Writing Techniques – Personification


PERSONIFICATION – GIVING LIFE TO THE INANIMATE

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Image by raysto via Flickr

1. WHAT IS PERSONIFICATION

Personification is a literary technique that has existed for several hundred years. It is where the writer applies HUMAN QUALITIES to INANIMATE OBJECTS, ANIMALS OR CONCEPTS. To personify something is to `EMBODY’ it

2. WHY DO WE USE IT?

Many descriptions using personification are also metaphors or similes and bring life to an otherwise dull description. They are used to create a sense of feeling and atmosphere as well as to convey themes.

Example:

Standard description – It was windy through the little shack and there was a storm outside of it.

Personified Description – The wind screamed through the walls, the little shack clinging to the ground desperately as the storm raged outside.

Forest-shack on the Quellweg in the community ...

Image via Wikipedia

In the second example we are saying pretty much the same thing as in the first example. The difference is that we have given the wind, the shack and the storm descriptions that we would normally apply to people. Technically the wind does not scream but we describe it as screaming to show how powerful it is and this also creates the idea of the wind being against the shack, a force of nature attacking a small human structure.

If the story is about someone who refuses to evacuate during the storm, believing that his little shack is strong enough to hold then the metaphor could apply to his own personal struggle as well, adding another dimension to your fiction.

3. ARE THERE ANY DRAWBACKS?

As with any writing technique, too much can kill the story. Use personification wisely. If you personify every little object or give an unusual attribute to the wrong object it can stand out too much. Don’t forget about the rest of the story too! Personification works with the story not against it (unless you want it to stand out to make a point or for humour).

4. OTHER TERMS?

Anthropomorphism – Similar term to Personification and the two are often used interchangeably. There seems to be a debate as to whether this means the same as Personification or whether it specifically refers to non-human animals with human motivations. I’ve searched far and wide for clarification on this but there’s seems to be a different consensus every time. There’s a good answer given in this forum thread.

Prosopopoeia - Another name for personification but in writing it involves a missing, absent or imaginary person show to be speaking. 

5. SOME FAMOUS EXAMPLES OF PERSONIFICATION/ ANTHROPOMORPHISM

Illustration of Peter Rabbit eating radishes, ...

Image via Wikipedia

  • ANIMAL FARM – GEORGE ORWELL (An allegorical novel)
  • THE TYGER – WILLIAM BLAKE (Not the only one of his that uses personification but an excellent poem)
  • THE JUNGLE BOOK – RUDYARD KIPLING
  • AESOP’S FABLES – I.e. The Fox and the Stork
  • BEATRIX POTTER BOOKS – I.e. Peter Rabbit
  • THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS – KENNETH GRAHAME
  • THE HOBBIT – J.R.R TOLKIEN
  • THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE – C.S. LEWIS

And that’s just some of the well-known ones! I think it’s rare you’ll find a book that doesn’t use some form of personification.

What about you? Do you have any favourite examples of personification? How much do you use personification? Do you think it enriches your writing or hinders it?




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