I didn’t categorize them either. I’m making a mental note to do that when I pick it up again.

  7. LOL, I guess I’m a bit twisted because this was a fun one to do. 🙂 So many possibilities!

    Shannon, you’re right, there is the other side of it–the quite hush of the crowd, weeping, people praying and wishing they could look away…not all hangings are just, not by a long shot.

  8. Shannon says:

    I think this has to be one of your best Setting Thesaurus examples. Just reading the lists were very evocative. Love it!

    I know I’m not the first to say it but: awesome second example.

    By the way, were you going for a mood of the Popular Execution? I’m sure they’re more common and a lot of people did enjoy a good execution, but it seems you’ve missed out on some of the sights and sounds of an unpopular execution. One which the general public wish wasn’t happening.

  9. Lindsay says:

    Angela, amazing as always. This one actually brought goosebumps to my arms. I did a lot of research on the witch hunts a while back and am considering putting all of it to use in the form of a young adult fiction novel – this post would definitely be helpful!

  10. Melissa Gill says:

    Gallows scenes give me nightmares. And this will keep me awake for a week it’s so scary. But great job Angela as always. If I ever get brave enough to write a gallows scene I’ll depent on this.

  11. Mary Witzl says:

    I especially love that second example — the fleeting, joyful childhood memory. ank

    And thank you for the word ‘thunk’. We’re still unpacking our books and my thesaurus isn’t at hand. The word ‘thunk’ was just what I needed!

  12. you don’t happen to have anything that describes a medieval army camp??? just hoping. guess i’ll have to do some research.

  13. Karen Lange says:

    Great stuff! I can see that you were inspired during your ‘unplug time”. Or you are just gifted:) Am thinking both!
    Happy weekend,

  14. Brad says:


    Excellent images!

  15. Taryn says:

    I have an early ms, in which the heroine is returning home after sneaking to London to (reluctantly) witness a hanging… this has given me an idea for a better opening. I think I may drag out that old ms again!

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