I have always been fascinated by carnival rides. It amazes me that average, ordinary people eagerly trade in the serenity of the ground for the chance to be tossed through the air like vegetables in a food processor. It amazes me that at some time in history someone thought that people would enjoy this, and that person invented what must have been the first of these terrifying machines. For me, it is precisely the thrill and excitement of having survived the ride that keeps me coming back for more.
My first experience with a carnival ride was a Ferris wheel at a local fair. Looking at that looming monstrosity spinning the life out of its sardine-caged occupants, I was dumbstruck. It was huge, smoky, noisy and not a little intimidating. Ever since that initial impression became fossilized in my imagination many years ago, these rides have reminded me of mythical beasts, amazing dinosaurs carrying off their screaming passengers like sacrificial virgins.
Even the droning sound of their engines brings to mind the great roar of a fire-breathing dragon with smoke spewing from its exhaust-pipe nostrils.
The first ride on one of these fantastic beasts gave me an instant rush of adrenaline. As the death-defying ride started, a lump in my throat pulsed like a dislodged heart ready to walk the plank. As the ride gained speed, the resistance to gravity built up against my body until I was unable to move. An almost imperceptible pause as the wheel reached the top of its climb allowed my body to relax in a brief state of normalcy. Then there was an assault of stomach-turning weightlessness as the machine continued its rotation and I descended back toward the earth. A cymbal-like crash vibrated through the air as the wheel reached bottom, and...
Ferris wheel, roller coaster, haunted house, log ride, tea cup ride, sizzler, swinging pirate ship, mazes, fun house mirrors, Psychic tent, spinning apple ride, airplane ride, pony ride, boat rides, water gun boats, mini golf, go carts, bumper cars, merry-go-round, slides, kiddie ball pit/climbing area, carnival games: ring toss, guessing games, floating duck fishing…
too-loud music, screams, laughter, cheering, chanting, singing, bells, crying, clanking ride chains, whooshing of air brakes, chugging machinery, squealing brakes, feet running, people calling out to each other, corn popping, fries/donuts sizzling in vats of oil, pinging sound of game targets, pinball machines, balls rolling and thudding down game chutes or hitting the booth backdrop, balloons popping, the jingle of change…
cigarettes, cotton candy, popcorn, french fries, mini donuts, grease, sugar, hot pavement, oiled machinery…
All manner of food & drink: popcorn, cotton candy, candy apples, burgers, corn dogs, doughnuts, ice cream, chocolate, fries, chips, pop, slushies, water, lemonade, rock candy…
metal bars, seats with cracked padded cushions, handles with chipped paint, seat bets, plastic steering wheels & levers, worn balls, smooth plastic rings, greasy food, dripping ice cream, blotting blobs of ketchup off a shirt, crinkling up a hamburger wrapper, the icy cool of holding a fresh water bottle on the fingertips, thirst…
–The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.
Example 1: At the top of the Ferris wheel, the musical roar of the carnival dimmed, letting in the sound of the Amy’s excited giggles and the crinkle of paper from the rolled-up bag of popcorn she held tight in one small fist. We shared a grin as she kicked her feet out at the open air. I loved this moment, I lived for it every year–when we reached the pinnacle of the rotation as the carriage opposite us stopped to exchange passengers. I pulled in a deep, clean breath. For one moment everything seemed so clear, so full of potential. So reachable. I could do anything I put my mind to.
The wheel shuddered to life, pulling forward, and then down. As we sank toward the ground my mind returned to the fight I’d had with Mary right before I left home, the constant buzzing of my work phone in my pocket. As we descended I grew heavier, the fog of music and noise enveloping me, dropping me back into reality….
–Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.
Example 1: (Metaphor) Joel shoved his broom against the dirty concrete, shuffling along the peanut shells, candy wrappers and bottle tops. After the rides were grounded and the music silenced, the fairground show its true colors. Not many saw it as he did, when the wind brushed hot dog wrappers up against greasy smeared tent flaps and the moonlight pointed out the faded signs and peeling paint. Once the last echos of laughter had disappeared along with the flashing lights and colorful balloons…well, peel back the carnival glitz and all you find is a corpse staring back at you….
Think beyond what a character sees, and provide a sensory feast for readers
Setting 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.
On 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.