What made Walt Disney’s cartoons unique when they were first introduced? Personification. Disney grabbed anything within reach and gave it human qualities–feelings, abilities, speech, etc. And the tradition continues in Disney’s later films. For example, from Beauty and the Beast: Mrs. Potts, the talking teapot, the clock and the candlestick–all inanimate objects brought to “life.” Even the beast himself is an example of personification.

Personification is not only used for cartoons — it is widely used in poetry. Consider Emily Dickinson: “Because I could not stop for death – he kindly stopped for me.” Advertising makes great use of personification with such characters as the Pillsbury Dough Boy and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

We even use personification in much of our conversation, probably without realizing it: creeping fog, helping hand, etc. It is a powerful description tool in both fiction and nonfiction writing.

Here are a couple of examples of personification from my fiction WIPs (Works in Progress):

From an historical:

The group followed the Humbolt River, the watery beast that forced their wagons back and forth across its banks numerous times while it played hide and seek, ducking in and out of wide and narrow canyons. After three weeks of toying with the travelers, the tributary eventually converted into a maze of sloughs and swamps until finally, swallowed by the desert at its alkali sink, the waterway hid its miserable head in the sand.

From a contemporary:

I clasp my hand around the offered pen and lean over the guest book. A swag of hair sneaks down and blocks my vision. I don’t even try to fling my hair back into place like the cute girls. For one thing, it doesn’t have a “place”; it has a mind of its own. Or perhaps my hair doesn’t have a mind of its own but is instead, possessed. That’s it – I have demon hair.

Today’s Exercise:

Look around your home/office/yard/wherever you happen to be at the time and select an object. Write a sentence or two (even a paragraph) and bring that object to “life.” How can you use personification in your next blog post?

Please share your work with us in the comments section.

Until next time,

Happy Blogging!

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#1 Jenny Carlisle on 12.10.09 at 12:24 pm

The open Bible waits as my husband left it, encouraging more exploring, more illuminating, more reflection. How friendly it seems now, remembering a time when it intimidated me with it’s sheer importance.

Thanks for the exercise, Linda. Your examples are wonderful.


#2 Linda Fulkerson on 12.10.09 at 12:35 pm

Hi Jenny! It’s great to hear from you! Thanks for stopping by OBW and for participating in the writing exercise. Hugs, Linda

#3 Rachel Lowrance on 12.11.09 at 7:59 am

Hi, I’ve been reading your blog and finally decided to post. :) I love personification! It really brings any writing to life. Here’s something I came up with for your exercise:

The door refused stubbornly to open. Shaking its head solemnly at me, it would not give in, much as I pushed and prodded at it. But I was stubborn too. I kicked it hard, and with a bang it finally let go its hold on the door frame. It opened weakly, though still protesting with a squeak this rough treatment.

#4 Linda Fulkerson on 12.11.09 at 9:27 am

Hi Rachel — thanks for reading On Blogging Well! I’m glad you decided to post a comment and let us know you’ve been lurking out there. 😉

That poor door, LOL! You’re right — personification can bring any piece of writing “to life.” It’s a great way to perk up your prose.

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