There may be many reasons for a writer to wish to write about disease and illness. You may wish to elicit some sympathy for a protagonist, or inject an element of pathos. You may wish to threaten your fictional populace with an invisible menace, or give your supervillain something to cackle about. You could use a real disease of course, but which one? Is there a disease that will give your villain mouth ulcers, flat feet and luminous green skin? (answer – no!)
No problem! Just invent one. But where to start?
First an example from the case files of Urban-Smith.
At this juncture Bricker the butler reappeared with a silver tray bearing three glasses.
“Crème de fromage, Sirs?”
“Thank you, Bricker.”
De Wolfmann senior, Urban-Smith and I each took a glass of the thick, yellow liquor. Urban-Smith gave his an appraising sniff.
“Hmmm,” he mused. “Mild but tangy, with a hint of butyric acid. A vintage Roquefort, I’d say. An 85 or 86 perhaps?”
“A 91, sir.”
We sipped at our drinks, enjoying the smoky flavour and the salty finish.
“Are you not partaking, Professor?” I enquired.
“Sadly, I cannot. My stroke has left me with pan-sensory fromagic inattention. I cannot see, smell, hear or taste cheese of any form.”
I nodded. “Yes, I have heard of the condition. It must be a terrible burden.”
He shrugged. “I have become accustomed to it, and Antoine’s cooking is such that one never has cause for complaint. Still,” he mused, staring past me with a wistful look upon his face, “sometimes I yearn for the touch of an Edam.”
From THE WEREWOLF OF WOTTENHAM WOOD.
What do you want to happen? Do you want the victims to change colour, become invisible, froth at the mouth?
Here is a list of common disease symptoms that you may wish to delve into.
Systemic; Fever, lethargy, malaise, weight loss, night sweats, flushing, pallor
Musculoskeletal; pain , swelling, deformity
Respiratory; nasal discharge, cough, shortness of breath, wheeze, stridor (inspiratory noise due to upper airway obstruction)
Cardiovascular; chest pain, palpitations, breathlessness, collapse, arrhythmia (altered heart rhythm), cardiac arrest
Gastrointestinal; nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, abdominal distension, rectal bleeding, melaena (black, tarry stool due to bleeding from stomach), haematemesis (vomiting blood), belching, hiccups.
Urological; blood in urine, painful urination, inability to pass urine, incontinence
Neurological; confusion, headache, drowsiness, fitting, coma, numbness, tingling, pain.
Psychiatric; mood changes, hallucinations, delusional thoughts
If you really don’t like your character, why not give them ALL of the above. At the same time.