How to Use Personification in Writing

by Michael Green

When writing, you can express yourself, tell a story or share an experience. To tell the best story possible, you need to use different literary devices to shape what you want to say. A literary device is a tool that writers use to express meaning in their work. Common literary devices include similes, metaphors and oxymorons. While many literary devices can be used to spice up your writing, personification is an important one to know.

What Personification Means

Personification is a literary device that a writer uses to assign a human trait to an inanimate object, animal or feeling. “The car groaned as it tried to gain traction on the icy hill” is an example of personification, because a car cannot literally groan. Using personification gives the reader a more vivid picture of what is happening in the text. The reader will know that the expression is figurative but will be able to envision it in her mind.

Using Personification

Writers use personification when they want to establish a certain mood and help the reader visualize the scene in his mind’s eye. Personification makes a connection between the reader and what the author is describing. Many writers find it natural to give human traits to things that cannot actually have them, and using personification helps the reader relate to the situation or topic. Because the reader has likely experienced the emotion or trait being attributed to the object, he will be able to connect and feel the scene. Personification can help a reader develop a new perspective on something.

When to Use Personification

Personification can be used when writing fiction. Here it helps the author build a more believable story, as the reader will be drawn in by the emotions the object is "feeling." It helps feed the imagination so the reader is more engrossed in the story. Personification is also heavily featured in poetry and songs. William Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson used a lot of personification in their poetry to convey certain feelings and tones. It would be difficult to find a song that did not use personification, especially a love song.

When Not to Use Personification

Personification should not be used in technical writing or scientific papers. While personification is a way to express yourself and describe your surroundings, assigning emotion to inanimate objects and other things that do not have emotions is frowned upon in these circles. In technical and scientific writing, facts are best presented as facts; the objective in this type of writing is not to bring about an emotional response from the reader but rather to present facts in a straightforward manner. Avoid personification in these contexts.

About the Author

Michael Green graduated from one of the top journalism schools in the country, the University of Missouri, where he also received his master's degree in education. Green has taught creative writing, journalism and health and has been published in "Body Balance," "Alive" and "PUSH Monthly."

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