Secret Setting Thesaurus Entry: Police Car

Congratulations, intrepid explorer! You’ve discovered one of our SECRET Setting Thesaurus entries.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000046_00072]This one is from The Urban Setting Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to City Spaces. You might wonder how accurate this information is…well, Angela went through a false arrest to get it, believe it or not, so yeah, it’s dead on.  🙂 We hope the sensory information below will add a deeper richness to your story.

The setting is a powerful storytelling element that, when fully utilized, elevates every scene. When you choose the right one, it becomes an emotional tuning fork that will impact your character’s behavior, actions, and decisions.

Not only that, the setting can characterize your story’s cast, steer the plot, provide challenges and conflict, evoke mood, and become a gateway for critical backstory, delivering it not in dumps but actively through the placement of symbols that act as emotional triggers.




Front Seat: steering and dashboard equipment, a mounted or hand-held radar for gauging the speed of oncoming cars, a dash camera, a portable microphone that can be placed in a pocket, a laptop mounted in the passenger seat, a LoJack system, buttons to engage the sirens and lights, an organizer containing record-keeping supplies (file folders, forms, pens, notepads, a clipboard), a rifle or shotgun locked into place, cold weather clothing in the winter (jacket, hat, gloves), a communications radio, extra handcuffs or zip ties, neon traffic vests and gloves, a PA system, a beverage in the cup holder

Backseat: a stark and bare interior, hard plastic seats with little leg room, seat belts, impact-resistant windows, door handles that don’t work from the inside, bars on the windows, a clear Plexiglas or metal mesh divider between the front and backseats, hard floors (most prisoner transport models have no carpeting)


The radio crackling to life, sirens wailing, the officer’s voice amplified through the PA system, the officer talking in the front seat, a suspect (shifting position on the back plastic seat, nervously tapping the floor or the back of the driver’s seat with a foot, yelling, crying, vomiting, mumbling, tapping or banging on the window or the divider between seats), traffic noises outside the car, people walking by, external voices, the beeping of a radar gun, fingers tapping on the laptop as records are retrieved, the car’s acceleration and deceleration


Coffee, fast food that was recently picked up and eaten in the car, odors from suspects and detainees (sweat, urine, body odor, vomit, alcohol, cigarette or pot smoke), old fabric (if the vehicle has fabric seats, as some models do), pepper spray


Some settings have no specific tastes associated with them beyond what the character might bring into the scene (alcohol, mouthwash, chewing gum, etc.). For scenes like these, where specific tastes are sparse, it would be best to stick to descriptors from the other four senses.


The crisp cloth of a police uniform, an adrenaline rush kicking in as the sirens blare and the cruiser takes off, a hard plastic backseat, feet sliding on the uncarpeted floor, being cramped in the back of the cruiser, having to duck in order to get into the car, metal handcuffs or zip ties binding one’s wrists and causing painful twinges, claustrophobia, sitting awkwardly with one’s hands bound behind one’s back, sliding across the plastic seat at high speeds, vainly trying to force the door open by bashing against it, nausea, carsickness, adrenaline or drugs in one’s system that make one feel jittery or numb


  • Suspects trying to spit through the mesh divider at an officer
  • Inebriated suspects whose actions are unpredictable
  • Violent suspects
  • Abusive officers
  • The arrest of an innocent suspect
  • Being arrested and having no one to call for help
  • Being prone to carsickness and vomiting in the backseat
  • A large person having to ride in a small backseat
  • An officer being falsely accused of mistreating a suspect
  • Misconduct by an officer that is caught on tape
  • An ethical disagreement between partners
  • Political pressure from higher-ups
  • Budget cuts that mean faulty equipment and poorly maintained vehicles
  • A suspect that suffers a seizure or passes out while in the backseat


Criminals, friends and family members doing a sanctioned ride-along, police officers and training officers, suspects


  • Rural Volume: Country road, house fire, house party
  • Urban Volume: Big city street, car accident, courtroom, parade, police station, prison cell, small town street


People will react very differently to being cuffed and put in the back of a police car, and their responses can reveal a lot to readers. Perhaps the suspect is having a full-blown panic attack that seems over-the-top for his situation. Maybe the suspect is icily calm, showing no emotion whatsoever. What might the reader infer from a happy character, one who won’t stop talking, or someone who lies down and goes to sleep on the hard plastic seat? Desperate situations are great for revealing a person’s true colors. Make sure that your character reacts according to who he truly is.


Janelle’s knees shook, making a constant rubbing noise against the reinforced seat divider. The seat was hard and cold, and she had to lean sideways to keep from sitting on her hands. Of course this meant that every time the officer turned a corner, the window grate slammed into her like a baseball bat smacking a piñata. Sadistic creep. The metal cuffs crimped the skin at her wrists and the odd angle sent jolts of pain up to her shoulders. The cop tried to talk to her, but she wasn’t that stupid. She could almost hear Dad in her ear, telling her to keep her yap shut until a lawyer showed up. She’d seen him hauled off enough to know how it went, although being the one arrested was a lot different than watching someone else be taken in. 

  • Techniques and Devices Used: Multisensory descriptions, simile
  • Resulting Effects: Characterization, hinting at backstory, reinforcing emotion, tension and conflict


To use this setting to the fullest, remember that police procedure, equipment, and vehicle contents can vary depending on where your story takes place. If you’re choosing a real-world setting, do some digging, and select details listed here that match that area.

For more guidance on how to make the setting work harder for your story, use the “look inside” feature at Amazon to see if this might be a good resource for you.

Logo-OneStop-For-Writers-20-xsmallWant to work with a setting thesaurus that is beautifully cross-referenced, hyperlinked, and accessible online at the click of a button?

Sounds like a dream, right? Why not take a tour of One Stop For Writers, where this descriptive thesaurus and 13 others are waiting for you. (Did we mention there’s a FREE TRIAL?)

Happy writing!

Angela and Becca


Here are a few more secret settings to visit: House Party, Antiques Shop, and Ancient Ruins.

Image: Fitz Fox @ Pixabay











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