Symbolism Entry: Danger

Every day we interact with objects, places and sensations that affect the way we think and feel. This can be used to the writer's advantage by planting symbols in the reader's path to reinforce a specific message, feeling or idea.

Look at the setting and the character's state of mind, and then think about what you want the reader to see. Is there a descriptive symbol or two that works naturally within the scene to help foreshadow an event or theme, or create insight into the character's emotional plight?

In Nature:
Dark clouds
Claw marks on tree bark
Broken trees, uprooted trees
Feathers scattered across an area of the ground
A patch of blood from a kill
Bones, carcasses
The smell of decay
Glowing eyes in the night
Moving shadows
Half-glimpsed movement from the corner of your eye
A branch snapping someone where out of sight
Animal howls (wolves, coyotes)
The sound of footfalls out of sight
The edge of a cliff
Waves crashing into the reef
Deadheads in the water (logs)
Spider webs
Snakes, scorpions
Rattling, hissing, growling
Heavy panting, snorting
A cry silenced
A shrieking, howling wind
Shark fins

In Society:

Bank alarms, fire alarms
Columns of thick smoke
Red light districts
Slums, projects, poorer neighborhoods (sorry hope the terminology causes no offence)
Groups of street-tough males
Barbed wire
Safety signs
Squealing tires
Yelling, shouting, swearing
Glass breaking
The edge of a building roof
Downed power lines
Intense storms, tornadoes, high winds, etc
Red or yellow flags at the beach
Excessive tattoos/piercings/studded collars
Growling dogs
A child's scream or cry
A gasp
Police sirens
Car alarm going off
Symbols on products for explosives, poisons, corrosives
An emergency broadcast system alert (TV & Radio)
The sound of footfalls from behind
Mental hospitals
Weak steps/platforms, signs of rot and decay on the wood
Gangs, gang colors, gang symbols (graffiti)
Armoured trucks, SWAT

These are just a few examples of things one might associate with Danger. Some are more powerful than others. Footsteps following you down a dark alley is a strong symbol, and likely will not require reinforcement. However, the presence of barbed wire may not foreshadow Danger on its own. Let the story's tone decide if one strong symbol or several smaller ones work the best.


ElegantSnobbery said...

WAHOO! This could not have come at a more perfect time!! Just about to write a scene that needs to scream DANGER!

Angela, this blog is so fantastic! Thank you!!

salarsenッ said...

The list is great, as always. You make a great point at the end. "...decide whether you need one strong symbol or several small ones." I like that. Thanks.

Leah (aka Mary_not_Martha) said...

I love lists like this. I try to explain the symbolism to my family when we start a movie. Hopefully, my sons will pick up on it - a useful tool. Alice and Wonderland was loaded with it!

Karen Lange said...

Thanks, as always, for this good info. I am always on the lookout for foreshadowing in the books I read. I also like listening to the music on a movie to determine what the coming action is.
Happy weekend,
Karen :)

Vicki Rocho said...

LOVE these! You get the wheels turning.

Tahlia said...

I love your blog. Gee I would have loved to have found it while I was writing my novel, 'Lethal Inheritance'. I wrote my own emotional thesurus but it's not as full as yours.

I'd love to know what you think of the result - it's YA fantasy. You can take a look at ch1 at

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I love these symbolism posts, Angela. Something tells me I'm going to spend even more time on your blog (if that's even possible) for my next project. :D

Julie Musil said...

I felt the spooks just by reading these ideas. Thanks!


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