I know what you’re thinking. (budding mind reader right here) You’re thinking one of three thoughts: “What does ‘anthropomorphizing’ even mean?” or “You couldn’t have spelled that right the first time.” or “Why is he using Kung Fu Panda to illustrate his point yet again??”
The first question will basically be the topic of the entire article, so we’ll let that one sit until I address it. Actually, for your information, I did spell that right the first time without looking it up–I know, I was surprised as you are. And lastly, Fung Fu Panda is awesome. Who wouldn’t want to illustrate their point with a big fat panda? (sorry, THE big fat panda)
First, a little etymology (the study of the origins of words): “Anthro” comes from the Greek, meaning “man”. “Morph” also comes from the Greek, meaning “shape”. Therefore an “anthro-morph” would be a “man-shape” That’s not a literal definition of the word anthropomorphism, but you could infer the meaning from the root.
Anthropomorphism is treating anything non-human (animals, trees, rocks, machines, etc.) as if it was a human. It’s as if you’re making a person out of your dog, or your clock, or your pineapple (like Tom Hanks does in Cast Away). It can include non-human things being portrayed as human-like, or it can include non-human things merely being treated as if they were human. This can take a variety of forms.
I always have said that anthropomorphizing moviemakers think they can get away with particularly naughty double entendres just because they practice anthropomorphization. (See the movies Robots and Happy Feet for particularly striking examples, Cars if you know what to look for) Hence, Kung Fu Panda. (I think it’s one of the better anthroporphizations because it borrows on Fung Fu tropes more than it borrows from tropes of humanity…but that’s beside the point)
But it’s everywhere. Think of your favorite animal movies. Many films and books have talking animals. That’s the biggest one, but cars and planes and trucks have their own little anthropomorphized niche. Heck, if you thought that was bad, we have anthropomorphized vegetables in VeggieTales.
You may have anthropomorphized in the past, which is totally fine. What’s do do, huh? You just pick half a dozen mice, rabbits, dogs, and cats and portray them in a middle-ages-type kingdom, fighting against the weasels or bears or something. How could that be so hard? (Hint: it isn’t really)
Anthropomorphism is, at its heart, stealing. You’re borrowing something that is not a person and making it person-like. (Or in Pinocchio, where the thing in question ends up becoming an actual person) It’s definitely much easier than creating your own idea. However, it is nonetheless acceptable.
However, there is one technique that I call “Wild Analogizing”. It is a form of anthropomorphization and can actually be quite fun. As the name suggests, the technique consists of taking a seemingly normal idea and inflating it, essentially creating an incredibly large (and wildly different) analogy.
Example: yesterday, I was sitting on the deck of my house, looking out into the yard. Now, it’s mentally taxing to think up new ideas for blog posts five out of seven days of the week. I was thinking of a new idea for a blog post. Absentmindedly, I picked up a dandelion and blew the seeds off, out into the yard.
As is my wont, I began to conflate things. I would take something random and blow it up like a balloon. So I imagined that the dandelion was really a person, and that all the dandelions were people. Their goal was essentially to get all of their seeds out into the wild so they could reproduce. Therefore, a dandeperson’s (?) greatest achievement is to float all their seeds away. After doing so, they would die, and each of their seeds would grow up to be an reincarnated dandeperson (in fact, they would grow up to be literal clones of their progenitors. The dandepeople want to preserve themselves by procreating as much as possible.)
Thus, you would get a sort of hierarchy: the most successful dandepeople would be the most prolific, like families. The most prolific families would be the rulers, and the least prolific would be underlings, like slaves. Then, what would happen if you had a dandeperson who was the only one of his kind?
You can see how that evolved. I took certain characteristics about dandelions and thought “how would this behave if it were a human?” I anthropomorphized, using the special “Wild Analogy” technique. Try it out. It may give you a few ideas.
Good luck, and happy writing!
Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Until then, writers!