Symbolism Thesaurus Entry: Illness

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:

Weakened animals
Festering sores
Oily, brackish water
Stunted, gnarled trees
Leaves spotted with yellow
Rot
Mold
Fruit covered in scabs or pock marks
Patches of fur missing
Blow flies
An inability to fly straight (birds)
Black rot (crops, grass, plants)
Curled up leaves, browning at the edges
Tree growths
Slime
Tree rot, dead limbs
Unexplained dead fish/aquatic creatures on a shoreline
Spindly animal legs, weak, erratic walk
Animals foaming at the mouth, panting uncontrollably, staggering, stumbling
Dead animals
A yeasty, decaying smell

In Society:

Hospitals
Face masks
Hospital patients
Hospital beds
Ambulance
Stretchers
Stethoscope
IV bag
Needles
Hospital bracelet
Hospital gown
Medical cards
Medical insurance/bills
Airsick bags
Doctor's offices
Medic alert bracelet
Pill bottles
Pills
Pharmacy
Hazard suits
Gas masks
Get well flowers/cards
Oxygen tank/mask
Paramedics

People:

Coughing
Sneezing
Headache
Sweating & feverish
Red-rimmed eyes
Puffy face
Sallow or yellowing skin
Rheumy eyes
Bad breath
Phlegm
Palsy
Vomiting
Diarrhea
Rash
Infection
Runny nose
Tight chest
Shortness of breath
Swollen lymph nodes
Pain
Bleeding
Mental illness (Paranoia, memory loss, depression, etc)
Lethargy
Loss of appetite
Wheezing
Difficulty sleeping
Nausea
Dry mouth
Convulsions
Weight loss

These are just a few examples of things one might associate with Illness. Some are more powerful than others. A hospital is a strong symbol, and likely will not require reinforcement. However, a pill bottle may not foreshadow illness on its own. Let the story's tone decide if one strong symbol or several smaller ones work the best.

12 comments:

Kelly said...

Sniffling, aching head, sore nose from cheap Kleenex, drinking Airborne three times a day.
That's me right now! I haven't been sick in months but now I have a cold...
Another great entry!

Melissa Gill said...

Angela-

These are awesome examples as always.

I awarded you The One Lovely Blog Award and The Versatile Blogger Award. I know you've probably gotten a million awards, but really the resource you provide to all of us writers is so amazing, you deserve them all.

Melissa

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Perfect. My son was home sick yesterday, and many of these ring dead-on!! I love the nature symbols. :-)

Damyanti said...

I never thought before in terms of symbols! Thanks for posting this.

Matthew Rush said...

Awesome, as always. Thanks Angela!

Bish Denham said...

Oil spills...particularly since ANOTHER rig has exploded in the gulf....

Elana Johnson said...

Oooh, lots of ideas to convey sicknesses. I love the idea of using them for symbolism.

Shannon said...

I skimmed it. Reading it just makes me worry about flue season being back again.

Anita said...

Hmmm...I suddenly feel sick.

C.R. Evers said...

a post I'm all too familiar with. Great post, once again!

Angela Ackerman said...

Sorry guys, I know this is an icky one, but it hopefully will come in handy when you need to describe a blight or illness or allude to something being not right in the environment.

Melissa, you are far, far too good to me. I'll pop by straight away. Hugs all round, people!

Angela

Julie Musil said...

What an awesome list. Thanks, Angela!

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