Day 21 -We’re still trying for fun!
We are still in stage 3 Lockdown and still practising social distancing – but not from our pens or computer keyboard!
It’s easy to write poorly, but it’s hard to write poorly every day. Wait. Let’s go back a step: It’s hard to write every day.
Writing is a craft and like all crafts there are techniques to improve your work and to make it stand out from others. One such writing technique or device is personification.
PERSONIFICATION is giving human qualities, feelings, actions or characteristics to an inanimate or non-human object. This can include giving human characteristics to animals or animal characteristics to humans or even writing a story from an object’s point of view.
For example: the window winked at me (winking is a human action, the window is an object); the tree clawed at me – tree branches are not human arms.
- Personification enriches poetry and prose and may be culturally biased because writers experiment, they express their emotions, reflect their upbringing and education and life experience. They will write personal views of certain human attributes, cultural perceptions, and sayings when they write creatively.
- Personification is probably the most common figure of speech we come across and most of us use examples several times a day in speech and writing without realising we do.
- Personification injects human behaviour into material objects or abstract concepts.
Advertisers and marketers use it to sell products all the time. For example: health educators will try to make vegetables exciting to children.
We talk about shoes killing us, colours screaming, a furious sea battering the coastline, a doona smothering us, the wind crying, howling or whispering…
TV adverts talk about cancer as if it is a bullying soldier, an invading army, an enemy of the state… if you have cancer we must battle it.
A house might be a demanding baby to be soothed by a coat of paint…
Pay attention to the seductive ditties, words, arguments in marketing and you’ll understand the value of personification to persuade an audience, drawing them into a world they identify.
Contemplating our own mortality is a struggle and confronting – death is a taboo subject to many families and cultures, so we use personification to describe our feelings:
- The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in the New Testament – usually named as war, famine, disease and death.
- We have depicted death as a serious farm worker (the Grim Reaper) – remember the Aids campaign?
- An old woman with a broom (always witch-like) also used to represent death!
There are various representations for someone described as a fox: a sly old fox, a silver-haired fox, a vixen, a good hunter, an evil marauder, a thief, a murderer… depends on your point of view or experience of foxes and what the story is about.
The Poetry Foundation suggests:
- It’s so easy to personify that many poets don’t realise they’re doing it. Be mindful of your personification tools and use them sparingly.
- Don’t be obscure – if you are writing about a gymnast, readers shouldn’t think you are writing about a light bulb or a tree.
In Emily Dickinson’s poem Death is a gentleman with impeccable good manners –
Because I could not stop for Death
He Kindly stopped for me
The Carriage held but just Ourselves
- Personification can pack a punch.
In 1819, cavalry charged into an unarmed crowd of men, women and children demanding parliamentary reform in Manchester, in the north of England.
About 20 people died and over 400 wounded. The tragedy shocked the country, and it became known as the Peterloo Massacre (the battle of Waterloo occurred four years earlier.)
Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem about the incident reveals his anger and contempt for the politicians fighting the reforms and who he blames for the shocking tragedy:
I met Murder on the way
He had a mask like Castlereagh
Next came Fraud, and he had on,
Like Eldon, an ermined gown;
His big tears, for he wept well,
Turned to mill-stones as they fell,
And the little children, who
Round his feet played to and from,
Thinking every tear a gem,
Had their brains knocked out by them
- Personification can reduce big concepts, events, even people or authority to a level we can understand. It can turn the ordinary into something extraordinary, memorable, or at least something we see with new eyes.
What kind Of Person?
Decide what kind of personal traits or career each of the following could be. Write a sentence or perhaps write a character profile for a story:
In case you are uninspired or unsure, I’ve shared a range of responses from past students:
A shark – a used car salesman, someone in marketing, a predator
A goat – a good climber, a person who eats anything, someone with a ravenous appetite, a stubborn old goat, mindless, randy, agile, nimble, single-minded, socially and physically active
A worm – a bookworm, wriggly, a crawler, worm their way into affections, slimy, shy, retiring
A rabbit – skittery, timid, shy, bright-eyed, brainless, harmless, breed like a rabbit, sexually irresponsible, randy, cuddly, fluffy bunny
A leech – clingy, bloodsucker, parasite, ingratiating, an invader,
An elephant – good memory, solid, stoic, get with the strength, clumsy, blunders, too big for their boots
A snake – slithery, slippery, dishonest, shedding skin, a fake, a bigamist, dangerous, untrustworthy
A wombat – hides away, muddleheaded, determined, a night worker, sleepy, retiring type
A lamb – innocent, vulnerable, frolics, gambols, meek, religious person, a follower
A rat – selfish, sneaky, dangerous, untrustworthy, crafty, survivor, deserter, attacker, insatiable
- When the sun entered the room, he threw his bright light into a dark corner.
- Her warm orange glow made everyone feel better.
- In the evening, she is a buxom wench in flame-coloured taffeta.
- He is the centre of our world, and the day pivots around him.
- The shadow crept around the building as furtive as a thief.
- She huddled cold and forlorn in the shadow, praying for rescue.
- The bushfire raged throughout the night, destroying everything in his path.
Thunder & Lightning
- The thunder roared and lightning flashed and she knew the two giants would fight all night.
- The earthquake swallowed the city in several angry bites.
We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.
Cat on Condominium Rooftop
Soaking up the sun
green eyes ignore life below
people scurry to work
forget to look up
marching ants trudge
to soulless jobs
drones on daily grind
a boring bind.
No such limitations for the cat
rising and stretching limbs
warm tiles a luxurious bed
to sleep and dream of
the tramp of footsteps
cacophony of voices
fading rising fading rising
the daily grind
not his bind.
A butterfly flitters past
pauses briefly on a tree branch
trembling wings bathed in sunlight
green eyes blink, a paw twitches
but passersby unaware
of Mother Nature’s show
weary feet tramp and trudge
the daily grind
grips and binds
An elegant stretch, the cat sits
to watch the dying sun
green eyes observe life below
people scurrying home from work
forgetting to look up
they’ve missed the sunshine
the butterfly’s graceful dance
the cat’s sunny somnolence
their daily grind
a soulless bind
Write about a character or an event and use personification. Here are some sentences that could start you off –
- The cloud scattered rain throughout the city.
- The ancient car groaned into third gear.
- The daffodils nodded their yellow heads as we walked up the path.
- The wind sang her mournful song through the rafters of the barn
- The microwave’s alarm told me it was time to eat my TV dinner
- The camcorder observed the whole tragedy
- The chocolate cake begged to be eaten
- The crockery danced on the shelves when the door slammed
Look around the room, or your home, your workplace, your garden, the local park, a cafe, a place you visit regularly… (some of these will be from memory because of COVID-19!)
Think about inanimate objects and other everyday items – what kind of vocabulary do they have?
- The sturdy, dark brown bookcase in the corner- is it male or female? Cheerful or depressed?
- Could the corkscrew on the bar be on a diet, have a memory of failure?
- Is the bargain basement table sneaky or does it feel second best?
- An antique, leather armchair and an Ikea stool do similar jobs, but do they have different ways of looking at the world
How do you feel about computers? Have you been frustrated and yelled at the computer – how did it answer?
What stories about clocks do you have? Write about your favourite or least favourite alarm clock – perhaps it is a baby’s cry and not a clock at all!
- You may have the same bed after a failed marriage but does it feel the same – maybe miss the previous occupant?
What stories have you about trees in your garden – removing them, perhaps one fell down and damaged something, perhaps you always got fruit and bottled it, had a tree house… do you talk to the trees and do they answer you?
- Those Wedgewood plates you inherited – do they have the same thoughts as you – do they feel fragile, overused, useless, precious?
Here are two of my attempts: Heirloom Horror by Mairi neil, flash fiction of 500 words.
storm in a teacup by Mairi Neil, 400 word flash fiction
In poetry and prose personify a piece of furniture you know well.
- Perhaps it has been in the family since you were born. Perhaps you bought it last week.
- Giving it a name is optional but you MUST give it an attitude!
- Be inspired to write about current affairs, or a historical event a la Percy Shelley
- Use alliteration and personification – experiment and make an effort to try something new.
- Revisit some of your previous work and see if you can improve it by adding personification.
- Do the seasons have a personality? An attitude? Write a poem or short prose using personification and reveal the season’s viewpoint or perspective.
by Mairi Neil
Lying on the beach
waves roll over me,
the warm waves
caress and massage
until colder waves
carve and chip,
with each sharp
intake of breath
a new shape emerges
I am reborn
© 2005 Published page seventeen, Issue 2, Celapene Press.