Symbolism Thesaurus Entry: Perseverance

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 person or animal fording a river
Animals swimming against the current
A narrow track winding up a steep, rocky hill or mountain
Mountain goats, yaks, snow leopards, mountain lions and other high altitude animals
Nests on top of high pines
Predatory birds circling, on the hunt (eagles, falcons, etc)
Ants carrying big loads
Termite hills
A flower in the desert
Dung beetle pushing a dung ball
Grass and weeds growing in stone cracks
A trees clinging to a cliff face
Bird/butterfly/moth with a damaged wing, struggling to fly
An animal standing at the top of a hill or summit
Sunlight straining through the clouds
Water flooding past beaver dams and blockages
Animal tracks through deep snow
Pack animals
Rocks on ledges balancing at impossible angles
Injured animals straining to keep up with the pack
Animals that thrive in extreme temperatures (desert, Arctic)
Cacti plants
The repeated call of a bird searching for a mate
Fledgling birds learning to fly

In Society:

Bailing water from a boat
People fishing
Boats fighting the waves/current/rapids
Standing steady when a wave hits
Weeds growing in sidewalk cracks
Plants growing toward windows and sunlight
Competitions, sporting events, talent contests, races
Someone being bullied, showing up day after day
Straight shoulders, eye contact, lifting chin
Crowded, stunted trees struggling to grow among bigger, healthier ones
The tallest skyscraper
A person reading a thick book
Someone pouring over a map
Mountain climbers
Stray animals
Job hunting
Posting fliers
Military presence
Having more than one job
Learning sign language
Cancer survivor, pink ribbon
Stripes on the American Flag
The Olympics
Climbing wall
Taking a re-test (driver's permit, admittance exam, etc)
Standing in line for sought-after concert tickets
Single parents
Story of Hansel and Gretel
A person carrying/dragging a heavy burden
Adapting to the loss of a limb or medical condition

These are just a few examples of things one might associate with Perseverance. Some are more powerful than others. A tree clinging to the side of a cliff is a strong symbol, and likely will not require reinforcement. However, a stopwatch may not foreshadow perseverance on its own. Let the story's tone decide if one strong symbol or several smaller ones work the best.
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lbdiamond said...

Great post! Coincidentally, I'm just now to the point in revising that these symbols are starting to shine--it's really cool to watch the details pop out of the's like meeting my subconscious thoughts.


Shannon O'Donnell said...

Another spectacular lesson for the Angela file. :-)

Amy Tate said...

Yes! And it's fun when the rhythm plays with the image. Do you know what I mean? I can't ever plan it, but when it happens it's really cool.

Karen Lange said...

This is a good one, and so crucial as the make or break for some characters. Makes me think, too, about the perseverance in my own life.

Have a great weekend! :)

Terri said...

So nice to see not everything can or should be disposed of with a nod or a shrug or a shake of the head.

Mikki said...

Once again this is a great entry! I really use your site a lot, and love it...refer friends to it all the time. BTW, thanks so much for the link to the Civil War...I've spent 2 years doing my research for this novel, and can't figure out how I missed this site. It's fantastic! Oh, yeah, sorry you didn't like the Percy Jackson I know I'll stay away!

Vicki Rocho said...

I love these! There is always something that makes me say "hmmmmm"

Deb Salisbury said...

I love this site! And you've made my day - I've sprinkled many of these in my WIP in hopes that others would interpret them as intended. It's good to know the Bookshelf Muse backs up my instincts.

Christina Farley said...

The dung bug image is classic!

Jaleh D said...

I never thought about trying anything like that. At least not on purpose. If I've got any of those types of symbolism, it's been accidental.

Julie Musil said...

Your posts are so thought-provoking. Many of these images I never thought of in relation to perseverance, and yet they make complete sense. Thanks once again.

And thanks again for your tweet, which helped me reach the 100 follower mark!

You probably already know this, but Anita Nolan blogged about your blog! In case you haven't seen it, it's at

Angela Ackerman said...

Thanks everyone. :) Symbolism often comes through naturally (as it should) but occasionally we need to tweak things to enhanse an idea, theme or feeling. I hope these entries help!

Julie, thanks for passing on that link. I didn't know about it and I love it when people let me know about features on The Bookshelf Muse--it totally makes my day. :)

Have a great weekend, all!


Stina Lindenblatt said...

Great stuff as always. I love the picture of the flower. That says it all.


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