Congratulations, intrepid explorer! You’ve discovered one of our SECRET Setting Thesaurus entries.
This one is from The Urban Setting Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to City Spaces. 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.
A vintage welcome sign, narrow walking aisles with table displays on both sides, sunlight glimmering off silver and crystal, oil paintings in elaborately carved frames hanging on the walls, a display of gilded mirrors worn with age or partly de-silvered, antique wood cabinets (filled with dainty figurines, collectible plates, china cups, thimble collections), display surfaces covered in knickknacks and antique costume jewelry, intricate handmade floor rugs hanging from display clips, glittering crystal chandeliers and lamps dangling overhead, rusted and paint-distressed signs from iconic businesses (Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Gerber), statues, masks and carvings from different cultures and countries, exotic wood jewelry and cigar boxes with polished stone inlays, hand-carved dressers with slightly warped drawers, a collection of framed black and white portraits, pitted metal oil lanterns, carved and lacquered chairs, stained glass pieces, dolls, collector buttons, coins and wartime paraphernalia (medals, propaganda posters, pistols, clothing, berets), silver and bronze candlesticks, old chests with worn leather straps, vintage hair brushes, shaving razors, folding knives, clocks, clothing, lace, old farm tools and washboards, wooden spindles, sewing machines, crates of records, handcrafted cushions with silky fringes, vases, musical instruments, grandfather clocks, stacks of vintage books and comics, watches, old cameras, salt shaker collections, religious statuettes and symbols lining mantels and bookcases, a crowded front counter with rare items under glass, a cash register and receipt pads, a jar of pens, a passionate storeowner discussing pieces and their history
The chime of bells as the shop door opens, voices of customers discussing pieces, the tick of a grandfather clock, vintage records playing in the background, a chord ringing out as a customer tests an old guitar, out-of-tune notes from a piano, floorboards creaking, soft clinks and thumps as items are sorted or moved, a creak of hinges as a cabinet or trunk is opened, the scrape of a warped desk drawer pulling open, gasps of surprise or wonder, the crinkle and rustle of paper as purchases are carefully wrapped
Oil paint, wood, lacquer, musty cloth, potpourri, leather, paper, dust
Peppermints from a complimentary bowl on the counter, gum or other items brought into the store by customers (although most places actively discourage food and drink)
TEXTURES AND SENSATIONS
The uneven texture of chipped paint on a distressed cabinet or mirror frame, lacquered wood, satiny brocades and fabrics from furniture cushions, crisp starched lace, the pitted roughness of cast metal, glazed figurines that are cold to the touch, bumping a table or chest with one’s hip, moving from a hard wood floor to a plush rug, the papery feel of money in the hands as one pays for an item, fingering lace or cloth to gain a sense of quality, running fingers over decorative inlays on serving trays or cigar boxes, the cold weight of a brass candlestick in one’s hand, feeling the notches on a carved mask, sliding one’s fingertips over the wood grain of a handmade chessboard or humidor
POSSIBLE SOURCES OF CONFLICT
- A break-in
- Discovering a haunted object
- An earthquake or nearby building construction shaking valuables and causing breakage
- Finding an object that belongs to one’s family but the owner refuses to sell
- Scouring for a collectable only to have someone else snap it up first
- Accidentally knocking something over that is quite valuable
- Faulty wiring that starts a fire
- Discovering a fake art piece
- Being sold an antique that has been carefully reconditioned yet one was told it was in its original condition
- Someone wanting to sell something that is taboo, such as a Nazi uniform or a carved rhinoceros horn
PEOPLE COMMONLY FOUND HERE
Antique dealers, customers, delivery people, employees, sellers looking to trade heirlooms for quick cash, the store owner or manager, window shoppers
RELATED SETTINGS THAT MAY TIE IN WITH THIS ONE
- Art gallery, pawn shop, thrift store
SETTING NOTES AND TIPS
Antiques stores may be a hodgepodge of anything and everything, or they may specialize in certain time periods or types of antiques. Some stores are laid out so furniture and displays are grouped by room (kitchen antiques piled on an old pot-bellied stove and kitchen nook, for example), while others are arranged by theme (World War II memorabilia, etc.). If you’re attempting to utilize antiques in your story, choose those that offer symbolism opportunities for your character, giving meaning to the challenges or personal issues he or she must face.
SETTING DESCRIPTION EXAMPLE
The doll didn’t belong here. She was clearly a German doll from the 1800s, but while the other pre-war toys in the cabinet appeared worn and well loved, she did not. Her pale face and blue glass eyes held a chill that discouraged physical contact. She sat off to the side, away from the other toys, although Alice remembered placing her between the wooden blocks and the hand-carved marionette. The customers had starting asking about a curious smell when they were near the cabinet—the smell of fabric burning. One person had crossed herself after mentioning it, saying she felt watched by the doll. So she’d moved her into the glass case. It was nonsense, of course. Yet as she stood here, Alice did get a whiff of a faint smoky odor. She rubbed her arms, then stopped when she realized what she was doing. Good grief, listening to superstitious old ladies now? Her smile waivered. Still, it might not hurt to lower the doll’s price and see if she couldn’t encourage someone to buy it.
- Techniques and Devices Used: Contrast, multisensory descriptions
- Resulting Effects: Establishing mood, foreshadowing, hinting at backstory, tension and conflict
A WORD FROM THE AUTHORS
To use this setting to the fullest, think about how this store might bring more depth to the story line and help steer your character’s emotions. In an antiques shop, there are ample items that you could place on the shelves to trigger memories, good or bad, for your character. A store like this would also provide opportunities for him or her to interact with an object, allowing you to slip in tactile description that will bring readers in closer to your POV character through the sensation of touch.
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Angela and Becca
Here are a few more secret settings to visit: House Party, Ancient Ruins, and Police Car.
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