If you want your writing to grab your readers, to call them to the emotions you want them to feel, you might try utilizing the literary device I just used twice in his sentence: personification.
What is Personification
Personification is a literary device where a nonhuman object or idea is assigned human characteristics.
An example of personification is saying a hyena laughed. Hyenas don’t laugh–laughing is a human characteristic–but that description paints a clear picture of the sound a hyena makes.
Personification pretties up a sentence. It adds layers of vividness and human perspective. Bringing an object to life by comparing it to human behavior makes it easier for human readers to connect with the object and immerse deeper into your story. You could say personification helps your words to jump from the page. ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
Let’s look at some examples of personification, then talk about how you can use it in your own writing.
One of my favorite books, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, utilizes personification more often than any other book I’ve read.
Most of the book is seen through the eyes of Anne, an imaginative orphan who loves to pretend everything is her friend–from trees, to rocks, to ghosts she believes live in the woods, to rivers, to the wind: everything is Anne’s friend, so everything is personified.
Here’s a paragraph that personifies a brook:
Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies’ eardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde’s Hollow it was a quiet, well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde’s door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof.
Montgomery describes the brook quietly sneaking past Mrs. Lynde’s house like it’s a person with thoughts and manners.
Here are some shorter examples of personification:
- The wind whispered
- The sky wept
- The shadow of trees swallows me
- The grass danced in the sun
- The storm lashed out
- The computer monitor blinked awake
Personification is pretty cool! You can see how it brings life to description by bringing life to the object being described. So how do we use personification in our own writing?
How to Write with Personification
Writing with personification can make your writing that much stronger and that much more vivid.
You should definitely be using it in your writing.
#1 – Read personification
When you’re reading, pay attention to personification and how other writers are using it. What do you like? What don’t you like?
Do some methods seem more effective than others? Just like with any literary device or type of writing, the more examples you consume, the more you can pull from to develop your own style and voice.
#2 – Pay attention to connotation and mood
Your personification should help your reader to better understand what you’re trying to convey. For example, if you’re describing the sun and you want your reader to feel positively toward it, you might write something like:
“The sun weaved its fingers through her auburn curls.”
If you describe the sun and want your reader to feel negatively, you might write something like:
“The sun scraped its claws against her scalp.”
Both examples are how the sun feels on a character’s head, but the second is significantly more hostile.
We might assume the character hates being outside, or maybe it’s just a particularly hot day. Don’t personify for the sake of personification–utilize it to help your reader connect to the story in the way you want them to.
#3 – Use it appropriately
As with any writing device, use it appropriately.
Don’t slather personification onto every object you describe–use it where it is most effective, or it might become overbearing.
Personification is one of my all-time favorite forms of figurative language. It allows your reader to empathize with the setting of your story, which gives them a closer tie with your characters. Try it out!