Dated & cheap table with a scarred surface, rickety chairs, lockers, sink, paper towels, coffee maker, mis-matched coffee mugs with cheesy sayings on them, box of tea/coffee/hot chocolate, vending machine, attached bathroom, radio, trash overfilled with take out containers and food wrappers, scuffed cupboards, small fridge, bland walls, safety posters, cork board filled with notices, microwave, newspaper pile on the table, crumbs on the table, coffee rings, shoe marks on the floor, employees talking/laughing/gossiping/complaining, managers meeting to discuss paperwork over coffee, making everyone else uncomfortable
The gurgle of a coffee pot, cupboards opening and closing, water dripping from the faucet, voices bouncing off the cramped walls, whispering, talking, laughing, wrappers rustling, chewing, wadding up trash, the shuffle of paper work, chairs squeaking against the floor, the squeal of a shoe on lino, chairs creaking, tapping a pen against the tabletop, the radio, grumbling over hours/wages/other employees/customers, slurping drinks, spoon stirring coffee, napkins crumpling, people talking with their mouths full, lockers slamming shut, swearing, the hiss of a pop can opening
Burnt coffee left in the pot, popcorn, fast food smells (spices, hot cheese, bread, oil, garlic, herbs), hair products, Doritos, mints, perfume, feet, sweat, bad breath, ink from newsprint, something moldy in the back of the fridge, microwave food ghosts, old carpet
Food brought from home (leftover pasta, soup, salads, sandwiches, etc), fast food (burgers, pizza, fries, subs, pretzels, wraps, etc), junk food (chips, chocolate bars, donuts, candy, etc), water, coffee, tea, slushies, pop, juice, etc
Pushing the door open, rummaging through mugs for a clean one, the weight of the coffee pot in hand, water splashing on hand as you rinse out a mug, crumpling a napkin, brushing crumbs off the table, fiddling with a drink cup, popping the tab of a pop can, trying to get comfortable on a hard plastic chair, opening and closing the fridge or cupboards, propping face up with hand, staving off boredom, rubbing at eyes, yawning, sipping a hot drink, leaning forward at the table to listen, pace the small room, waiting for break to be over, changing the radio station, washing hands, digging a fork into a salad, adding condiments to food, leaning back in a chair, leaning close to the notice board, flipping through notice items or paperwork
–The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.
Tough to say what was worse–the disgusting food smears and fingerprints stuck to the break room wall, or the garlic breath wafting from the obese store manager as he huffed and puffed his way through my interview questions.
I opened the fridge door and flinched from the eyeball-burning stench. Clearly I’d uncovered a portal to another reality, one where the inhabitants feasted on rancid, green-edged mystery meat, organic carrot-speckled slime and washed it down with a glass of chunky brown sludge.
–Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.
Example 1: (Simile)
The ancient coffee machine brewed a pot of coffee, hissing and spitting like a demon from the seventh circle of Hell.
Example 2: (Metaphor)
Chip crumbs, spilled cream soda, a bitten slice of pepperoni frozen in dried tomato sauce–an ice age of fast food crept across the table toward my corner, the last habitable place to eat lunch.
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.
Mary Witzl says
I like the coffee machine too. Oddly enough, it has me pining for a cup of properly dripped French roast.
Old carpet smells, though, and microwave ghosts? All too evocative.
Jeff King says
As always… thx for the great info.
Susanne Drazic says
This reminds me of two different places that I worked. Brings back mostly good memories for both.
Ah, bittersweet memories…
Conda V. Douglas says
I’d never thought there was so much in a break room! Thanks!
Theresa Milstein says
“Old carpet”. That gives me a scent!
I like this description:
“The ancient coffee machine brewed a pot of coffee, hissing and spitting like a demon…”
Angela Ackerman says
Yes depending on where a persons works or worked, we all have good or bad memories of ‘the break room’. LOL
You just described heaven to me. 😉 This has to be my favorite one so far!