WoW: Writing That Sounds Fun

Welcome to Wordsmithing on Wednesdays, where we discuss ways to take our writing to the next level.


That little sound can make my day when it’s followed by an email from a friend, news from my agent, or an announcement of a sale at the Coach Factory Outlet store.

When I first began writing, I didn’t give much thought to adding sensory detail to my stories. I’m a visual person, so painting a scene with vivid description that would enable the reader to picture the setting was my primary goal.

Early in my writing journey, before I’d discovered the wealth of craft information awaiting me in cyberspace, a contest judge suggested I add sensory detail in my work. I remember asking my hubby, “Do you think she actually means sounds, smells, and such?”

Um, yeah!

These days I work to incorporate all the senses into my writing. I’ll admit that sounds and smells, tastes and textures are sometimes added during the editing stage rather than during the first draft, but I make an effort to include them because they bring a story to life, making it a sensory experience for the reader.

One tool I use is onomatopoeia. It’s tough to spell and can be a bit of a challenge to say (ah-nuh-ma-tuh-pee-uh), but it’s fun to put into play.

Onomatopoeia, according to my Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, is “the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associate with it (as buzz, hiss). The ping at the beginning of this post is an example.

A child’s first exposure to onomatopoeia is often animal sounds, which are our attempts to recreate the noise made by each creature. Baa. Meow. Cock-a-doodle-do. Children’s picture books use this technique effectively, and then kids graduate to comic books. I recall those fun sound bubbles in superhero action scenes. Bam! Pow! Crack!

Following are three examples from my current story.

My heroine’s young daughter is looking though a stagecoach window opening.

“She peeked out, whirled around with wide eyes and an enormous grin, and let the dust shield fall into place with a thwap.”

My heroine is entering the hero’s place of business.

The bell on the door of Rutledge Mercantile tinkled as Elenora marched inside . . .”

My hero, who has been tilting back in his chair, decides to take action suddenly.

“The legs of his chair banged against the floor.”

Tinkle and bang are words we’ve all heard, but we don’t have to limit ourselves to known sounds. Creating our own can add to the reader’s experience. Thwap was my attempt to capture the sound of the heavy leather window covering slapping against the damask covered sidewall of the stagecoach.

As with any tool in our writers’ tool belts, onomatopoeia is best used wisely—and sparingly. After all, we don’t want our work to resemble those comic books of old. But on occasion, there’s nothing like a sound word to give our writing that certain snap.

• • • • •

I wanna know . . .

Do you make use of onomatopoeia in your work?

If so, do you have some examples you’d like to share?

Do you think onomatopoeia is too childlike a technique to use in adult fiction?


About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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5 Responses to WoW: Writing That Sounds Fun

  1. The answer to your fist question is simple. I am an audio/visual person and although some might think I am touched in the head, I am always “unaware” of actually writing.

    It is as though my fingers are merely translating what my brain is seeing and hearing. It is the reason I love dialogue. I can hear it and I want my readers to hear it as well as what is going on as the character speaks.

    There is something childlike and magical about writing … period. It is that part of ourselves that we allow to live inside. That child part of us that was always wide-eyed and loved to watch and listen to the world around us. I have a great image of myself as a small child, sitting under our kitchen table while the other four people in my world talked. Since I was a “late” baby, I grew up with mostly adults and spent years “snooping” and listening to conversations others thought I was too young to hear.

    Let your inner child guide you.
    Thanks once again for a great post, Keli.

  2. Susan Mason says:

    Thanks for the reminder to use my senses more, Keli. I don’t think it’s childish. I think it adds a lot to the reading experience!

    Must remember to go back and add audio clues. I’m much better at adding smells.

    Have a great day!


  3. I use onomatopoeia at the end of this excerpt from my MS entitled Buddy for David.

    The night was darker inside the woods than on the road. Tall forest growth filtered the moonlight scarcely allowing any light from moon or stars to penetrate the thick forest canopy. Ceaseless activity of nocturnal creatures broke the stillness again and again. Rustling in the underbrush! A crackling noise! Scurrying feet! Flapping wings!

    Thank you for the great suggestions. I will try using more words that bring about sensory stimulation in text. Blessings to you…

  4. Hey, Keli! I love sensory detail in a book–but I often have to add mine in during editing, too. Especially smells and sounds.

    I have a dog in my current WIP so there’s a lot of woofing 😀 I’ve noticed I use whoosh and swish or swoosh a lot lately. Not sure why!

  5. Anne Barton says:

    I loved those lines from your ms, Keli! The sounds help me feel like I’m there.

    The last word I typed on my wip today was “sizzled” but now that I think about it, I probably should have used “hissed” (to describe the sound embers make when water is poured on them).

    Lucky for me I have a CP who will help me figure it all out eventually. 😉

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