Personification: What it Is and How to Use it for Great Writing
Are you writing a book, screenplay, or short story? You can enhance your writing project with the literary device personification. Learn what personification is and how to apply this powerful technique to the story you're telling.
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What is personification?
Personification is the giving of human qualities to non-human items, such as buildings, animals, and even concepts, like fear or perseverance.
The two major forms of personification:
Why use non-human personification in writing?
In books, screenplays, and other forms of narrative writing, personification can help an audience emotionally connect with non-humans. Since emotion is very important in storytelling, writers try to widely weave it into their stories. Personification is a literary tool that can create an immediate, and strong, emotional connection, thus is used often.
In addition, when characters embody concepts, the theme of a story can feel more visceral.
Let's look at some examples...
Examples of non-human personification in writing
Non-human personification is critical for stories with non-human characters. In a fantasy story, for example, most of the characters might be animals. For an audience to identify with them, they should be given human qualities like the ability to talk.
In a science fiction story that takes place in a different galaxy, all the characters might be aliens. Though these aliens may not look like humans, the writer should give them certain human qualities so the audience can identify with them.
For instance, although most of these aliens may be seventy feet tall and have IQs of 850, they live in homes with families (just like humans) and bicker with family members (just like humans).
Emotion isn't just effective with characters, but all elements of a story's world. Settings are a great place to apply personification to create a human connection.
For instance, let's say a character in an adventure story enters a dangerous jungle. A writer can elevate this scene by personifying the jungle. "Human vs. human" conflict is emotionally engaging. And though a jungle isn't a human, if it can feel like one, the conflict can become more vibrant...
Ken takes his first step into the Bagana wilderness. The jungle's hot sun stares down at him. He looks for shade, but wherever he goes, the unforgiving sun finds him.
Like a setting, objects in a story can feel more vibrant if personified. Let's look at an example in an action story...
Charles knows he's in trouble. He can hear his enemy's footsteps racing toward him from behind. Though Charles lost his gun, an old friend is still around. His set of brass knuckles, hanging out in his pocket.
Examples of human personification in writing
Let's go back to our personification example, "Jill is the embodiment of joy." When characters in a story represent concepts, the theme of a story can feel more palpable to an audience.
A theme is the takeaway about life in general an audience would have after finishing a story. Since themes are abstractions about life, they involve concepts. Examples of story themes:
When certain characters in a story embody concepts related to the theme, the conflicts those characters go though can show the depth of the theme, and thus, make it more believable.
For an example, let's look at this theme: Unresolved issues from the past can ruin the future.
In this story, our main character will be Bill. He used to be a criminal. He went to prison for ten years. When he gets out, he decides to leave his life of crime behind and create a peaceful future for himself in the suburbs. There, he meets Sophia, a kind woman who has never committed a misdemeanor in her life.
Bill views her as a potential wife - she represents "the future."
A couple months into dating Sophia, Bill gets an unexpected visitor at his doorstep, Allen. Allen was Bill's old criminal associate, who feels he's owed $90,000 from a job they did over a decade ago. Bill doesn't believe Allen's justification, and even if he did, doesn't have $90,000 on hand.
Allen, who represents "unresolved issues from the past," keeps antagonizing Bill.
Sophia can't help but notice Bill's conflict with this angry stranger. To get revenge on Bill, Allen eventually targets Sophia. In the climax, she escapes death. However, even though Allen is arrested, Sophia has lost interest in marrying Bill. She decides to leave him.
This idea of concept representation can be furthered with the development of motifs, which are recurring elements in your story that stand for ideas related to your theme. In the example above, story elements associated with Sophia can help you make points about the future.
For instance, she could be renovating her and Bill's house, wanting to put a fresh, modern take on some of the old styles. Allen's appearance in their life causes so much stress Sophia becomes too distracted to continue with the project and puts it on hold.
This plot event conceptually conveys the point, "Because of Allen, Sophia and Bill's relationship has stopped moving forward, and is stuck in the past."
Key tips for using personification in your writing
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