This month, I'm sharing examples I've come across in world building and establishment of setting. Today, I will examine disease and death. Hope this post won't be too depressing (another D-word!).
Disease: What is the function of disease in a story? A disease can enter the gateways of a world to indicate a parallel of another disease in our world. Seeing the English elite falling ill and dying from the Spanish flu in Downton Abbey made me think of the awful news stories I'd heard years ago about people getting sick and dying from the H1N1 flu. Also, the writers of Downton Abbey used the Spanish flu as a plot device to kill off Lavinia, Matthew's sweet fiance.
Disease in its presence and aftermath can also indicate the collective conscience of a population.
In the presence of disease: For the record, I personally don't view infertility as a disease at all, but in the movie Children of Men, an infertility epidemic threatens to make the human species extinct. You'd think people would be more neighborly and kind to one another at a time like this, but no.
In the aftermath of disease: In Ray Bradbury's THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, we see how chicken-pox, an "Earth" disease is transmitted to the Martians, and yet most of the colonists don't show guilt or remorse about how their presence has caused mass genocide of an entire species.
Death: How do people in other worlds experience and view death? Sometimes death is a finality- the character is considered kaput once they've passed on.
At other times, a character merely moves onto the next level when they die. In Alice Sebold's THE LOVELY BONES, after her brutal murder, Susie watches, from her personal heaven, how her loved ones cope with her being gone. Although Susie is dead, she still has fears, especially when her killer is free and living among her family's community.
In the movie Pan's Labyrinth, Ophelia's death is tragic to the maid who mourns for her. But we see that Ophelia had to die so she could be reborn to reclaim her identity as a princess of the underworld.
Sometimes the dead return. In Ying Chang Compestine's A BANQUET FOR HUNGRY GHOSTS, a YA collection of ghost stories set in China, those who have died under unjust circumstances seek revenge by haunting the living as ghosts.
Can you share other examples of how death and disease are depicted in stories?