Zoink Swoosh Cachink Psst Gurgle Splat Buzz Thunk

Sound Effects

How do you feel about words that are created to mimic sound effects in fiction?

You’re reading along, the words are flowing nicely, the story has a smooth pace. Then, without any warning. BAM! There comes a word, all by itself, disrupting the flow, shaking things up for you as reader as much as it is for the characters.

I like it. However:

  • This device loses effectiveness the more it is utilized.
  • The spelling and sound need to agree with me.

It isss posssible to have a high frequencssy of sssuch sssound effectsss, but the sssituation mussst call for it. For example:

  • It may accentuate a character’s unique speech pattern.
  • More use could appeal to young readers (think Dr. Seuss).

When I say that the spelling must agree with me, I don’t mean that it has to follow some standard spelling. A new sound effect word may be refreshing.

What I really want is to agree with the way it sounds.

Don’t give me a rirr rirr when it’s more of a ree-ro ree-ro.

On the other hand, you also have to be reasonable as a reader. If you can say, “Okay, maybe it could sound like that,” you need to accept it.

As with the spelling of a character’s name, there is an aesthetic property associated with the way the letters of the sound effect are selected and arranged. For example, a swoosh is a smooth, unassuming sound effect, while a thunk is hard and abrupt.

Sometimes it’s unnecessary to devise a new sound effect. For example, if two objects collide, why not go with one of the words already in use, such as bump, clunk, thud, or splat?

Is it useful to emphasize the word with CAPS, italics, boldface, or color? The sound effect already stands out because of its unique spelling. Very often, it appears as a single-word sentence. If it already stands out readily, perhaps added emphasis isn’t necessary.

What are some of your favorite sound effects?

Clink clink gurgle gurgle biff biff pau.

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing), Facebook page, Twitter

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7 comments on “Zoink Swoosh Cachink Psst Gurgle Splat Buzz Thunk

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