Story Stuff: O Is For Onomatopoeia (And Other Sensory Words)

Yes, I spelled onomatopoeia wrong the first time. And the second time. And . . . well, let’s just all be thankful Google and dictionaries exist.

Today in our series we’re talking about sensory words, including but not limited to the aforementioned ridiculously hard-to-spell one.


Sensory words go very well with tomorrow’s topic (so be sure to come back for that). They take the reader from casual observer to participant – now they aren’t just reading about a campfire. They’re smelling the smoke, seeing the blue and orange flames, feeling the heat, and hearing the crackle.

Onomatopoeia are words that look like how they sound (I’m not sure the other senses have their own big word to identify them). If you’ve ever written about a crackling fire, a sizzling egg, or a booming firework, you’ve used this device. The original Batman series made especially good use of them.

Batman GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Maybe they get their own word because sound words are usually the last ones we think to include (at least they are for me). Having a character take in how something looks is easy and automatic. How things feel, smell, sound, and taste are usually only mentioned if they stand out (or if it’s dark). However, they’re necessary for anchoring characters and readers in the scene.

Rather than pick apart each sense and listing words (I’m pretty sure that’s something we can handle on our own), I thought it would be fun to share bits of our writing that have lots of sensory details. Leave yours in the comments, along with where it came from (can be a WIP or published work).

Mine is from my current WIP, The Seventh Seed. This is a chunk of first draft narrative, so don’t judge me too harshly. 😉

The guard tossed three sets of handcuffs through the small opening in the cell door. They clanked on the cement. “Put those on each other. Behind your backs.” He coughed.

Liz pulled her collar over her mouth, but the smoke still burned her eyes. They had to get out of here.

Charlie instructed Mattson to turn around, and he secured the bracelets on his nephew’s wrists. He then faced Liz. “Put these on me, and then I’ll get yours. I can do this without looking.”

Dropping her collar, Liz grabbed the cuffs and tightened them around the cop’s wrists.

“Okay.” He wiggled his fingers. “Now put the last pair in my hands, as open as you can get them. And turn your back to me.”

Liz took shallow breaths and kept her eyes open a slit as she followed his directions. She showed him where her hands were by touching his fingers, resisting the urge to jump when he touched her butt.

The cold metal circled her wrists, and the door clicked open. The guard grabbed Charlie’s arm, pulling him towards the back door. Liz and Mattson followed close behind.

The smoke grew thicker. Her throat tightened and burned, and the sensation reached her lungs. She was suffocating.

Eyes burning, Liz pushed her way past the guard and Charlie. She didn’t care if the guard shot her in response. She had to get out.


The yell didn’t stop her. She pushed against the door with her shoulder and hip, and fresh air hit her like a welcome brick.

A hand grabbed her arm, pulling her off the path. She fell to the ground.

9 thoughts on “Story Stuff: O Is For Onomatopoeia (And Other Sensory Words)

  1. Pingback: Story Stuff: U Is For Underwear | Allison Maruska

  2. The tower didn’t seem set high enough to have a lower level. Most things in Florida didn’t.

    She pushed the leaves away with her foot. It appeared to be a door. Kneeling, she brushed away the moist black dirt. She clapped her hands to knock the mess off them. The sudden noise inside the small area was louder than she expected, echoing up the tower’s insides and nearly scaring her. She glanced at her hands, frowning. They were stained nearly black.

    Whatever. The thick wooden door appeared relatively new, which is to say, it didn’t look hundreds of years old like the rest of the tower. It was square, with huge black hinges on one side and a big iron ring on the other. She worked to slide a finger under the rusted pull, forcing the aged metal to comply. It inched upwards, letting her grasp it with her whole hand – but not without leaving a few marks on her fingertips.

    Gina pulled. The door did not move.

    She placed one hand on the side of the little door and grasped the ring firmly with the other hand, taking a deep breath of the putrid air.


    She sat back on her heels, staring at door. It didn’t appear heavy enough to withstand her pulling on it. Maybe it was stuck. She put her hands on the sides of the wooden frame, trying to jiggle it back and forth. It didn’t budge.

    A drop of sweat fell from her forehead. She sat back again, wiping her shoulder across her brow.

    She grasped the stubborn ring one last time, using both hands, putting her foot on the side of the door.

    Her fingers crowded the iron ring. She strained her arms as the rough metal dug into her skin.

    The door opened a fraction. The wood bent against the old hinges, slowly opening to a dark cavity below. She grabbed the edge of the door and pried it open.

    The aroma of fresh water and the sounds of the spring emanated up from the dark space. Gina leaned forward carefully, trying to not catch a stray bat or spider in the face. Cool air flowed up from the cellar. She pushed the door open wider. Dirt and spider webs lined its edges. Inside, a set of stairs descended to another concrete floor.

    She leaned back, reaching a foot out to touch the first stone step. It was free of debris, unlike everything else in the tower, and its edges were clean and straight, not worn down like the ones going up the tower wall. The only dirt on these steps was the dirt she had just allowed to fall in on them.

    She put some weight on the step, testing it to make sure it wouldn’t crumble to dust and drop her the twelve or so feet onto the hard concrete below.

    It held.

    – from The Water Castle

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Blogging From A to Z Challenge – Theme Reveal! | Allison Maruska

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