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Back to Basics: Personification

For this Back to Basics mini-course, we’re talking about personification. Each Back to Basics course includes a challenge at the end to help you experiment. Let’s look at the basics.

When writing stories, you never want dull moments. Everything should feel like it has a place and a reason for being there. Personification can help you flesh out the details and add more life to your story. What’s personification? Why’s it important? In this Back to Basics course, we’ll discuss personification.


#1. Defining Personification

Personification is giving human-like qualities to something that’s not human. It can be things like an object, a place, or nature itself.

Example: The wind hissed.

In this example, the wind has been given personification. By saying that it hissed, it suggests that the wind is angry and maybe hostile. It gives something that’s not human some distinct attribute. This is the basis of what personification is.


#2. Why is it important?

Personification is important because, as Art of Smart says, it can “enhance the imagery and engagement of their texts, and to set the scene of a story.” Personification adds more depth to a story. It can give more meaning to something that would otherwise be so ordinary. How might a writer go about describing a house? You could list off all the different rooms in it, how big or small it is, and how old it is. That’s fine if the house isn’t meant to be particularly relevant to your story outside of just being a backdrop, but what if the house was meant to be very important? Personifying the house would be an important way to get that across.


#3. Using personification to make objects significant

Personification shines new lights on otherwise uninteresting things and can even make those objects feel like their own characters. Continuing with the example of the house, using personification can be a great way to establish the significance of it. If the house is old, instead of just saying that, you could convey that point through some personification.

Example: The floorboards groaned loudly whenever someone took a step.

By saying that the floorboards groan, it makes it seem like they’re a real living thing and that they’re having interactions with the character. They’re groaning; possibly out of annoyance, maybe out of pain. Regardless, they’re much more lively and give the reader a better sense of what’s going on as opposed to just saying that the floorboards creaked.


#4. Turning objects to life with personification

Of course, you can also use personification in a more direct way, and many writers do. Personification can be bringing objects to life in a much more literal sense. Like the candles and teapots effortlessly bursting into song and dance in Beauty and the Beast or everyday vehicles suddenly turning into sentient robot warriors in Transformers. Using personification in a much more grand approach like this is a very fun way to get readers interested.

It’s worth noting though that this style of personification should really be used if it makes sense for the story. Objects being brought to life works great for a fantasy or sci-fi setting, but it might not translate very well to a story that fits into a genre that’s meant to be more subdued and realistic. It’ll likely take readers by surprise if, after 15 chapters of your ultra personal political drama, the main character suddenly gets swallowed by his chair.

Now that you know a bit more about what personification is, let’s look at the challenge.

The Challenge:

Choose one of the prompts and write a flash story. Aim for 500-1000 words.

  1. Your character thinks their laundry machine has a face. They’re certain after it talks to them.

  2. Your character tries to drive their beat-up car. Use personification to show just how worn-out the car is.

  3. Your character is pretty sure the electrical outlets are watching them.

Thanks for joining us for this Back to Basics course. If you tried this month’s challenge, you can share it on our forum or on social media using #WWB2B. You can also send us your challenge for feedback as soon as possible, via dropbox on our Back to Basics page. Thank you and I will see you all next time!


About the author: Izhan Arif is a Teaching of English major at UIC who loves to write in his spare time. Izhan is also a very big fan of comic books and comic book TV shows and movies, he hopes to write his own comic books at some point as well.


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