Try These Adjectives to Describe Novel Settings

Books are magical windows into worlds you would otherwise never have imagined. The settings of your story are where significant parts of the book or story happen. And as such, it needs to be described as vividly as possible to fit the mood of a specific scene. In order to paint a vivid image for your readers, it’s helpful to use the right adjectives to describe setting.

In this article, we’ll look at a list of some of the best words you can use to make your setting feel more real. We’ll also walk you through some tips on how you can describe your setting in a more impactful way.

A book whose pages are flipping with the wind.
Photo by Yannick Pulver on Unsplash

Writing Tips to Make an Impactful Story Setting

Use strong descriptive words.

Strong descriptive words hold a lot of weight and allow the reader to imagine the story unfolding. It describes a quality to a higher degree without the need for an intensifier.

For example, instead of saying that something is “very dark,” you could say that it’s “somber” or “bleak.”

A novel allows you to experiment, play, and find your own fresh and precise image. Strong adjectives do the extra work to make your writing more interesting.

Describe the place through the characters’ senses

You want the reader to feel as if they’re a part of the story and witnessing the same thing the main character is witnessing. This is why it makes sense to describe your setting through your character’s eyes. Provide details of what they can see, hear, smell, and so on.

Filter place and character description through different viewpoints

A description is helpful in narration because it gives us an insight into the viewpoint character involved in describing.

If a fearful character is entering a nightclub, they might describe the noise and action as overwhelming. But extroverts, on the other hand, may describe the same scene as fun and energetic.

The differences between perspectives are significant in multi-perspective novels where multiple characters have different viewpoints. A different descriptive choice would be required when showing the same scene from different perspectives.

Sample Adjectives to Describe Setting

For a Desert Setting

Descriptive Words

  • Harsh
  • Dry
  • Arid
  • Sparse
  • Severe
  • Hot
  • Rocky
  • Flat
  • Thorny
  • Bare
  • Stark
  • Barren
  • Burning

Descriptive Phrases

  • Land of burning sands
  • Sea of sand
  • Desert was a furnace
  • Stark and barren
  • Rocky and spiked with thorny bushes
  • An endless, flat horizon
  • Burning, merciless desert of glare and death

City Setting

Descriptive Words

  • Active
  • Bustling
  • Noisy
  • Busy
  • Clean
  • Dirty
  • Windy
  • Congested
  • Sprawling
  • Polluted
  • Affluent
  • Filthy
  • Flourishing
  • Touristy

Descriptive Phrases

  • A sprawling city filled with high-rise buildings
  • Streets brimming with traffic
  • Sea of busy people
  • Boundless and humongous in size
  • State-of-the-art high-tech transportation systems

Forest Setting

Descriptive Words

  • Dark
  • Dusky
  • Foreboding
  • Nocturnal
  • Scary
  • Shadowy
  • Majestic
  • Inviting
  • Leafy

Descriptive Phrases

  • Supposedly wild and thick
  • Eternally moonlit
  • Deep uninhabited
  • Extremely dense and heavy
  • Seemingly endless and unchanging 


A story’s setting is an integral part of its plot. It’s important to take the time to put in the extra effort to describe it engagingly and interestingly. Word choice is critical in writing a novel’s setting, so try using these adjectives to describe setting. They’re sure to make your setting come alive!

Abir is a data analyst and researcher. Among her interests are artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing. As a humanitarian and educator, she actively supports women in tech and promotes diversity.

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