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Use onomatopoeia to enhance your writing senses

In an earlier post, “Use all six senses to make your story come alive,” I write about the importance of using all our senses when creating a scene. Too often, writers rely on sight or visual cues in the scene and forget to include the other senses.

Touch, sound, taste, and smell are just as important as sight, yet are often overlooked.

What senses do you use the most in your writing?

Find out by taking a chapter and highlighting the five senses with five different colored markers or pencils. I did this recently and discovered that after sight, my most used sense was smell, then sound, then touch. I didn’t use taste at all in that particular chapter.

You don’t need to use every sense in every chapter but you do want your writing to come alive and varying the senses will help you reach this goal.

One way to play with sound is through onomatopoeia—words that imitate the sounds the words describe. We’ve all seen this device used in comic books or in cartoons: POW, WHAM, BAM, etc. But you can also invent word sounds to match anything you want.

Writing teacher and coach, Margie Lawson, recommends the book “KA-BOOM! A Dictionary of Comic Book Words, Symbols & Onomatopoeia” by Kevin Taylor to give your creative ear a boost.

I decided to play with this in a recent scene where my protagonist is walking down the street in the middle of the night. Below is my experiment:

Before:  No streetlights lit up the long, windy, river road and tonight there was no moon. My eyes couldn’t tell the difference between ditch and road so I let my feet pound against pavement to guide my way home.

After:  No streetlights lit up the long, windy, river road and tonight there was no moon. My eyes couldn’t tell the difference between ditch and road so I let my feet pound against pavement to guide my way home. Ta-Tunk. Ta-Tunk. Left foot on the ball. Right foot on the heel, babying my bruised ankle.

“Ta-Tunk” is my made up onomatopoeia word. I created this word by listening to myself limp-walk along a paved road.

Try some onomatopoeia. Even if you don’t use it in your writing, I bet it will make you more aware of the sounds that surround you. It did for me! As I’m writing this, I’m noticing the sound of the dentist’s drill in the next room: buz-zzz-zzzip, buz-zzz-zzzip.

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