Diseases, Disorders, and Afflictions for your Characters

Marc McCutcheon’s book  Building Believable Characters is an excellent tool for your writer’s toolkit, and I’m sharing some of the good stuff with you. The next portion of the book is a list of SELECTED DISEASES, DISORDERS, AND AFFLICTIONS, just in case you need a great physical ailment for a character but don’t want to go with the standards (cancer, hay fever, asthma). I’ll admit, reading through a list of diseases isn’t riveting. However, you never know when something might jump out and say “use me!”

 
Like Albinism. 
 
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(This albino porcupine courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net)
 
We all know what albinism is, but when’s the last time you read a book with an albino for a main character? It could be interesting to play with. Then again, if done poorly, it could look like a gimmick. Or what about a nasty case of Appendicitis that comes on at the worst possible moment. Nothing like a three-day stint in the hospital to slow things down if you need to give your reader time to breathe.
 
A Brain Tumor could be intriguing, as there are so many symptoms ranging from mild (headaches) to severe (seizures, behavior changes). How about a Concussion? It surprises me that more action heroes in the movies don’t suffer from these babies. If your character got in a car wreck, a concussion would be totally believable and comes with some interesting symptoms to play with: amnesia, vomiting, headache, dizziness, and irritability.
 
There’s the Deviated Septum for those nasally characters who suffer from sinusitis; Flatulence, to entertain your 11-year-old readers; Gallstones, which can be mighty painful and maybe cause your character to lose mental focus during the bouts of agony; Halitosis for your character who thinks he’s a lady’s man; Prosopagnosia, which could be an awesome tool to use, if done correctly (it’s “the inability to identify faces, even familiar ones, as a result of brain disease or damage. Remarkably, sufferers often recognize faces as soon as they hear people speak.”); Tinnitus, the permanent ringing or buzzing in the ears, could be used for great distractions and lack of focus in a character that really needs to focus on the tasks at hand; and Warts for the female character who’s entire sense of self-worth is caught up in her looks.
 
I hit the ones that seemed interesting/funny and not over-done in fiction (as far as I know). There are 14 pages of these. Most have a description. The last 3 pages are just a list. To see the complete list, buy the book. It’s worth it. 
 
Any comments? Anything jump out at you as usable? Can you think of a unique way to use a disease/disorder as a stumbling block for a character? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.
 
-Sonja
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2 thoughts on “Diseases, Disorders, and Afflictions for your Characters

  1. For the lazy option (laziness – always a personal favorite), a nutrient deficiency can be relatively easy to realistically include. Added bonus, there can be significant side effects if a person misses taking their supplements, which can add a nice monkey wrench into things.

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