Some of your favorite writing likely employs what we call personification, but it can be difficult to understand what that means without seeing personification examples. What is an example of personification, exactly? How do you know when you use this tactic in your writing?
In this article, we provide a list of personification examples for authors so you can take your writing to a whole new level. Personification is a great writing tool and can be used to add dynamics to a scene that otherwise would simply not exist.
Like most writing rules, personification should be used with discretion. Everything in moderation, right? So first, let’s start with some examples, then dive into the definition, and lastly, end with a step by step guide.
What Is Personification?
Personification is when you emphasize a non-human’s characteristics by describing them with human attributes.
- She loved little boy
- The tree was happy
- A new and energetic wind
Personification, when used in specific instances, can help make non-human nouns (for instance, a tree), act like a human and come to life.
Have you ever felt the grip of cold? The bite of wind? The caress of a warm, gentle wave on the shore? These are personification examples in writing.
When it comes to personification examples for authors specifically, consider this: Every writer and reader knows and understands the human experience personally. What better way to create a connection between the story and those reading it than to employ what we all connect with most—humanity?
Now now that you have a basic understanding of what personification is, what is an example of personification? Let's go over a list of 10 personification examples that will help you form a better understanding of this literary device.
10 Personification Examples For Authors
Below is a list of personification examples for authors that you may or may not easily pick up on. However, it’s important to provide you a few examples prior to a definition so you can pick up on a few areas: How easily it can blend in, how it helps the setting come alive, and how it’s been done.
1. The Giving Tree, Shel Silverstein
“Once there was a tree
And she loved little boy.
And every day the boy would come
And he would gather her leaves
And make them into crowns and play king of the forest.[…] And the boy loved the tree very much.
And the tree was happy.
But time went by,
And the boy grew older.
And the tree was often alone.”
The Giving Tree is one of the most popular personification examples. The tree experiences love, happiness, and loneliness, giving it human qualities.
2. A Separate Peace, John Knowles
“Peace had deserted Devon. Although not in the look of the campus and village; they retained much of their dreaming summer calm. Fall had barely touched the full splendor of the trees, and during the height of the day the sun briefly regained its summertime power. In the air there was only an edge of coolness to imply the coming winter. But all had been caught up, like the first fallen leaves, by a new and energetic wind.”
In A Separate Peace, peace deserts, fall touches, and the wind is energetic. There are so many personification examples in this one quote alone, and many more within the full novel.
3. The Tell-Tale Heart, Edgar Allen Poe
“Death, in approaching him had stalked with his black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim.”
The Tell-Tale Heart is a wonderful example of personification in writing. Death is made into a character in its own right, and it stalks and moves like only a human can.
4. The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
“There is something subversive about this garden of Serena’s, a sense of buried things bursting upwards, wordlessly, into the light, as if to point, to say: Whatever is silenced will clamour to be heard, though silently. […] Light pours down upon it from the sun, true, but also heat rises, from the flowers themselves, you can feel it: like holding your hand an inch above an arm, a shoulder. It breathes, in the warmth, breathing itself in.”
In Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale we get plenty of personification examples. In the quote above, the garden breathes and is subversive, qualities no garden can truly have.
5. Flight, John Steinbeck
“Five-fingered ferns hung over the water and dropped spray from their fingertips.”
Steinbeck's short story Flight gives five-finger ferns actual fingertips – and gives them human actions that personify the plants.
6. Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare
“Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she.”
Yes, even Shakespeare used personification! In Romeo's famous speech, the sun is fair and the moon is envious and grieving.
7. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
“Death, that strange being with the huge square toes who lived way in the West. The great one who lived in the straight house like a platform without sides to it, and without a roof. What need has Death for a cover, and what winds can blow against him? He stands in his high house that overlooks the world. Stands watchful and motionless all days with his sword drawn back, waiting for the messenger to bid him come.”
Here is an other example where death is personified. In Their Eyes Were Watching God, death is a being with toes and a house of its own.
8. The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway
“But the old man always thought of her as feminine and as something that gave or withheld great favors, and if she did wild or wicked things it was because she could not help them. The moon affects her as it does a woman, he thought.”
In The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway describes the ocean as if it were a person: feminine, wicked, and withholding, making this novel the perfect example of personification.
9. The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson
“Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”
The Haunting of Hill House is a perfect example of personification in literature. Shirley Jackson makes Hill House feel alive and sinister through the use of personification, saying the house is insane and is standing in wait.
10. Paul Revere's Ride, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“In their night-encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, ‘All is well!'”
In Paul Revere's Ride, Longfellow makes the wind whisper, watch, and creep – using personification to add an enveloping atmosphere to his words.
Now that you've seen some personification examples in literature, let's talk about how you can use personification in your own writing.
Using Personification Examples in Different Genres
To help get you thinking, it’s important to include personification examples in various genres.
What is an example of personification in horror?
“The poison snuck along the floor, crawling closer as it dripped from above.”
How about an example of personification in romance?
“The ring flirted with the sunlight, sending sparks of joy in every direction.”
What about a dystopian sci-fi novel?
“This close to the city, oppression hung in the air. People walked with their hands over their mouths, as if attempting to keep the smog from gripping their lungs.”
Whether you write horror, romance, or dystopian fiction, personification acts as an aid in bringing your setting to life. It’s not just people who can sing, dance, mourn, laugh, sneak, and yell.
Words can sing. Wind can dance. Rain can mourn. Waves can laugh. Vines can sneak. Thunder can yell. But how should you employ these personification examples in your own writing?
Tips for Using Personification
Here are our top tips for using personification:
Focus on one sense
To begin, choose what you want to come to life. Let’s say your setting is Antarctica, and your protagonist is a man with his dog sled attempting to scout the land. If you’ve ever watched Against The Ice, images likely filled your mind as you read this.
However, try reading the book. Notice where Ejnar Mikkelsen uses personification, or could use it. Could the ice be a sleeping giant? Could the whip of the wind be a cruel villain? Focus on one aspect such as the following:
Next, pair one of the senses with the setting.
- Touch of freezing water
- Taste of falling snow
- Smell of desolation
- Hearing the creak of ice
- Seeing the blinding sun
Finally, add a touch of humanity.
- The water had an icy grip.
- Ice creaked, old joints trying to stand.
- The air smelled desolate, as if trying to camouflage itself from the explorers.
Alright, now on to step two.
I’m still surprised how much studying communication in undergrad prepared me to be a writer. Nonverbal communication is the one type of communication we can never refuse.
Studying the art of nonverbal communication can greatly enhance your mastery of personification.
- People communicate 24/7, whether they realize it or not, which means…
- Your characters are always communicating, which means…
- You can always employ nonverbal personification.
Have fun playing around with it and see what you come up with!
Don’t go overboard
With personification, less is often more. Consider the following two examples:
- The icy water gripped his shoulders, forcing him under, wrapping around him in a stiff hug, and punching the breath from his lungs.
- Icy water punched the breath from his lungs.
Today’s writers are often encouraged to use less description and leave the rest up to the reader. Too much detail and you risk losing your readers as they try to visualize every detail, rather than fill in the blanks for themselves.
Let Your Writing Leap Forward
Now that you have seen quite a few personification examples and tips for using them it’s time to dive into your own writing. To start out easy, try adding one element of personification to the below examples:
- Rain splatted the pavement.
- Sun filled the living room.
- He heard thunder overhead.
How did you do? If it feels awkward at first, that means you’re learning what works and what doesn’t. Embrace the discomfort and keep trying with different personification examples.
But now it’s time to get back to your work-in-progress. You learned how to use another writing rule and now it’s time to execute your newfound knowledge. Ask yourself the following questions as you get back to your manuscript:
- Where could personification make my story come alive?
- Where would personification distract from my story?
- How can I ensure I use personification just enough, and not too much?
Remember, all writing needs editing, so don’t worry about your first tries. Go all in. You can always edit out some of your personification examples later, but the practice will be worth it. Enjoy the process!