An update from our twenty-fourth Writing Workshop!
A summary of the workshop held on Saturday October 10, plus some of the output published below
This week our founder William Rubel led a workshop on personification: writing that brings objects, places and things alive by ascribing human characteristics and emotions to them. We read some vivid examples and discussed some techniques writers use to apply personification to their work, from passages that depend fully on personification, to others where it is used sparingly to really highlight a particular point.
To watch a video of the instruction in full, click here
The Writing Challenge: Write a paragraph, short story or poem rich in personification.
The Participants: Nova, Rithesh, Charlotte, Georgia, Peri, Lucy, Simran, Liam, Maddie, Jonathan, Olivia, Tilly, Samantha, Janani, Madeline, Chloe, Ma’ayan, Ying, Juniper, Lina, Ava, Sophie, Enni, Elbert, Dhesh, Sophia, James, Lucy, Emma, Gia, Sophia, Georgia, Angela, Lena, Olivia, Anya, Abby, Hera, Becca.
As the sun set on the old dilapidated house, the trees bowed up and down with the wind. The birds danced in the sky as the clouds angrily flew through the air. The crickets sang their song in the tall grass as it waited for the rain. Then it started to pour. The sky roared and lightning shot through the air like shooting stars. Soon a dark scary silhouette appeared in the sky and it approached me.
"Are you the door master?" he asked with a deep rough voice.
"Yes, are you the code keeper?" I asked.
"Yes," he replied.
"Did the boss send you?" I asked.
"Don't you mean the King?" he said . . .
The White Pillow
Just like a pillow or cushion, it was soft and stuffed, but inside it was a stopwatch. That stopwatch had a button and when pressed the stopwatch would turn into a sword.
A sword so sharp that it could cut through the world’s strongest metal.
A sword so sharp that if you drop a single hair on the blade, it could slice it in half.
That sword was once yielded by the most powerful elf soldier in Xroga, Lily Shasatra.
Mother only said to use it in case of an emergency and right now was a big emergency.
A Delicate Day
Anya Geist, 14
The air was very delicate that day; it seemed to hover in the sky, perfectly still, as if afraid that the slightest movement, the slightest sound would shatter it, sending it down to the ground in shards of glass. And the air was cold and still, frosty and frozen, holding its breath until some unknown future day came.
The trees all around were bare and frail. Their branches stuck into the air like the decrepit fingers of a lady about to die–they were thin and small against the blank, white sky overhead.
And on the ground there was snow, just a few precious inches of snow, that blanketed the impoverished, cracked dirt beneath, that covered scattered cobblestone streets, and clung silently to the roofs of houses. It seemed as though there should be more snow to fall, more flakes to twirl peacefully and gracefully to the ground, but there was nothing. The air was still.
There was a house a little ways from a small village–just a few dilapidated buildings covered in that drab layer of snow which seemed to be bleakly grey although it was in fact white–that was atop a small knoll. The house did not perch nor did it stand on this hill; it was not in a condition to do either, as its walls were crooked, the windows smashed, and the door slightly ajar.
A man walked up to the house, his footsteps making near to no sound on the snow, and he stared at it, exhaling a wintry puff of breath. He was of medium stature, wearing a black hat and wrapped up a black wool coat, a coat that writhed with the mysteries that the man himself did not know the answer to. He pulled his hands out from deep pockets–they were gloved–and stepped cautiously toward that open front door.
As he approached the front stoop–which had caved in–he pulled his fingers out of the gloves and flexed them slowly. They were long and pale, but very much alive; although in some undefinable ways they were resemblant of those fragile branches nearby. Taking a deep breath, he crept over the wreckage of the stoop and stood before the front door. Then he held out his hand–it shook terribly–and pushed on the rotten wood. It swung rustily open, as though movement was a concept which was foreign to it.
And he walked inside. This was a fast action; he wanted to get it over with, and soon it was. He was now in the front hall, if it could even be called that. If there had ever been any furniture there it was long gone now, replaced by–nothing. There was no mold, for it was too cold for that, and the house was just intact enough that it didn’t let too much of the weather in. Instead, an aching emptiness filled the space. Old faded wallpaper was peeling, exposing even older crooked walls.
The man took off his hat as he looked around. He held out the hat; ghosts of a hatstand, of loving hands which would lift the hat away, flickered before his eyes. But they were only that: ghosts. A flash of pain contorted his face and eyes momentarily, and then he nestled the hat in the crook of his arm, shook his head, and kept moving.
He moved through a warped doorway and there was a kitchen. In the windows there were no panes, only jagged bits of glass that glinted like tears which had thrown themselves to the sill. The room felt exposed, alien, like this, and now there were real tears blossoming in the man’s strong blue eyes.
He brushed the tears away with his cold hands, and looked around. A table and chair, knocked over, were all that remained in the room besides an old fireplace and some scattered logs that used to be neatly stacked, but were now everywhere, confused and discombobulated.
He pulled the chair to the fireplace and gathered the wood tenderly into the dusty fireplace. Then, sitting down on the creaky chair, he withdrew a box of matches from one of those deep pockets. He struck one, and watching the flame slip into life, he placed it on the logs. He fanned it with his hands, and soon the fire caught.
The man blinked, then blinked again, and soon he couldn’t stop. The tears streamed down his face, onto his mysterious coat and his ghostly hat. The tears fell and fell and the dark, curling smoke from the fire twirled and flew into that preciously still, silent, frail air, tainting its purity . . .
And then the sky broke.
Battle of the Skies
Peri Gordon, 11
Clouds jaunted cheerily through the sky as they headed for their destination. They traveled in their various friend groups, smiling as they drifted through their lush, blue field. Some of them waved to the sun as they passed by, others were small and shy and tried not to be seen by the majestic, golden king.
Then from the west came a terrifying cackle, and the most horrible beings came forth. They were much too large and puffy and wore the ugliest shade of gray. They drove back their innocent cousins, dressed in white, until no more of this pure color could be seen. The cackles could be heard again, along with deep, resounding war cries that demanded power.
The white clouds were no longer in sight now, banished from the area, probably so sad and miserable that they had become rainclouds, sobbing over the world in great sheets.
They had lost yet another Battle of the Skies.
Liam Hancock, 13
So here I sit, idle in front of the profound execution of justice unfolding my before eyes, and I am stupefied. I’ve survived the journey to this place, and it took miles of suffering and doubt, yet here I am now, and all of my power has been whisked away. I’m nothing more than an onlooker—a stroke of the brush without thought, a ray of the sun left un-noted in the desert. My mind has been stirred like broth simmering over heat. I want to go home, I want to leave this place, I want to brush myself off and return to my old day-to-day life with a day-to-day job. But the pot still stirs and boils, contradictory and unable to find confidence in one single thing, conflicted and lacking uniformity.
The breeze tousles the leaves, a father running his gristly fists through his son’s hair. The world is waiting. The world drifts and groans and scampers and flows, but it is still and it is waiting and I seldom know what for. Before me, the lone tree observes the silence. Its branches are dancing with the wind, rebellious and shivering. The wind heaves forward, waving banners through the clouds. The great everything has taken a side, and I’ve been swept along with it. And the lone tree, the head of the court, gazes through me without eyes to gaze with.
A squirrel scampers out into the clearing, his eyes darting without purpose. The onlookers are merciless, drilled into silence, and his panic arises into fear. His small head winds back into a dreadful squeal, a howl of the wolves, a roar of the bears, a hoot of owls. Yet it is not mighty. It is pitiful, it is pathetic, and its time has passed. Now there is only despair as company. And here I sit, idle, stupefied, before profound justice.
For what the squirrel is prosecuted I cannot know. Yet I am entranced, myself being nothing yet the world being everything. The world is still. The wind scarcely moves, the grass not dares to sway. It is an indescribable, heavy, unbearable silence that can’t be ruptured even by the unspoken guilty charge that has been delivered. And the howl is gone, and the painting emerges back into motion, and the grass sways, and the wind gently tousles the leaves, and the father loves the son, and the son loves the father.
My own heart seems to rise into my chest, allowing breaths to filter through my nose and blood to flow with a sigh of relief through my pores. But the squirrel still stands, stupefied, idle, under the undeniable power of justice. Tentatively, at first, the vultures swoop down and balk at the stillness of it all. The spiders spread their spindly legs off its fur. There is no protest, no resistance. The squirrel is frozen in time.
But then a battle begins. The vultures peck each other apart and the spiders burrow into deep mud. Squirrels leap from tree to tree, mourning and vengeful, yet fall from great heights as their adversaries rejoice. Blood seeps into the ground and the sky screams in woe, but the battle remains. The vultures fight for the squirrel, the squirrels fight for revenge, the spiders fight for shelter, the wind spirals and hisses through branches.
Yet they are fighting for nothing. The squirrel’s fate has been delivered. There is nothing for it to live for, and nothing to die for. And now, frozen forever in nothingness, the squirrel’s blank eyes stare into the tree’s invisible ones. There is peace—such horrid, violent, atrocious peace there, where only the living can ever truly die.
Wrath of the Wind
Enni Harlan, 14
A wide strip of gushing water wound onwards through the patch of trees. Rain pattered aggressively against the umbrella of emerald leaves as angry clouds scoured deviously for a crack to send droplets creeping in through. A gust of bitter wind whipped the barren ground, reaching out a greedy hand only to sweep up any shrivelled leaves abandoned by their fathers. In the midst of this stormy tantrum, the water had grown from a youthful stream to a robust river raging onwards mercilessly, stopping for none.
A boy sat on a stony ledge over the river, staring down at his murky reflection in the gurgling water. The howling wind brought raindrops darting sideways, slapping the boy’s face with a harsh laugh that resounded loudly in his ears. It was evening now, and yet he showed no signs of returning. He’d watched complacently as a syringe sucked sunlight from the indigo sky until all that was left was gray clouds. That was alright, though. He liked the color gray. It reminded him of his sister’s eyes.
They’d come here often when they were younger. They’d etched drawings into the rough bark of that towering oak tree they’d dubbed their own. The boy smiled, remembering how they had sheltered high up in its branches as the wind whispered long-lost stories. And then, sometimes, his sister would sing a song while delicately fingering the petals of a dandelion, her sweet voice dancing from one treetop to the next.
Crouching by the sopping wet soil, the boy picked up a smooth gray stone. His eyes sparkled as he fingered the flat rock and wondered how far it would skip down its watery path. If his sister had been here, they’d have placed a bet on it.
A crack of thunder erupted from behind, and the sky was torn in two for a split second. The boy whirled around just in time to see a tall oak tree–their tree–go plummeting towards the ground. The powerful wind ruthlessly snapped it in half as if it were a twig, and then there was a painfully bare patch in the woods.
The smooth gray rock was sent flying furiously out of the boy’s grasp. It danced down the watery grave until it disappeared from sight.
The Roses Red
Lina Kim, 10
The roses red danced in the wind, swaying silently,
The daffodils yellow and white, moving to and fro.
The pines and hazels talk among themselves, though somehow noiselessly,
Their fallen leaves being blown around, wondering where to go.
The squirrels chitter and chatter, and bluebirds chirp together,
The flowing water babbling, speaking to the grass,
The worms digging on the dirt looking for a home,
The fish traveling in a school, others in a mass.
There are deer, raccoons, foxes, and mice,
The forest is a wonderful paradise.
Madeline Kline, 13
Note: This piece was based off the song "Lily" by Alan Walker.
Lily stared out her bedroom window at the gaping mouth of trees and clouds, glowing in the setting sun. It was big. And scary. But it called to her. The voice of nature ringing out through her ears, inaudible to everyone else. Her parents were asleep. Everyone in the household was. She needed to see it so badly. All her life, growing up inside her castle, she was told how dangerous the outside world was. How there were creatures that would deviously lure her in, only to swallow her whole.
But the voice was so beautiful, and the light filtering through her window was just begging her to step outside.
Lily snuck down the hall, following the voice that was guiding her heart. The creaky old door gave a soft moan as she opened it, stepped outside, and closed it behind her. The soft earth crunched beneath her bare feet, so cold, and yet so soothing. The voice rang louder. She broke into a run, towards those beautiful trees with the dancing emeralds.
The song whispered through the trees, as if they were passing along a message to all the plants and animals. Lily was cradled by the soft breeze, holding her close to its heart.
The Song continued. Before, in her bedroom, it was just a melody. When she stepped into the woods, harmony was added. Now, it had lyrics.
Follow everywhere I go, top over the mountains or valley low, give you everything you’ve been dreaming of, just let me in.
Yes. Lily’s dreams came alive, dancing in front of her eyes.
Everything you wanting, gonna be the magic story you’ve been told, and you’ll be safe under my control, just let me in.
The voice was enchanting. Hypnotizing. And Lily almost didn’t realize it when a wolf came creeping up in front of her, grinning and singing.
Suddenly, the world melted away. She was standing on a frozen lake, flurries of snowflakes dancing around her head, blinding her. Forming the shape of a wolf. She smiled, and stepped forward. The ice broke. Lily fell through the hole, awakened by the cold. She was back in the forest. Standing up she ran. Screaming into the howling night, the wind pushing against her, trying to hold her back. Preventing her cries for help from being heard.
“Is there someone out there? Please, help me! Come get me!”
The wind pushed her back into place while the wolf continued to sing behind her.
Everything you’ve been dreaming of…
Lily was dreaming again. Back on the ice. Back with the blinding snow. And this time, when she took a step forward, the ice didn’t break.
Samantha Lee, 11
I looked into my old bin. It was faded sky blue and had my name written in sharpie in the top left corner of the back. L-I-L-Y. My 6-year-old handwriting was big and bold. My bin had handle flaps on either side. Rough mesh and blue like it. They were worn and stretched from the number of times I’ve picked it up. The rest of the bin felt soft and familiar, the texture of an old, old shirt you got from school and wore four million times. It had soft edges from time and sturdy sides. The bottom on the inside pulled out so you could fold it up. I never did.
I took a deep breath in. I smelled sand and chocolate and lemon and more on the surface of the bin. I smelled memories. The sad ones smelled like minty herbs. The happy ones smelled like vanilla ice cream. I remembered the soap a shop had given out on Halloween. It smelled sweet and yummy, almost. So many things this bin reminded me of.
I rummaged through the rest of the bin. It sat, dusty, on the hardwood floor of my musty attic. My old shoe box of cards was right at the bottom. It had a pink lid and little pictures of animals on the sides. This box was full of memories. So was this bin. It held memories of 5 years, many places, and even more people. I would always have my memory bin. Blue is a free color, and memories, no matter what they are, are free too.
Elbert Park, 8
The trees swayed angrily in the wind, swaying hard enough so that their roots down below could have started complaining. For some reason, the wind kept on getting stronger–cars were skating around as if driving on ice. Somewhere, a radio was frantically broadcasting the weather report that kept on changing by the second. I was running in a dog track team, but I wasn’t paying attention to my running. I was paying attention to the trees arguing about which tree should go where, which very unfortunately led me on a different path than the rest of my team. The second I looked at the arguing trees, I crashed into a tree myself. Because of its size, the tree didn’t seem the least bit annoyed. I had only made a small dent in it, but I started clawing at it. If I had to survive in the wild myself, I might as well get my unreasonably sharp nails filed. I kept on clawing. I think a few mice ran away, along with a few squirrels, but I wasn’t distracted. As a small but well-trained golden retriever, I knew that staying on track with what I was doing at first was better than getting distracted. It would have been nice if I had an owner, because then maybe this wouldn’t have happened. Me and the other dogs on my track team were let loose when we were babies, because the unfortunate, shell-shocked pup store that we were born in had a big unforgiving budget cut. I hoped that what was to come next would be good. Because my nails were now all filed, I now started hearing my surroundings again, like the frantic, fighting trees. And I ran, I ran as if my running was a robber swiping money from a bank then running away silently. I ran like the world was chasing me, because I had a goal: To get back home.
Child's Perception on Trees
Gia Porwal, 10
Look! The sun is dancing through the leaves,
Oh! How much it does according to its please.
Swings in the mighty storm,
Tree sings with the bird at their home.
In summer, it stands firm and strong,
Giving peace to one who long.
Fall brings leaves to shower,
Making them pile up like a tower.
Winter possess a coat of white snow,
Which gives tree extra touch of glow.
Spring raises cloths of leaves and flowers,
And looks splendid in afternoon hours.
The tree waits for animals,
All tame and cannibals.
It keeps growing every day,
Looking down at the children who play.
The leaves take care of the fruits,
And make food with the supplies of roots.
When they all are well fed,
It’s their time to go and rest.
Lucy Rados, 13
An icy, angry wind raced along, as if it needed to be somewhere quickly, heedless of the things it crashed into. As it went, it picked up snow flakes that had been lying quite peacefully on a soft blanket of the ground, throwing them about, carelessly tossing them aside. It furiously pushed past the people trying to shovel their driveways, tearing their scarves off of their necks and carrying them far, far away before dropping them. The people, like the trees and the buildings, were just another nuisance, another reason for the wind to speed up. Suddenly, without warning, the wind, as if hearing something or someone call it, spun around and raced off in another direction. This time, however, the wind was much gentler. With a new direction, it was given a new purpose. It slowed around trees, gently tousling their leaves. The trees blew and whispered, singing a quiet song that grew into a symphony. The wind brushed water off of flowers, before finally stopping, slowing to a finish in its long journey of the day.
Mother Earth Is Alive
Angela Tang, 12
The poppies danced with the smell of joy
A million secrets held beneath their blossoming petals,
The lightest tint of gold.
The grass gossiped with each of its jagged blades,
Cutting through secrets not worth to keep
Gifts not worth to give
Lives not worth to live
The clouds lingered as beasts of mist
Though their translucent chips of life
Barely held by a few strands of life
There is knowledge deep inside
Experience that no one knows how to give away
Nor change the imprint
Already embedded in the ornate creases of someone’s life
The sky blew endless
Moaning it’s sad, sad song
Beastly giants filled it with a hue of cerulean
Gatekeeper of a world below
Not as endless
But not as vague
Laughing with the smell of a future
The Earth is alive
Bearing the weights of its future on her back
The dancing and joy of the poppies and grass
The lonely sorrow of the sky
That we stare at it every day but not once notice it
The Earth is alive
As alive as all of the people below
The Earth is alive
Another life among the millions taking shelter in the cloak of the universe
Dheshethan Thanigaivel, 11
It was the happy day! The happiest day of my life! My parents and I were finally going on a hike! So, I put my best clothes on, packed up and headed to the car. When arrived to the place we were going to hike, I got down from the car, and stepped on the gooey mud. Ewwww! The mud was sticky like glue and thick like syrup. Then, I walked slowly so I wouldn’t get the mud all over my boots and pants. And that’s when we entered the forest. The forest was dark and gloomy, the wind was a howling wolf. The small, muddy stream was a laughing clown. Then suddenly, a roar came. It was a loudest sound in the history of the world. It stopped the the wind from howling. It stopped the stream from laughing like a clown. Then, I realized the sound, sounded a lot like a dinosaur. This started to feel like Jurassic Park. So, I tiptoed toward the sound. I didn’t know what I was doing. So, I pulled the leaf, and the sound roared again, but it wasn’t so loud anymore. It didn’t sound like a dinosaur. In fact, it didn’t even sound an animal. Because it was my dad shouting through a microphone. And just like that, the mud was gooey, the wind was a howling wolf, the stream was laughing, and I was crazy!
The Friends in the Forest
Sophie Y., 10
As I sit in the forest, breezes silently giggle and play with my hair. They try to pull me up to play with them, but I tell them I’d prefer to sit and watch them instead. “Your loss!” I can hear them quip.
The winds continue to dance and laugh and play pranks. They wake up the soft grasses and bright flowers at my feet. Now, they are all tickling me. I giggle and try to pull away from their comforting grasps.
“Race you!” one breeze calls in my ear. All the winds whipped forward toward a clearing up ahead. I run with them too, trying to beat them there.
And I am stopped by a small, smooth black stone that sends me toppling to the ground. The stone is dried up and tired. It was begging me for a dip in a lake.
I scooped it up and raced to catch up with the breezes. One gust pushes me forward, and I almost fall into a nearby pond. I look at the stone in my hand. “Please,” it groaned to my hand. Without hesitation, I tossed it into the pond. It skips across the surface joyfully and makes a swan dive into the bottom of the water.
“Sweetie!” a distant voice calls to me. The winds are suddenly still, hovering protectively over me. “Time to go home!”
I look at my forest friends. “You keep playing. I’ll be back soon. Tomorrow.”
We have a deal. I skip back the way I came, the mosses grabbing at my ankles to pull me back. “I’ll be back tomorrow!” I tell them.
When I reach the field where my parents were cleaning up a picnic, I feel a soft breeze whisper in my ear as a final farewell.
“Come back soon, my friend.”