Symbolism Thesaurus Superstitions and Signs: Bad Luck Omens

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:

A lack of birds
Animals running from a forest
Ominous clouds
Black rot on a branch, in a portion of a crop, a patch of ground
Touching or standing close to a lightning-struck tree
Comets (some perceive this as a good omen, others bad)
Climbing a tree during lightning storm
Ravens & crows
Full Moon
Killing a ladybug or cricket
Killing a sparrow
Finding a dead bird in your path
Lightning strikes
Three butterflies on a flower
Standing on high rocks

Drinking water that holds the moon's reflection
Earth tremors
Five leafed clover

In Society:

Black cats
Walking under ladders
Spilling salt
Breaking a mirror
Opening an umbrella inside
Stepping on sidewalk cracks
Refusing a kiss under the mistletoe
Getting out of bed on the opposite side you went in
Buying/giving a person a wallet without putting money in it first
Giving a knife as a gift without also giving a coin
Killing an albatross brings bad luck to all on a ship
Putting your left foot down first when getting out of bed
The number 13
Writing a person's name in red
Shoes on a table
Hat on a bed
Dropping a dishcloth
Counting the cars in a funeral procession
Bat flying in the house
Chasing someone with a broom
Cutting your nails on a Friday
Seeing a white cat at night
A bird coming to the window
Rocking an empty rocking chair
Friday the 13th
Curdled milk
Sleeping or singing at the table
Goldfish in the house
Wearing an opal if it isn't your birthstone
Changing the name of a ship or boat

These are just a few examples of things one might associate with Bad Luck Omens. Some are more powerful than others. A black cat is a strong symbol, and likely will not require reinforcement. However, curdled milk may not foreshadow Bad luck on its own. Let the story's tone decide if one strong symbol or several smaller ones work the best.


Lydia Sharp said...

Excellent list! Incidentally, I used the "curdled milk" symbol in a sci-fi novel without even realizing it at the time I wrote it. But when I looked back at that particular chapter, it fit PERFECTLY. :)

K.M. Weiland said...

I simply adore your blog. It's such a brilliant idea. I can only imagine the time you spend brainstorming! Thanks so much for sharing such a valuable resource.

Vicki Rocho said...

I shudder to think how many of those bad luck omens I commit regularly!

Other than the fact I am now looking nervously over my shoulder, I adore the list.

ElegantSnobbery said...

Oh man, every time I think I'm just about done writing my book, you post new stuff and I go "OH MAN, that is perfect! Got to add some of that in!"

Haha, thanks to you and your awesomeness, I may never finish! :D

But if I ever do finish, my book will be so much better thanks to your blog!

SWK said...

As always, enjoyed this post. Just fascinating the way you put these together. You should turn this into an iPhone app - would be awesome!

Tahereh said...

your brilliance boggles the mind.


Stina Lindenblatt said...

I'm with Vicki about the bad luck omens I commit regularly. I'll be sure I consult the list before I start querying. :D

Taryn Kincaid said...


Deb Salisbury said...

Wow! There's a lot in your list that I hadn't heard of before, but they make perfect sense. Intuitively they sound like bad luck, and I suspect the reader won't even notice *why* they've started to feel uneasy. Too cool!

Medeia Sharif said...

Great list, and I didn't know many of them until coming here.

Lynda Young said...

Great list you've compiled. Very helpful.

Anne said...

I'm thinking of how I can sneak some of these in. Great post!

Julie Musil said...

You're back! Hopefully you had a great trip.

Another awesome list. Thank you!

Kate said...

The black cat in your photo could cross my path any time he likes - he's beautiful!

Good post, yet again.

Jaleh D said...

Haha on the stepping on sidewalk cracks. I don't see it as bad luck, but I still try to pace so I don't step on them if I can help it. A sort sort of mild obsession.

Casey said...

I just realized that all of these things generally happen to me/see happening on a daily basis. Except the funeral procession one, obviously. xD


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