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Personification: good for writing not weather

Tips for personification in writing

The extent of my storm damage: a shredded banana tree.


For over a week it’s been all about the weather here on the east coast of the US.

I’m a Weather Channel junkie, and though I don’t watch it on TV anymore (I pulled that plug awhile back), I do check in regularly online. So I knew there was a high probability of a serious storm in my area, and I started prepping four days before it hit.

I watched the news online and followed social media as the tragedy unraveled. Over and over, expressions like nature’s wrath, the hurricane’s fury, punishing waves, and angry wind were popping up everywhere.

Personification of inanimate objects and forces of nature is common; it’s a part of any good writing. Adding human qualities to the not-even-alive adds color and vibrancy to descriptions that might otherwise be dull.

Strong waves swept over the town just doesn’t capture a scene quite like furious waves wreaked their havoc on the hapless townspeople.

And by conferring human characteristics to natural phenomena, we make sense of the world in ways we can readily grasp.

But even though personification makes for good writing, nature doesn’t have emotions or intention.

Wind and waves and storms are functions of atmospheric conditions, and you don’t have to be a meteorologist to understand the basics.

We not only personify nature in our writing, but many of us also believe—usually sort of subconsciously—that nature picks and chooses its victims according to some sort of a system, whether it’s a secular lottery of luck or a system of punishments and rewards doled out by the Almighty.

Words like armageddon, end times, and apocalyptic have also danced out onto the stage. Those who suffered little or no storm damage say God was looking out for us. Some of the less fortunate say God must be punishing us or what did I do to deserve this?

Thing is, nature doesn’t have intentions. And while I don’t like to mess around with anyone’s religious beliefs, I have a hard time believing that the Judeo-Christian God commonly invoked here in the US sends punishment in the form of storms.

If that were true, then we’d have to ask what did the people of Staten Island do to deserve what they got? What about those two little children ripped from their mother’s arms? What did the lower half of Manhattan do to deserve their punishment? What did anyone on the New Jersey coast do to earn their share of the storm’s violent wrath?

Ah, yes. End times. None will be spared except those who believe they’ll be raptured up into the heavens right out of their flooded homes and cars.

Seems to me, if God or nature were punishing anyone, it’s ironic that the Atlantic City casinos emerged virtually unscathed and scheduled to open only five days after the storm. What kind of god watches over glitzy gambling joints?

I don’t know why my neighborhood was spared.

Hurricane Sandy—post-tropical superstorm Sandy, that is—made landfall a mere 60 miles from where I live near Philadelphia, and its center passed just south of here.

I didn’t lose electricity except for a few brief flickers and surges while transformers lit up the sky like bombs. Within walking distance of my house, hundreds of families were without power for days. Nearby towns remain without power five days later, people are homeless, and the weather’s turned cold. All around me and in neighboring states, thousands of people are suffering.

Why was I spared from the violence unleashed all around me?

While personification makes for good writing, nature has no personality. Even if Hurricane Sandy Inflicts Punishment on Millions is a great headline that grabs readers’ attention, it’s nothing personal.

Wind isn’t angry. Storms aren’t full of wrath or vengeance. Waves and storm surge don’t choose victims. You’re either in the path or you’re not, for whatever reason.

There’s nothing you can do to earn a reward of no damage or no loss of power. If you believe your God was watching over you, that’s great. But what does that say about your neighbors?

And there’s nothing you can do to earn a punishment of, say, a tree falling on your house or getting swept away in a flood. If you believe you can, I won’t argue. Maybe it’s a karma thing. Or maybe you should figure out what your more fortunate neighbors are doing so you can be spared next time around.

Nature just is. Nature is whether we’re here or not. Tides ebb and flow. Waves crash. Storms develop and progress in response to conditions in effect at the time.

No matter how we might wish there were some human-like system to the destructive forces of nature—that neither intends to destroy nor spare—there isn’t. It just is.

Comments are always welcome.

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2 comments… add one
  • It’s so true there are people that feel that everything is against them because the storm hit their home. In reality the storm didn’t specifically target you. It just happened to go that way and you happened to be in the way. It’s unfortunate but that’s how it is.


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