Setting Thesaurus Entry: Dungeon

CAUTION: This location entry is graphic in nature and may offend


Shadows, cells, stone walls, dirt or stone floors, filthy straw scattered across the floor, chains fixed to walls, rats, shadows, flickering torchlight from torches in iron sconces, iron bars, feces, spiders, beetles, roaches, oily smoke, moaning, bones, skulls, heaps of clothing scraps, screaming prisoners in ragged clothing, buckets/barrels of fetid water, blood, weaponry, guards, iron grates, cracked & seeping walls, black mold/slime, pools of muddy water on the flagstone floor, oil lanterns, rubble, spiderwebs, forge, torturers, manacles, ropes, narrow passageways, questioning rooms, torture rooms, fireplace, brands, pincers, racks, Chairs with straps, hammers, knives, swords, sickles, suspended iron cages from a high roof, rusty spikes, pits with iron bars & heavy locks over the tops, iron maiden, hooks, whips, skeletons hanging limp chained to walls, prisoners huddled against the bars, hiding in corners & weeping/mumbling/pleading/raving, both fevered and malnourished, names/prayers carved into the walls, a chaplain or other religious figure distributing last rites or taking confessions, a single high barred grate to the outside to keep hope alive, a hooded executioner


Screams, moans, cries, weeping, pleading, iron bars slamming shut, the creak of leather, chains clinking, the squeak and skitter of rats foraging, the hiss of steam, the slap and crack of a whip, the crunch of bone, rattling chains, the clink and click of gears on torture devices, torturers laughter, swearing, yelling questions, labored breathing, Iron doors swinging shut, the click of a lock, prisoners scraping at the walls, digging at the floor, picking locks all in a hope to escape, footsteps, a stone grinding wheel being turned, sharpening instruments and knives, the stoke and scrape of a fire being tended, water dripping, coughing/chocking noises, the crackle of fire


Feces, sweat, coppery blood, rot, mildew, oil, smoke, decay, infection (festering wounds, etc), urine, cold stone, iron, briny drinking water, rotten meat, dust, ash, dirt, leather, oiled swords/knives, moldy bread/grain, rust, dank, wet stone


Prisoners: blood, oily, brackish water, sweat, rotten or stale food (meat, bread, scraps, weevil-spotted gruel) Guards/visitors: Wine, ale, bread, cheese, meat, meals from the castle kitchens, stew


Tight leather straps or manacles on wrists and ankles, the drag of a chain, fingers wrapped around cold steel bars, scraping up food from the floor with fingers, fending off other prisoners, sweat and blood running down forehead or trickling down sides, probing a wound or bruise, eyes/face swollen after a beating, scuffing bare feet against the cold dirt floor, drawing up legs tight to the body to protect oneself, hanging limp between captors, feet dragging along the flagstones, fiery cuts on the back from a lash, the drag of body weight against ankles, a noose being drawn tight on the throat, restricting breath, running fingers along cracks in the stone, looking for weakness, pulling at chains where they are welded into the walls, flinching in pain from a tool or brand, struggling against captors, reaching out to a guard or trying to catch the hem or boot of a visitor, begging for mercy and release, fingering filthy clothing, scratching at greasy, lice ridden hair, probing and shaking at the bars and grates, sharpening old bones/bowls into weapons or digging instruments, pain, aches, burns, cuts, bruises, broken bones, the cold floor & stone stealing heat and seeping into flesh, flinching & searing eye pain at the sight of bright light

Helpful hints:

--The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.

Example 1:

I huddled in the corner, shivering and burning in turns, the fiery cuts on my back weeping steadily. Shaking, I closed my eyes and touched a dry spot on the wall, moving my finger in soft, slow strokes. In my mind I saw Mary, sweet Mary, and held onto her smiling face until I could no longer ignore the approaching heavy footsteps of Hudo, my captor, torturer and soon, executioner.

Example 2:

Lady Marcus stepped off the final dusty stair and immediately pressed a handkerchief to her nose. Good lord, the smell was worse than the a room full of chamber pots! She hurriedly followed Captain Heeth down the flickering corridor, squeaking and jumping back as grime-streaked arms reached through the steel bars of cells. One bony finger grazed the edge of her green silk hem and her gorge rose. The moment she returned to her rooms, she would send out the dress to be burned.

--Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.

Example 1: (Simile)

The chain attached to my ankle cuff slithered across the floor behind me like a dead snake.

Example 2: (Metaphor)

The giant man approached in heavy, deliberate steps, his smile a flash of black decay. A bloodied leather apron covered his sweaty girth and he carried a maul in one hand. I wept as the demon's thick hand grabbed a handful of the rags I wore and pulled me out of my cell.

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Kay said...

I appreciate all the effort you put into compiling these.

PJ Hoover said...

Love your disclaimer and the location!

Conda V. Douglas said...

Excellent--and wise to post the disclaimer.

Bish Denham said...

Ooof! You are so good at this Angela. In the islands, because of the slave trade, there are dungeons. Two, that I know of, one on St. John, the other on St. Croix, have drawings carved/etched into the walls, put there by slaves. When I was a kid the dungeon on St. John still had the manicles hanging from the wall....

Potent stuff.

ElegantSnobbery said...

So awesome. Your blog is my absolute favorite! Just discovered it two weeks ago, and you've already helped me through two scenes that were previously empty of all description!! Thanks you!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Oh, yikes, you took me right down there. But you warned, so I was a willing visitor. Eeps.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I think I need to add a dungeon to my YA contemporary high school. Great for detentions.

Marcia said...

Love the specific detail. You do outstanding work on this blog. Do know it's appreciated! Oh, and if I ever time-travel back to medieval times I plan to behave myself.

ralfast said...

Pit & Pendulum.

Angela said...

Kay I'm happy to have tripped onto a type of resource writers will really find helpful!

PJ & Conda, I know I have many teachers who visit and offer this resource to their classrooms. I figured better safe that sorry. :)

Bish, I'm glad I got it right. I've only read about them and seen them in movies but would like to see an actual one some day.

Elegant, I am so glad you found us and are enjoying the site!

Tricia, lol!

Stina, I agree!

Marcia, thank you! If you figure out the time travel thing, can I come with you?

Ralfast, excellent example! I so agree.

Gail said...

Your emotional thesaurus entries are incredible and so very helpful!!! Actually, all your thesaurus entries are great! I can't believe I haven't found you before now!!! Well I'm a follower now. Feel free to come ove to my blog and check it out. I'm all about sharing my emotions :-)

Angela said...

Hi Gail--I'm glad you found me! Thanks for the great info on webinars on your blog!

Kelly said...

Creepy yet extremely thorough!

Mary Witzl said...

We just took our students on a field trip to a local castle with a (once) very well-used torture chamber. This rings all too true. Thank God the smells were no longer a feature!

Kirsten Lesko said...

Ooo - this one has a really cool tone. I bet your fiction just pops. Thanks again for the great resource!

Cher Green said...

I was sent her from This is a great find. I can see that you've worked hard on this blog. Thank you for sharing.

Matthew Rush said...

I don't know quite exactly what to say.

Honestly your posts are so awesome and helpful and give so freely of your knowledge and experience that I'm usually too intimidated to even comment at all.

Thank you. That should do it for now.

Lindsay Currie said...

Ooooh Angela, these are very frightening. I have to admit that they sent chills up my spine. Great work.

Lilly said...

I came across your blog yesterday and I'm totally taken by it. You have done a marvelous job and I truly appreciate it. THANKS!!!

Angela Ackerman said...

Thanks Lilly and everyone. Your support means so much to us!


Riv Re said...

Definitely glad I stumbled upon this post! I'm writing a dungeon torture scene soon, and this helped a lot!


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