Literary Devices: Pathetic Fallacy

Hey Lovelies!

I want to talk about more setting stuff this month, or at least for a week or two. Why? It does tie into world building a little bit and I wanted to expand on some of the ideas I posed in the previous post on setting. SO, we’re going to kick start this off by talking about pathetic fallacy.

Let’s look at our definition:

Pathetic Fallacy: refers to giving human emotions and actions to animals, plants, and other parts of nature. Examples of this type of attribution include cats that think devious thoughts, a brook that seems happy, and trees that are worried.

Now, doesn’t this sound familiar to another literary device? If your mind immediately conjured up the word anthropomorphize, then you’re not going crazy! The two devices are related to each other. Here’s the definition of anthropomorphism:

Anthropomorphism: is the attribution of human characteristics and qualities to animals or deities.

Now, the differences are very subtle and nuanced and we will most likely will get into anthropomorphism in more detail at another time. So, we’re just going to focus on the differences between the two terms right now.

Pathetic fallacy projects feelings onto animals or objects. Anthropomorphism has animals or deities acting like humans. So, one is all about feelings and the other is about adding substance for the characters or setting. A great way of thinking about anthropomorphism is that it is every Disney movie with animals. The animals think and act like us. They have intellectual reasoning, walk on two legs (in some cases), have visible emotions, etc.. Pathetic fallacy is when you have someone crying in their room as it rains outside. Your dog gets excited because you’re excited.

Now that we have that hammered out, I’m going to tell you why using pathetic fallacy will help your story:

It helps solidify your character’s emotions. Imagine you just broke up with someone. Now, most of us have a playlist of break up songs. They usually start off sad or angry and they progress as you progress with your grieving process. Each phase of your break up playlist helps with your mood at the time. The sad songs help you cry. The mad ones help you get those angry and betrayed feelings out. When you’re finally over the person, for the most part, then you have some happy and more up beat, I am so glad you’re gone, songs.

Pathetic fallacy works like this as well. It can help solidify your characters emotions. By having those emotions show up in your environment or setting mirrors what’s going on inside your characters. That’s why we usually have a character walking away in the rain when they’re sad.

It can build tension in your story. Kate Chopin’s story, The Storm, uses pathetic fallacy to help her with the tension in her story. She does use it to mirror what’s going on with two of her characters and then this contrasts between the calm and stillness of the other two characters in the story. With the threat of the storm and the possibility of it abating leaves the protagonist with a bit of fear that her husband may come home. I don’t want to ruin the story for you – it’s beautifully written and well done, so go read it for yourself.

It gives the illusion of character to your setting. By giving your surroundings feelings or emotions, then you get the effect that it is more than just a place in which your story is set. It makes you think that the world around your characters is alive, which is what you want.

That’s it for me today! I hope this has helped! We will be looking more closely at anthropomorphism next week. We’ll also keep talking about setting.

I hope everyone has a great weekend!

Until next week!



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Danielle Adams

Danielle Adams

Danielle Adams is a writer and editor for a local marketing agency. She has formerly worked as a writer for the Investing News Network and as an editor for Whetstone, a bi-annually published literary magazine. Aside from writing, Danielle has an unabiding love for all marine life and the outdoors. She loves taking long hikes with her husband and cooking delicious meals in the kitchen.


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