“Thwizzit”* why onomatopoeia writing matters
“Lively, well-paced, flowing, strong, beautiful: these are all qualities of the sound of prose, and we rejoice in them as we read. And so good writers train their mind’s ear to listen to their own prose—to hear as they write.”
—Ursula K. Le Guin, Steering the Craft
There is so much that goes into writing, right? At least that is what you’ve been told…
You need to read in your chosen genre (assuming you already have picked one).
You need to understand your audience, your competition, your keywords, your killer headline or title, what writing software to use, and how to use it.
You need that special time of day and that special cozy writing nook.
Should you use your laptop, or paper and pen?
Yada, yada, yada. You get the point.
Hmmm, what are we missing here? Spell checker, grammar checker? Sure, sure.
No, grasshopper, something much humbler…something that because of all the noise and distraction that now surrounds the act of writing we writers have lost track. You need to remember that all writing is made up of single
When was the last time you read something aloud? When was the last time you rolled some tasty words on your tongue just for the joy of how they exploded in your ear? Remember the fun of onomatopoeia writing? Those yummy words that sound like what they mean, such as crunch and slither?
How much fun is your own writing to write and read?How much fun is your own writing to write and read? Click To Tweet
Writing, at least of the creative kind (and perhaps all kinds), should evoke some emotion if the reader is to connect and engage with it.
But you can’t get to the emotion of words if you don’t spend time with the individual words themselves. Ursula K. Le Guin, in her book, Steering the Craft, provided examples where writers have written with joy and abandon with the shape, sound, and rhythm of words.
Most associate these elements with poetry, but there is no reason that your prose can not also be enlivened with the noise of words. Here is an example from Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories:
BEFORE the High and Far-Off Times, O my Best Beloved, came the Time of the Very Beginnings; and that was in the days when the Eldest Magician was getting Things ready. First he got the Earth ready; then he got the Sea ready; and then he told all the Animals that they could come out and play. And the Animals said, ‘O Eldest Magician, what shall we play at?’ and he said, ‘I will show you. He took the Elephant—All-the-Elephant-there-was—and said, ‘Play at being an Elephant,’ and All-the-Elephant-there-was played. He took the Beaver—All-the-Beaver-there-was and said, ‘Play at being a Beaver,’ and All-the Beaver-there-was played. He took the Cow—All-the Cow-there-was—and said, ‘Play at being a Cow,’ and All-the-Cow-there-was played. He took the Turtle—All-the-Turtle there-was and said, ‘Play at being a Turtle,’ and All-the-Turtle-there-was played. One by one he took all the beasts and birds and fishes and told them what to play at.
If you find it a challenge to write like this, Le Guin suggests that you pretend you are writing for children. (To warm up, go back and read your favorite onomatopoeia writing or Dr. Seuss).
When writing more formally, decide on what key emotion(s) you would like to elicit from your readers. Brainstorm a list of emotional words that do this (or sign up above for my Power Words cheat sheet). Once you have your list, pick three of the words and say them aloud. Are they impactful and noisy or are they, meh. (Hint, you never want, meh.)
I also like to do a close reading of words and look up their etymology, or their history. Sometimes their history reveals some surprising results that takes my content deeper or in new directions. If you have never done this before, please give it a try (see writing prompt below).
Writing prompt – my Best Beloved, go forth!
Choose a piece of writing that you have done. Think about the key emotion that you’d like to leave with your readers. Have you used words that achieve this? Pick at least three words and look up their etymology. If that first layer of word history doesn’t spark anything new for you, go back in the etymology history and uncover the deeper roots of the word. What surprising thing have you learned about this word that you can incorporate into your existing writing? Perhaps it sparks some new ideas for new material great! Go from there.
If the above does not float your boat, take a piece of your writing (or new writing) and write it for reading to kindergarteners. Go for fun and surprise. Go for fear and anxiety. (Think Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are). Try onomatopoeia writing. Do not forget to read your work aloud and make some word noise!
The overall point of this exercise is not to write for children if that is not your thing, but to find ways to remember that words are individual, have histories, and emotional tones.
If you’re brave, please share your results in the comments below. Zoinks! What are your favorite onomatopoeic words?
Please join the #500WordsClub and let us know what you’re working on!
Carla Paton, Ph.D.-c is a writer, marketer, and Depth Psychologist. She loves helping writers with quick and easy marketing tips so they can get back to writing. Grab your free Power Words Cheat Sheet for Busy Writers, and then make those words shine!
*Mad Magazine cartoonist Don Martin, already popular for his exaggerated artwork, often employed comic-book style onomatopoeic “sound effects” in his drawings (for example, “thwizzit“ is the sound of a sheet of paper being yanked from a typewriter). Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onomatopoeia