Apr 18, 2010

Onomatopoeia or Overwhelming Writing Devices

O is for Onomatopoeia

When I teach poetry as part of English/Literature studies, I always include a lesson on onomatopoeia, mostly because my students get a laugh because I can't pronounce it without 4 or 5 goes :-).

Descriptive words that sound like an action or noise when spoken out loud, create the effect of onomatopoeia. For instance, the word to describe water falling in small portions from a tap is called a drip - drip, drip, drip. Poets tend to have a natural talent for using onomatopoeia words, but they can be effective in fiction as well, especially if you're writing for a younger reader.

If you are anything like me, you can sometimes get overwhelmed by all these literary devices and rules that we should be including in our writing. My humble advice is... just write your story, when you go through in your revision you can tighten your plot, characters and writing style. These sound words are simply another way of showing instead of telling.

Imagine writing about a bad guy pointing a gun at his intended victim - instead of saying he shoots its, the simple word. 'BANG' lets the reader know what's going on and can make them feel like they are there. Here's an example of sound words I'm using in The Warracknabeal Kids:
CRACK (lightening hitting a gum tree)
THWAT (slingshot shoot at poor innocent chicken)
AUWK! (sound made by poor innocent chicken)

Sometimes I find examples that I don't think sound like the real action at all (like a dog saying 'woof' or 'Zzzzzz' for snoring). Really listen to actions and try to work out what sound they make, I've used: 'Hmmnn, Hmnnn?' for a puppy's whine. Have some fun with it :-)


  1. Thanks for this! I love onomatopaeia! (Did I spell that right? I'm too lazy to doublecheck!) One of my favourites: Thwock! (The noise a tennis ball makes when hitting the racquet).

    Have a great weekend!

  2. It does bring the reader into the action but I have a hard time with this one. Other than the obvious, describing/writing sounds does not come easy for me.

  3. Onomatopoeia explained beautifully! I'm not a writer so love that you took the time to explain this so well.

    Thank you and I hope you have a wonderful day!

  4. wow another big word. I've never heard of it before. Great post, very helpful :o)

  5. Thanks for the comments!
    Talli - love the tennis sound effect!
    Jaydee - it doesn't come natural to me, I go around trying to imitate the sounds to see which letters I'm using, sometimes with success and other times I just end up with something like: 'bligfhet'
    Lisa - you are just a sweetie! You always have nice things to say to people on their blogs - you're a nurturer!
    Niki - don't worry, before my uni studies to learn to teach English as a subject, I hadn't heard of it either :-)

  6. I always feel a little foolish using one of these. I don't know why. Maybe it's the whole comic book association. However, I enjoy their use in other people's stuff. What a contradictory thing the human brain is.

  7. Onomatopoeia is such a fun literary device. I love teaching it to my poetry students! :-)