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Personification: What Is It and How to Use It in Your Writing

Jakob Straub
Jakob Straub, Content Writer

So, what is personification?

Personification is a really interesting part of language. It's a type of figurative language where non-human things are described as if they were human. This approach gives human qualities to objects or ideas, which can make what you're reading more relatable and vivid.

In this post, we'll cover what personification is all about, including some familiar personification examples from literature, movies, and even a few examples of the phrases we use in daily conversation. Grasping how and why personification is used can be a great tool in your writing toolkit, whether you're aiming to be a better writer or a screenwriter. It's all about making your storytelling more engaging and relatable!

What is personification?

Personification is all about giving human characteristics to non-human things. It's a common writing technique in the arts, where we often see things like virtues, sins, or even concepts like life and death taking on human forms. Cities, countries, and even corporations can be personified, described with human-like qualities to make them more relatable.

As a literary device, it's not just a splash of vivid description; it can also breathe life into non-human characters. It's one of the many types of figurative language, like synecdoche, hyperbole, and simile, which work at the idea level. This is different from other literary tools like alliteration or onomatopoeia, which are more about the sound of language.

Let's look at an example:

Simile: "This item looks like it has your name on it." This means something seems perfect for you, as if it were made just for you.

Personification: "This item is screaming your name." Here, the item isn’t literally screaming, but it's described as if it can call out to you, just like a person would.

In writing, personification can create a vivid image in the reader's mind, but it needs to be believable. If the metaphor stretches too far and the reader can't relate, it loses its effect. The same goes for film – if an inanimate object suddenly comes to life, it's more convincing if this happens early in the story, helping viewers suspend disbelief and get absorbed in the narrative.

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Why use personification in writing?

If you think personification is just for children's stories or animated films, think again! It's a powerful literary device for all kinds of creative work. Here's why it's such a great addition to your writing toolkit:

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    Natural Connection: Personification taps into our human tendency to see human characteristics in non-human things. Readers often find it natural and intuitive, making it easier for them to connect with your story.

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    Emotional Engagement: When you give human qualities to non-human inanimate objects, readers can empathize with it. This deepens their emotional connection to the story and the characters' feelings towards that object.

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    Illustrating Relationships: You can use personification to show how a character relates to an object, an animal, or even an abstract concept. It's a great way to express these relationships through dialogue and actions, adding depth to your characters.

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    Dynamic Storytelling: Just like any relationship, the one between your characters and personified elements can evolve. This allows you to highlight the changing importance or role of these elements in your story.

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    Enhancing Descriptions: Personification is a step up from similes, which often compare things to others. Personification brings your descriptions to life, creating a more immersive experience for the reader.

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    Efficient Writing: Especially for screenwriters, who need to be concise, personification can be a game-changer. While not always the shortest form of metaphor, its ability to explain concepts and quickly evoke emotional responses makes it incredibly effective for engaging readers or viewers.

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Examples of personification

Let's explore a few personification examples across different creative mediums!

Personification in film

Animated films are a playground for personification. Take Disney and Pixar movies, for instance, which are full of famous examples of personification. Think about Zootopia with its entire society of animals acting just like humans, or the lovable creatures in The Jungle Book.

But it's not just animals that get the human treatment. In Frozen, we see Olaf the snowman playing a role that is typically human. Beauty and the Beast takes this a step further with a talking clock, teapot, and candelabra engaging in human-like conversations. And let's not forget the Toy Story series, where toys lead secret lives and have adventures of their own.

_[Beauty and the Beast trailer](

In Moana, the sea and nature themselves are personified. The sea acts like a protective guardian, while nature sometimes comes across as a stern mother figure. And in Inside Out, human emotions take center stage as characters like Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust vividly portray what's happening inside a child's mind.

_[Inside Out trailer](

These examples show how this type of figurative language can breathe life into non-human characters, making stories more engaging and relatable.

Personification in screenwriting

In screenwriting, personification is a great way to show a character's connection to objects or their emotional state, like in Cast Away with Wilson the volleyball. It's important for this to fit the character and plot, so it doesn't feel forced.

Personification can also bring your script to life. Instead of plain descriptions, use personification to make scenes more dynamic:

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    His foot is caught by the roots.Personification: The roots catch his foot.
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    The door is sticking as she tries to close it.Personification: The stubborn door is refusing to close.
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    A shrieking sound can be heard.Personification: A shrieking assaults their ears.

This approach helps avoid passive language and keeps your script vibrant.

Just be clear with your intentions. If you write "The walls are closing in," make sure it's clear whether it's literal or a metaphor for anxiety. You might say "The walls seem to close in" and use visual cues to convey the feeling. This way, personification not only enhances your script but also guides the visual storytelling.

Personification in literature

Personification brings a unique flair to literature. In Ernest Hemingway's The Snows of Kilimanjaro, death takes on a tangible form as a prowling hyena and an ominous visitor, vividly capturing the protagonist's sense of mortality.

William Shakespeare was also a master of personification. In plays like Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream, he personifies celestial bodies with human attributes, referring to the moon as a "watery eye" or stars as "entreating." Juliet’s line, "Come, gentle night," is a classic example of asking the night or day to come or stay.

These examples highlight how personification can add depth and emotion to storytelling. In screenwriting, similar techniques can suggest visual cues, like describing a boat "cowering before towering clouds" to imply its vulnerability, guiding the camera work.

Personification in common language

Personification sneaks into our everyday language more often than we might realize. It’s our natural way of adding human traits to inanimate objects. For example, we might call a stuck drawer 'stubborn', say a car 'eats' miles, that the wind 'howled' or that the sun is 'hiding' behind clouds. It's a simple yet imaginative way we spice up our daily conversations.

Sometimes, idioms incorporate personification too. Take 'life handing you lemons' – it’s as if life, an abstract concept, is performing a human action. Or 'the pot calling the kettle black', where kitchen items seem to be having a conversation.

These examples highlight how personification and idioms add color and creativity to our everyday speech, showcasing our innate flair for expressive language.

Improve your writing with personification

Your use of personification depends on your unique style. It's up to you how much you incorporate. Just be careful not to force it. If it doesn't fit naturally with your writing style, it might throw your readers off.

When employing personification, think about what you're trying to convey. Does the figurative language enhance your message? Does it suit your or your character's voice? Consider how your words might be interpreted literally. Being mindful of these aspects can help you use personification effectively, making your writing more engaging and vivid.

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