1. Andrae Smith
    Offline

    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2012
    Messages:
    2,506
    Likes Received:
    1,404
    Location:
    Wandering

    Onomatopoeia: Good or Bad?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Andrae Smith, Sep 14, 2013.

    As the title suggests, I was wondering what you all have to say about using onomatopoeias. What do you think when you see one while reading? Does it jar you, disrupt you, or otherwise bother you? Does it add to the writing? What's your take?

    I've used them before and even recently, but after re-reading them, I feel like a better writer might not have used them. That is, the impact that they carry might be better felt if carried in the tone of the writing, making it redundant or unnecessary to have them. I don't see them often in published literature.

    As an example, in my recent story, I wrote:
    Would you say this one could be removed, or does it add impact to the obvious contrast being set up?

    Edit: This is not to ask for specific advice on how to make the example or my personal writing better, but your opinion on onomatopoeia in general and opinion of the effectiveness of the example.
     
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2013
  2. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,351
    Likes Received:
    2,891
    Location:
    Boston
    It doesn't bother me as long as this device is used sparingly. Like you said, it depends on the tone or effect the writer wants to go for.

    Coming to your example, I've never heard glass go clink when it shatters. I'm not sure what the exact sound would be, so it might just be better to not use an onomatopoeia if you can't think of anything that fits.
     
  3. Andrae Smith
    Offline

    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2012
    Messages:
    2,506
    Likes Received:
    1,404
    Location:
    Wandering
    With regards to the example, I heard clinking, but you're right, it may not be the best one for this case. It may not even be necessary. I actually took it out just before I started this thread ha ha!

    As for onomatopoeia's in general, I'm inclined to believe they are more reserved for children's and young adult novels as they are more responses to actual images and "sounds". Adults can mentally hear the cat's call without the writer throwing in a meow... unless it's some outdated pervert hollarin' at a hooker. >.<
     
  4. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,351
    Likes Received:
    2,891
    Location:
    Boston
    I've seen onomatopoeia used in adult novels (I believe Martin Amis uses onomatopoeia quite a bit), but like you said, it's not that common.
     
    Catrin Lewis and Andrae Smith like this.
  5. Flying Geese
    Offline

    Flying Geese Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2013
    Messages:
    275
    Likes Received:
    66
    It depends on the usage. I would agree that it has to be used sparingly (but still as needed of course). Use them when the sounds have a purpose. Like you wouldn't have to put a sound to a person getting punched in the face, or to a person who is literally walking on eggshells (or anything else where the sound you would here is already understood or expected).

    Like it says in your quote "Clink Clink"...I think that's good because the sound is unexpected. Or at least thats what I gather since that dude yelled "Oh shit!" haha.

    Use too much of it, or use it in the wrong places and the book starts to sound like a comic book.
     
    Andrae Smith likes this.
  6. obsidian_cicatrix
    Offline

    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2013
    Messages:
    1,711
    Likes Received:
    1,453
    Location:
    Belfast, Northern Ireland
    I use it very occasionally, but never as a standalone. For example, in one of my scenes, a character is turning a key in a keyhole, and I use an onomatopoeic word to describe the sound as the tumblers fall into place. It is woven into the narrative, rather than standing out like a sore thumb.

    In the case of the glass, you are using it to draw the readers attention... if you are going to go down that route, and have it stand alone, the descriptive quality of the word needs to be spot-on, and I don't think 'clink' really does the job. Clink is more fitting for the sound two champagne flutes make when toasting. For me it doesn't describe the sound of breaking glass.

    I don't agree that using onomatopoeia would make you a lesser writer. As with so many things, it's a question of using it well. To not do so, would make the sentence read like that from a childrens book.
     
    Andrae Smith likes this.
  7. Andrae Smith
    Offline

    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2012
    Messages:
    2,506
    Likes Received:
    1,404
    Location:
    Wandering
    ^That is a very good point. It is the one thing that almost always makes me laugh when I read comics ha ha!

    ^This, I really like. In more adult literature I see it woven into the narrative as you have described. I think @Flying Geese is right in that I chose a good place to use one as a stand alone. Then again, "clink" doesn't really convey breaking glass well. The word "crash" is perfectly woven in.
    I'd never given too much thought to how they are presented.

    By the way, thanks for this. I think yo're absolutely right.
     
  8. Alesia
    Offline

    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2013
    Messages:
    998
    Likes Received:
    251
    Location:
    Knoxville, TN
    I've actually been thinking about this for days because I'm in a similar predicament. Being that my MC is waking up from a deep coma due to a closed head injury and my POV is first person present, basically from a standpoint of her talking, I considered using an onomatopoeia to describe the first sound she hears when her brain "clicks on" (an electric fan.) I was worried people would consider that unprofessional, but I actually think the disorientation of an addled brain is conveyed better as say: whir, whir, whir... What's happening? Where am I? than: What is that buzzing noise? Where is that coming from? Let me think about this... :D
     
    Andrae Smith likes this.
  9. Andrae Smith
    Offline

    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2012
    Messages:
    2,506
    Likes Received:
    1,404
    Location:
    Wandering
    Well, I can certainly see where it comes in handy since you're writing in first person. I probably wouldn't use it like that in 3rd, but it has an advantages. Try looking at all the possible ways to convey a fan sound. It's got a srt of monotonous humm when you think of it. "whir" works for me, but there maaay be a better one.
     
  10. Alesia
    Offline

    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2013
    Messages:
    998
    Likes Received:
    251
    Location:
    Knoxville, TN
    If it's like the ceiling fans in my apartment it's "fap, fap, fap" :D
     
  11. Duchess-Yukine-Suoh
    Offline

    Duchess-Yukine-Suoh Girl #21 Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 29, 2013
    Messages:
    2,319
    Likes Received:
    743
    Location:
    Music Room #3
    And this, kiddies, is why exact onomatopoeia is not always a good idea.
     
    digitig and Andrae Smith like this.
  12. Andrae Smith
    Offline

    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2012
    Messages:
    2,506
    Likes Received:
    1,404
    Location:
    Wandering
    I agree whole heartedly!
    Mind you it can be funny too ha ha ha!
     
  13. riverbank
    Offline

    riverbank Member

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2010
    Messages:
    96
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Oakville Ontario
    My understanding is that an onomatopoeia is a real word descriptor mimicking the sound that is trying to be conveyed, such as the babbling brook, bullets whizzing through the air, birds cheeping etc.

    "Clinking" would make it as it is a real word and it is a sound. When I hear "clinking" though, I hear glasses coming together as in a toast. "Clink clink clink," could be used in a children's book, or maybe the thoughts of a child in an adult book, as in a horror story perhaps, but I would not use it your context.

    We would never use "varoom" to describe a racing car moving past us because it is a cliche and best reserved for comic books. It is though, not a bad replication of the sound.

    "Clink, clink clink is not a good replication, as it is not loud enough and too rhythmic and soft. No alarm bells.

    I think what you are asking is when can you use sounds in your narration. My guess is you would use them sparingly or not at all unless they were not cliched and absolutely spot on to the sound.

    What is spot on to the sound of glass shattering?

    I dunno.:)
     
  14. Alesia
    Offline

    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2013
    Messages:
    998
    Likes Received:
    251
    Location:
    Knoxville, TN
    Chshhhh?
     
    Andrae Smith likes this.
  15. EllBeEss
    Offline

    EllBeEss Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2013
    Messages:
    301
    Likes Received:
    108
    Location:
    Perth
    I'd be tempted to use clash although that doesn't fit completely.

    The problem is something like kkcshh may describe a sound but the point of onomatopoeia is to give the reader an impression of the sound. Using a unpronounceable sound, even if it fits perfectly can hold up the story because the reader will have to puzzle over what the sound sounds like.
     
    Andrae Smith likes this.
  16. Andrae Smith
    Offline

    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2012
    Messages:
    2,506
    Likes Received:
    1,404
    Location:
    Wandering
    Actually, what I am asking is exactly what I asked in the original post. I provided my own work as an example because it was convenient. Just a little FYI ha ha. I said exactly what I meant. ;)

    As for the rest of your comment, I agree with your assessment. I had the same feeling about the example. It just doesn't quite work for me, anymore. And in most cases onomatopoeia is best used woven into the narrative. Though I do believe it is a matter of the style that the author is going for and the voice he or she is trying to express. That and how well they execute it. :p

    Still, I must admit that stand-alones are more common in works for younger audiences.
     
  17. Andrae Smith
    Offline

    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2012
    Messages:
    2,506
    Likes Received:
    1,404
    Location:
    Wandering
    You are absolutely right. Onomatopoeia is to give a more clear impression of the sound. One of my professors read us a short excerpt that really hooked him. In the excerpt, the narrator is doing something inside and he hears a car drive by outside. It had been raining previously, so the asphalt was wet. Can you imagine the sound of a wet tire going over the paved street?

    The narrator described thus: "...and the old car rubbered by..."

    I thought that was just so clever because, somehow, I could hear that!
     
  18. JayG
    Offline

    JayG Banned Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2013
    Messages:
    642
    Likes Received:
    358
    Location:
    Philadelphia PA
    Clink, clink, clink!

    The problem is that while technically, that's the sound it makes, there is no chance in hell that the word is going to bring the proper sound for what's breaking to my mind because you haven't yet told the reader what broke. And telling me the noise sound after I know it's broken pulls the impact. I can say there were three loud bangs on my front door, and you pretty much know what I mean. But if I say, "Bang, bang, bang. My front door rattles with the blows of someone knocking," can't I delete those first three words with no loss of meaning?

    The short version: The page cannot reproduce sound. It's a waste of time to try.
     
  19. Burlbird
    Offline

    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 29, 2011
    Messages:
    978
    Likes Received:
    295
    Location:
    Somewhere Else
    The last sentence of The Wasp Factory[i/i] by Iain Banks:
     
    Andrae Smith likes this.
  20. Kefa
    Offline

    Kefa New Member

    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2013
    Messages:
    10
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Finland
    What kind of sound does baseball bat hitting a soccer ball emit? No way in bell it's a klong like in my manuscript.
     
  21. Andrae Smith
    Offline

    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2012
    Messages:
    2,506
    Likes Received:
    1,404
    Location:
    Wandering
    It doesn't make a sound easily replicated. I'd probably embed it into the narration with something like, "...and the bat made contact with a muffled thump..." Or something like that.
     
  22. BillC
    Offline

    BillC Member

    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2013
    Messages:
    39
    Likes Received:
    17
    Location:
    Cairns, Australia
    I'd be wary of including it in something intended for readers out of early grade school. Sounds like a book my nephew 3yo loves about a road crew:

     
  23. Kefa
    Offline

    Kefa New Member

    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2013
    Messages:
    10
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Finland
    To clarify, it's meant to be a chilren's novel isnpired by comic books and made for pre-teens.
     
  24. KaTrian
    Offline

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 17, 2013
    Messages:
    5,566
    Likes Received:
    3,563
    Location:
    The Great Swamp
    There's a difference between whir whir whir or click click click or fap fap fap and verbs such as: to clash or to slosh or to crack or to smack. The former has to be used sparingly, imo, more to a comedic effect, perhaps, tongue-in-cheek like, while the latter won't take the reader out of the story that easily. This is the case with me, at least. Bang, pow, boom can be, at times, more effective and suit the scene (especially if it's supposed to be funny) than "the gun went off, her fist landed on his face, and the bomb exploded," but I'd myself stick to verbs that carry the sound but aren't comic-like.
     
  25. Andrae Smith
    Offline

    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2012
    Messages:
    2,506
    Likes Received:
    1,404
    Location:
    Wandering
    You know, I think I have to agree with that. :p
     

Share This Page