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

In Society:

Face masks
Hospital patients
Hospital beds


Sweating & feverish
Red-rimmed eyes
Puffy face…

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.

Symbolism is a universal language that can add great depth and meaning to your story.

So you can reap the full benefit of this powerful tool, we’ve expanded the entire collection by 70% and integrated it into our online library at One Stop For Writers. Each entry comes with a long list of ideas for symbols and motifs, and we’ve included popular symbolism examples from literature and movies, as well. These entries have also been cross-referenced for easy searchability across all our other thesauri. To see a free sample of the updated Symbolism and Motif Thesaurus along with our other collections, pop on over and register at One Stop.


Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, an online library packed with powerful tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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13 Responses to Symbolism Thesaurus Entry: Illness

  1. Pingback: Symbolism Thesaurus Entry Collection | Writers Helping Writers

  2. Julie Musil says:

    What an awesome list. Thanks, Angela!

  3. 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!


  4. C.R. Evers says:

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

  5. Anita says:

    Hmmm…I suddenly feel sick.

  6. Shannon says:

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

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

  8. Bish Denham says:

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

  9. Matthew Rush says:

    Awesome, as always. Thanks Angela!

  10. Damyanti says:

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

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

  12. Melissa Gill says:


    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.


  13. Kelly says:

    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!

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