diseaseHave you created a character who  sickens and/or dies?

Or maybe a character—for plot’s sake—just has TO GO!

Make it awesome by having their illness be SYMBOLIC or IRONIC or DIVINE .

Writers often use illness to reveal a character’s:
  • flaws or weaknesses
  • last thoughts
  • emotional/psychological/spiritual growth


  • A weak heart or heart attack  might be a metaphor for their heartlessness, or an indication they have too much heart/compassion, or a sign of a broken heart (tragic love).
  • Cancer may be symbolic of their evil nature or reveal the emotional damage inflicted by others. Brain cancer might be a metaphor for a character who thinks too much or not enough! Where the cancer originates could say a lot about your character’s proclivities, flaws, or strengths.
  • Malaria ( bad air ) could reveal the character’s penchant for spreading nasty rumors or, conversely, be the target of malicious gossip.
  • Seizures might reflect the character’s inability to control their emotions or be a physical manifestation of  the thrashing he receives from society/group/individual.
  • Consumption was the demise of many a character in novels written during the 19th century. It’s symptoms provided just the right amount of melodrama–deathbed confessions, long goodbyes, change of hearts, etc
  • HIV/AIDS may be a metaphor for a character who is not immune to the emotional hurt inflicted by society/culture/other characters.
  • Ebola & other hemorrhagic fevers may suggest a character’s emotional “bleeding.”
  • Bone disorders or back problems can reflect a character’s having “no back bone” or being weak willed ( FYI: bones symbolize strength)
  • Rabies may be symbolic of a character’s repressed hostility and aggressiveness.
  • Leprosy would surely indicate some kind of Biblical divine wrath.
  • In Effi Briest, the protagonist’s mother suffers from blurry vision brought on by some unknown ailment, thereby symbolizing her inability to “see” her daughter’s sin or “see” the hypocrisy of her aristocratic society.
  • In Joseph Conrad’s classic, Heart of Darkness,  Mr. Kurtz—the ivory transporter gone native—doesn’t die until returning to the boat bound for civilization. Symbolic? You betcha!
Diseases can be:
  • horrifyingly ugly and/or painful
  • tragic
  • picturesque
  • mysterious
  • the result of divine wrath
  • a plot device
  • ironic

So whether you’re killing a character or just making them sick, think about the symbolism it could imply.

There are lots of diseases! Choose one that gives your story an added punch!

Have fun infecting your characters!

Related Links:  Rock Your WritingSymbolism & more symbols;
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