Symbolism: Vulnerability

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:
 An injured animal
Bird with a broken wing
The old and sick
Eggs in a nest
Exposed tree roots
Trees bent under the weight of snow or ice
Flies and moths trapped in a spider's web
Open areas devoid of tree cover or shrubs
Butterfly with a damaged wing
Spring buds covered in frost
Cold winters
Lack of a food or water source
Closed-off valley
Cliff edge
The growl of a predator
Animals during hunting season
Younglings, newborns
Lakes, rivers, ecosystems and animals close to human populations/factories

In Society:

Teenage prostitutes, street teens
Dark alleys
Lights burnt out or broken along a street
Dark parkades
A broken door lock
Broken windows
House fire
Home invasion
Victims of crime
The intensive care ward/patients
Mentally ill


Poorer neighborhoods
Cancer victims
The Disabled
Job loss
Foreclosures, bankruptcy
Man made disasters (oil spills, pollution, etc)
Extreme weather (floods, tornadoes, mudslides)
People without heath care benefits
Abandoned pets
Adults and children in abusive environments
Losing your purse or wallet in a strange place
Being lost
Exploited children
People affected by war
Hospital beds
Hospital wrist band
Seniors homes
Families suffering from grief (loss of a loved one, funeral, wake)

These are just a few examples of things one might associate with Vulnerability. Some are more powerful than others. A limping animal crossing an open field is a strong symbol, and likely will not require reinforcement. However, a poor neighborhood may not foreshadow vulnerability on its own. Let the story's tone decide if one strong symbol or several smaller ones work the best.


Shannon O'Donnell said...

Love this! :-)

Susanne Drazic said...

Great list!

Matthew Rush said...

Is that photo of an empty parking garage? Creepy.

Bish Denham said...

You know what else reminds me of vulnerabilty? Furless, blind tiny baby animals. Or a new born fawn curled up waiting for mama to return.

L.J. Boldyrev said...

Great list, as always! Thanks, Angela!

Melissa Gill said...

This is a great list. Thanks Angela

April said...

Once again, this is fabulous. I'm actually pretty proud of myself because in my WIP, I use some symbolism that works, I think! I didn't try to do it, it just happened. Symbolism I've always thought is such a beautiful way of saying something and telling the reader something important. Not that I always understood the symbolism (particularly in high school - I rarely agreed with the teachers!), but if I do understand it, it's beautiful.

Angela Ackerman said...

Thanks for all the great comments. I realize at first glance this might seem like one that might not be used as much as some of the others, but on reflection, when do we write a character that is not in some way vulnerable? I think it's handy to have this list nearby if we need something to bring that out more and mirror the character's trials through setting.

April, It's great that you already use symbols. I think they are often the most powerful when they naturally flow. :)

Happy writing everyone!

Amie Kaufman said...

Great post, thank you! Got me thinking.

Julie Musil said...

Wow, there are lots of gems in here. I don't know how you do it. Thank you!


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