The Oxbridge Editing Blog 28th December 2023

How to Write Sound Effects: Onomatopoeia Usage and Other Techniques

28th December 2023
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Sound effects in writing serve as the invisible architects of a reader’s auditory experience. Just as sounds enhance a movie, your words can make your stories come alive with a variety of sounds. This guide explores how to write sound effects, making your stories more vibrant and engaging.

1. Use Onomatopoeia

At its core, onomatopoeia is the linguistic phenomenon where words imitate the natural sounds they represent. It adds a sensory layer to your writing, allowing readers to not only see and feel but also hear the narrative unfold. In English, we encounter a plethora of onomatopoeic words that enrich our language, from the gentle “rustle” of leaves to the emphatic “crash” of thunder.

Creating Atmosphere with Onomatopoeia

The judicious use of onomatopoeic words can profoundly impact the atmosphere of your writing. Consider describing a rainy day, where the “pitter-patter” of raindrops on the window creates a soothing backdrop. By incorporating onomatopoeia, you immerse your readers in the auditory experience, fostering a deeper connection with the narrative.

Engaging the Senses

Onomatopoeia goes beyond mere auditory representation; it engages multiple senses. Describing a bustling market with the “buzz” of conversations, the “clatter” of carts, and the “sizzle” of street food not only paints a sonic picture but also infuses the narrative with the rich tapestry of everyday life. Through this multi-sensory approach, your writing becomes immersive and compelling.

Avoiding Overkill

While onomatopoeia adds vibrancy to your writing, it’s essential to strike a balance. Overusing these words can dilute their impact and distract readers. Integrate onomatopoeia seamlessly, letting it enhance rather than overshadow the narrative. Like any literary device, moderation is key to maintaining the flow of your prose.

2. Choose Your Moments Wisely

Not every scene requires a series of sounds. Select key moments where sound can enhance the atmosphere or evoke specific emotions. Whether it’s the creaking of a door in a suspenseful thriller or the laughter of children in a heartwarming scene, strategic use of sound effects amplifies the impact of your writing. 

The key lies in understanding the emotional resonance of each sound effect. Ask yourself: How does the sound contribute to the atmosphere? What emotions does it evoke? Is it a subtle note or a crescendo that demands attention? By posing these questions, you can pinpoint the moments where sound becomes more than an accessory—it becomes an integral part of the narrative structure.

3. Vary Your Vocabulary

Diversify your vocabulary to avoid monotony. Instead of repeatedly using generic terms like “crash” or “bang,” delve into the richness of the English language. Explore synonyms and descriptive adjectives to add nuance to your sound effects. A “shattering” glass has a different impact than a mere “break.” 

Rather than relying on the familiar, consider the dynamic interplay of consonants and vowels that can create an auditory aesthetic unique to each sound effect. Experiment with alliteration to add a rhythmic quality, or employ consonance and assonance to infuse a musicality into your prose.

Let your choice of vocabulary be a deliberate act of storytelling. If a door closes with a “resounding thud,” the reader can almost feel the reverberations. Conversely, a door that “slams” carries a different emotional weight, conveying urgency and perhaps a hint of frustration.

4. Experiment with Punctuation

Punctuation can be a powerful tool in conveying sound effects. Use exclamation points, ellipses, or dashes to convey the abruptness, continuity, or suddenness of a sound. Experiment with punctuation placement within sentences to achieve the desired pacing and impact. 


Ellipses introduce an element of continuity and anticipation. They suggest a sound that resonates or lingers, drawing the reader into a sustained auditory experience. Consider the difference between a gunshot described as “bang” and “bang…,” where the ellipses extend the echo of the sound, creating a moment of lingering suspense.


Dashes, both em and en, act as dynamic pauses or abrupt interruptions, reflecting the abruptness or suddenness of a sound. Placing a dash before or after a sound effect can convey a sudden halt or an unexpected commencement. Picture the stark contrast between a “whisper—silence” and a “whisper—shout,” where the dash punctuates the transition from quiet to loud with dramatic effect.

5. Edit with Precision

During the editing process, scrutinise your sound effects with precision. Ensure that each sound serves a purpose in advancing the narrative or contributing to the atmosphere. Trim unnecessary repetitions and refine your descriptions to strike the right balance between vividness and conciseness.

Elevate Your Narrative Using Written Sounds

From the judicious use of onomatopoeia to the dynamic dance of punctuation, each element contributes to the rich tapestry of your storytelling. By diversifying vocabulary, experimenting with literary devices, and embracing the subtleties of punctuation, you infuse your writing with a sonic quality that resonates with readers on a visceral level.

Remember that your words have the power to not only describe but to immerse, not only narrate but to evoke. The careful selection of sounds and the artful arrangement of words create a multisensory experience that lingers in the hearts and minds of your audience.

Do you have a hidden manuscript in your drawer? Whether you’re seeking guidance on onomatopoeia, punctuation nuances, or refining the overall auditory experience, our team of skilled editors is ready to provide personalised assistance for your writing projects. Get a bespoke quote today.