Improve Your Work: Personification
Have you ever heard someone say, “Shhh, the walls have ears!” Huh? That sounds like one creepy house, right? Just kidding! This doesn’t mean the walls literally have ears; rather, it’s an example of personification, or giving an inanimate object human qualities.
One of the most popular uses for personification is in poetry. Lots of poetry uses unique ways to offer descriptions of surroundings to the reader. Personification allows you to express vivid descriptions while at the same conveying the way your surroundings make you feel. It’s a way of “showing” rather than “telling” the reader. For example, take the phrase: “my flowers begged for water.” Flowers cannot actually “beg;” that’s something people do! But there is a power behind this that would not be as strong if phrased: “I needed to water my flowers.” The first makes you see flowers that are colorless, dried, and shriveled; it conveys an image without using any adjectives.
How does this apply to a budding (pun intended) writer like yourself? Have you ever seen a view that was so breathtaking, or felt any emotion so deeply, or tasted something so wonderful it was hard to put into words, almost magical? Personification can take writing about an experience like this to the next level because in a way you give your description a little bit of magic.
But personification is definitely not limited to poetry. You can use it in any sort of writing to add an extra level of drama and description. For example, when I look out the window, I see laundry dancing on a clothesline. This sentence conveys to you not just that I am near some apartments with balconies and that it is a breezy day, but that I am most likely in a cheerful mood since I also endow the laundry with a happier action—dancing.
Look through some of your writing and identify moments that seem a little dull, or in which you can better convey some emotion and description. Try adding some personification!
Here’s an example of a description of a day at the beach. The use of personification jazzes up the scene while at the same time conveying the speaker’s melancholy disposition:
I had to get out of the house, so I pulled open the sliding glass back door, which groaned in acquiescence, and walked down to the beach. The wooden planks of the boardwalk wandered aimlessly and listlessly down to the water. I followed them, glancing up at the kites, floating lifelessly above. Their cheery colors seemed to mock my sadness and the events of the last few hours. As I reached the sand, the grains individually poked the bottom of my feet, eager to bother me just enough to be noticeable but not enough to really be in pain. “Yow!” I stepped on a shell which had been baking in the sun; it scorched me demonically. I plopped down in the sand nearby and closed my eyes, allowing the wind to stroke my cheeks soothingly. I felt myself calming down, and stretched my bare feet out, and the cool waves tickled my toes. I began to drift off into sleep until “beep beep beep” -- a metal detector that swept a few feet behind my head woke me up. I slowly stood up and made my way back home, the wind following behind me like a loyal friend.