Symbolism Thesaurus Entry: Suffering

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:

Animals cries
Injured birds trying and failing to fly
Broken wings/bones
Limping animals, torn ears, blinded
Nests/eggs knocked from trees
Extreme weather that churns up water, rips trees out of the ground, scatters debris
Animals with visible sores/wounds
Extreme cold
Extreme heat
An erratic trail of animal tracks in sand, mud or snow
Animals circling dry water holes
Polluted watering holes
Birds caught in oil spills
The remains of an animal kill
Animal illness (mouth frothing, uneven breathing, staggering in circles)
Fish caught in shallow pools
Beached dolphins/whales
Visibly skinny/weak animals
Insects with missing limbs or damaged wings

In Society:

Mental wards
Group homes/halfway houses
Women's shelters
Homeless shelters
Drug/alcohol rehab
Abusive homes
Phobia victims
Animal shelters
Rehabilitation centers
Pain medication
Wounds, sores, bruises
Back pain, rubbing at stiff limbs
Limping/uneven gait
Backs that won't straighten
Chronic pain
Night terrors
Post traumatic Stress
War zones
Poor coloring, unhealthy pallor
Shaking extremities
Juvenile detention centers
Victims (crime, abuse, etc)
Homeless sleeping on park benches
Street people with the thousand yard stare

**For BODILY CUES OF SUFFERING, try the Emotion Thesaurus Addendum Entry: PAIN

These are just a few examples of things one might associate with Suffering. Some are more powerful than others. A homeless man lying prone on the ground with no shoes in winter is a strong symbol, and likely will not require reinforcement. However, a desert view may not foreshadow Suffering on its own. Let the story's tone decide if one strong symbol or several smaller ones work the best.


Porky said...

A frown, pained expression or visible strain are strong symbols too, or rather symbols of these symbols, as is a hand clasped to forehead, even untidy hair.

Interesting list, if not exactly a fun read for the subject matter.

Lenny Lee* said...

hi miss angela! wow this is such really good stuff for making a story lots better. i save out these neat posts for in my writing file so i could read them again. thanks!
...hugs from lenny

Bish Denham said...

Not pleasant to read, must not have been pleasant to compile. Good job!

Angela Ackerman said...

Thanks Porky--you made me realize I had forgotten to link our entry on PAIN, which will help get across suffering in a bodily manner as you suggested. It's added now. :)

Hi Lenny, so glad you are finding these useful!

Hi Bish, yes this was a hard one to do. I especially didn't like having to find pictures to go with the entry--I saw way too much animal cruelty in an attenpt to find something not too graphic, yet suitable. It's terrible what some people do to animals.

Rafael said...

Pain and suffering are part of our lives and therefore a key in many of our narratives but real and literary. A perfectly happy story is a perfectly boring story.

Good job as always!


Shannon O'Donnell said...

This. Is. Brilliant.

As always! :-)

N. R. Williams said...

I forgot that you did this. Excellent.
N. R. Williams, The Treasures of Carmelidrium

Becca Puglisi said...

Great job, Angela. As usual :)

Jen Chandler said...

Brilliant, brilliant list! Thank you :D

Lynda Young said...

Your lists are truly amazing and helpful :)

tracikenworth said...

Such a horrific thought but oh, so necessary in fiction if we are to paint a character as whole.

Lisa Gail Green said...

He he, according to this I've done a pretty good job indicating suffering in my current WIP! I'm so hard on my characters...

Charlie Pulsipher said...

I saw a tree grow into a chain link fence. The bark grew through the holes, wrapping itself around the wire. The effect looked cool, like the tree gumming the wires, but, at the same time, I knew that obsorbing the metal would eventually kill the tree, weakening it from the inside.

Sonia said...

Fascinating. Sometimes it's hard to find just the right image for a story.

Austin James said...

Great train of thought here... really great ideas.

- Austin James

Julie Musil said...

Amazing that I'm reading this now. I'm watching the funeral for the Los Angeles firefighter who died, and yes, these guys are suffering. My husband is a firefighter and he's sitting in the church right now.

Thanks for your always-useful symbolism. Amazing stuff.

Sheila Deeth said...

Wow. Lots of useful ideas. Thanks.


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