How to Use Personification

In this article, we define and look at examples of personification. Most importantly, we determine how the writer can use this literary device to enhance the mood of a story.

manuscript-mentoring.png

Manuscript Mentoring

Nov. 4, 2020 · 5 Min Read

personification-writing-2.jpg

Personification can make an object seem willful, angry, or wise—even though it is only an inanimate thing. Needless to say, such a tool can give life to what would otherwise be bland descriptions and observations. However, like most literary devices, personification becomes tedious if used too often. Personification is a type of metaphor, so be sure to check out our article on similes, metaphors, and analogies.

Personification Definition

 

Personification is when the writer attributes human qualities to things that aren’t human. If something behaves or thinks like a person when it shouldn’t be able to, then we call it personification.

 

Examples of Personification

The wind whispered.

The trees conspired with the moonlight to make the road indistinct.

The baleful sun would not relent.

Time had no regard for us. In fact, it seemed to take delight in our suffering.

Whenever things became unbearable, she would walk down to the beach. The ocean was dependable. It did not judge; it did not stray. It was always there, listening to what she had to say.

To Adam, loyalty was dependability. And of all his possessions, nothing was more loyal than his old car.

Brazil at the turn of the nineteenth century had been an entirely different affair. She had not been without fault, but she had also offered a warm embrace.

The rocks churned against one another. To them, humans were of little consequence.

People come and people go—the Earth, in its wisdom, understands this.

It was a cunning road. It wended this way and that in an attempt to waylay travelers.

 

How to Use Personification in Your Writing

Like most literary devices, personification is at its best when used in doses. Chapters, scenes, and paragraphs quickly become cumbersome when personification is overused. When used properly, however, it can enliven an otherwise bland description or stagnant mood. In the following examples, we look at paragraphs written with and without personification—and how this difference impacts the reader.

 

Using personification to alter the reader’s perception of a character

Original Paragraph

As Andy walked through Sherwood forest, he thought about the legend of Robin Hood. Six hundred years before, the fabled outlaw had lived in this part of Nottinghamshire. Had he been real? It didn’t matter; to Andy, the story was still relevant.

Rewritten with Personfication

As Andy walked through Sherwood forest, he thought about the legend of Robin Hood. When the leaves rustled in the wind, he imagined it was the trees draping the outlaw in a cloak of foliage. The sun was Robin’s bow, for it shot arrows of light from the canopy down to the forest floor.

In this example, personification changes the reader’s perception of Andy. In the first passage, he appreciates the historical significance of the forest; however, the rewritten paragraph paints him as a dreamer, poet, or someone who is at least more sensitive to his surroundings than the average person. By using personification in our rewrite, we are able to change how the reader sees Andy.

personification-editing.jpg
 

Using personification to make the reader focus on a theme in a passage

Original Paragraph

The skyscrapers of Manhattan rose all around them. For a moment, Sarah stopped following her teacher and the rest of the class. She had been as excited about her first field trip as any other girl, but the sight was more amazing than even she could have predicted. She was only ten years old, but in that moment, it felt to her as if she had seen everything there was to see in the world.

Rewritten with Personfication

The skyscrapers of Manhattan rose all around them. Cars honked and pigeons cooed as the city’s grownups hurried to wherever they were going. Sarah listened, but she could not hear the wind anymore. She had thought it would follow her from her small town in Connecticut—but it had chosen to stay where it was green. The thought troubled her; had the wind decided that she wasn’t a worthy friend anymore? The field trip wouldn’t give her the answer, but she followed her classmates anyway.

In this case, personification alters a little girl’s first glimpse of the wider world. Thematically, both paragraphs convey a sense of change. Sarah is growing up and becoming more self-aware. However, the personification of the wind is what gives the reader a deeper understanding of her as a person. The sudden absence of the wind signifies the absence of others things—the color green, familiarity, home. By making the wind a person, these emotions are easier to show.

personification-writing-1.jpg
 

Using personification to alter the tone of a passage

Original Paragraph

Many years before, James had considered the trajectory of his life. He had believed he could do much—so much, in fact, that he had thought friends and family a nuisance. Back then, he shunned advice and help. Now that he was older, he realized the folly of his ways—he realized that people were a part of other people’s lives for a reason.

Rewritten with Personfication

James considered his life. Why had he dueled with chance? He had been reckless; he hadn’t stuck with anything he set out to do. There was merit in how his friends lived. The woke up every day, worked hard, and went to sleep. One day, they would have something to show for their monotony. But James had thought himself more cunning than chance—and chance was a vengeful mistress.

James muses about his past in both paragraphs. However, the use of personification in the second paragraph alters its tone. By giving chance human traits (cunning, the ability to duel), the narrator makes it adversarial. Unlike the first paragraph, which comes across as wistful, James’ view of life takes on a darker tone in the second paragraph. There is a sense of bitterness and hopelessness.

 

Conclusion

The examples of Andy, Sarah, and James show how personification can condense emotions and alter the impact of a passage. It can also add a layer of depth to well-written descriptions. However, remember that this literary device should be used sparingly. The reader will quickly grow frustrated if constantly bombarded with inanimate objects that can think or feel.

Manuscript Mentoring

Manuscript Mentoring's editing services can help you develop your use of figurative language. If you need help incorporating personification in your writing, then have a look at our Services page.