Symbolism Thesaurus Entry: Evil

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?

** Please note the symbols listed here are either old world beliefs & superstitions or iconic symbols adopted by film and media. None are meant as slurs against any individual or group.

In Nature:

Snakes and serpents
Carnivorous plants
Hemlock/nightshade plants
Lightning strikes
Animals that kill for sport, not need
Foul weather (sea storms, etc)

In Society:

Inverted crosses
Devil worshippers
Evil spirits/presences
Evil Eye
Crimes against children
The undead
Blood rites/sacrifice
Black magic
The color black
Three sixes
Ouija boards
Nuclear mushroom cloud
Nuclear weapons

These are just a few examples of things one might associate with Evil. Some are more powerful than others. Three sixes grouped together is a symbol that is immediately recognized by many, and likely will not require reinforcement. However, storm clouds on the horizon may not foreshadow evil on its own. Let the story's tone decide if one strong symbol or several smaller ones work the best.

**Also, with this entry in particular, consider the beliefs of your characters. A practitioner of Wicca would not consider witchcraft to be evil, nor necessarily would a society where blood rites are common practice. What is or is not evil will be always be in the eye of the beholder.


Robin_Lucas said...

Are the undead really evil?

You forgot to add politicians ;)

Thanks for all you do!

Holly Ruggiero said...

The last paragraph reminds me of the Buffy TV series. The demon turned human (don’t remember her name) was terrified of bunnies and thought they were evil.

Angela Ackerman said...

See, each of us has a different view of what's viewed as 'evil'. These here aren't necessarily Becca or my views, just common ones we've seen most readily depicted in movie and books.

One of my relatives is a politician, so I better not list that one, lol! And we all know how I feel about the poor, misunderstood zombie. They just want a good brain to chew--what's evil about that?

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

I love the use of symbols. Great post! Especially the note on considering the beliefs of one's characters. So true. Thank you, as always!

Laura Pauling said...

Evil is as evil does. It totally depend on how many brains your zombie eats per day. Only 1 or 2 is not that evil. :)

tracikenworth said...

Wow!! This is right up my creepy stories' alley!!

tracikenworth said...

Wow!! Right up my alley with my creepy stories!! Thanks!!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Oh, this one is perfect for me right now! I'll be putting it to good use today. :-)

Jaleh D said...

I guess I'm feeling quirky today, because your last line about evil being in the eye of the beholder gave me the image of a fighter avoiding a beholder's gaze. Maybe I just play too many fantasy games. ;)

Beth said...

What a thought-provoking post. As I have only written for younger kids, I haven't had to think about evil, but I'll keep this list in mind for my older projects.

Heather said...

This is great! I would add the glare of a deathrow convict. Good stuff!

The Golden Eagle said...

These definitely fall into the evil category! Thank you for this post. :)

Angela Felsted said...

Interesting post.

E. Arroyo said...

I think these posts are great. I have been saving them since...and just wanted to let you know. Thanks for this! Awesome.

Shannon said...

I think the glare of a death row convict could fall under a particularly freaky evil eye!

Mysti said...

I just love this site. So resourceful. Thanks for keeping it updated!!

Lindsay N. Currie said...

Ahhh Angela, you come through for me just when I need you. Current WIP is a dystopian and this post comes at a perfect time:)



The use of symbols and other types of universal labels or meanings can be very powerful.

I've done a lot of research on the meaning of colors and, if you're a visual person, using the universal symbols associated with colors works well, too.

Angela Ackerman said...

Glad this one helps. I think the majority of stories that run the mystery/suspense/thriller genres have hints of evil, so this is one bit of symbolism we can use.

Happy weekend!


Anonymous said...

Add Revenue Canada to the evil list - 'nuff said.


Shauna (murgatr)

Owllady said...

Hey hi. I know your list is subjective, and that you're not saying any of these things/people/places are evil in and of themselves, but I have a small issue with the inclusion of witches.

I just feel that including witches and witchcraft continues the difficulty that Wiccans have with perception. Why encourage people to mention witches in a negative way?

Angela Ackerman said...

Hi Owllady,

I can appreciate where you are coming from, and I did think hard before making this inclusion. Because this list is for writers of fiction to use, and is comprised of objects, groups and entities that have been labeled in fiction as to some, being evil, this is why I decided to include it.

Our notes make it clear we are by no means saying these things ARE evil, we are simply listing something that fiction and movies have portrayed in this manner.

I don't think anyone would mistake this list for anything other than a writing aid for FICTION. The list includes entities which do not even exist, like zombies and werewolves.

I appreciate you commenting, and I am sorry this bothered you. I hope my answer offers some insight as to why it was included. We by no means are taking a knock at anyone's beliefs, simply reporting something used in fiction and film.



Julie Musil said...

I got chills just reading some of these, so obviously you've hit the nail on the head (AGAIN!)

Thanks for the awesomeness that never ends.

Travelin'Oma said...

Insomnia pays! I have just recently discovered your blog and it has infused my midnight hours with anticipation. Every post (and sidebar) makes me want to add a new element to my novel. Thanks for being an awesome support for writers!

Susanne Drazic said...

Interesting post.

Owllady said...

Angela, thanks for replying to my comment. I do understand that you're including these items for use in fiction, and that you're not making any statement about the items' inherent qualities.

Having a character who refers to witches as evil does not mean the author thinks that way, but it does reinforce the "evil witch" idea for some readers.

It's a hot button issue for me so I had to comment. Thanks for continuing your thesaurus entries :)

Usagikitti said...

Just wanted to say, love reading your stuff. Me and another writer friend are contemplating starting a blog ourselves for the love of procrastination. You guys are an inspiration!

PS. Love the pic of the Ball Python. We have 8 of them and 5 boa constrictors. We get some fuss over them because they are "evil" but we just shrug our shoulders, educated who we can and go about our business. So glad we don't let one person's opinion dictate what we should do or how we should feel about things we enjoy or just in general.

Zane said...

I find it sad that "pentagrams" is up there. They are not a symbol of evil. The religions in which it originated were vilified by Christianity in an effort to survive while knowing theirs is a dangerous, hateful, useless, misguided cult. Just sayin.


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