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?”
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.
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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?