View Full Version : Pow Bam Boom Bang .... and other loud noises

07-17-2009, 11:05 PM
How do you write in a loud noise? I'd like to interrupt the scene with a crash....but not quite sure how to write it in. I don't want it to read like a comic book and use symbols ..... yet, "crash" doesn't seem to deliver.


07-18-2009, 02:06 AM
Use an alternative verb that best suits the cause of the crash, and focus on how the noise effects your characters? Bob spilled coffee down his shirt as the door slammed open. Mary screamed as the window shattered. Random examples, maybe too simple.


Juliette Wade
07-18-2009, 02:32 AM
There are a lot of ways to approach it. Putting the crash in directly as onomatopoeia can be effective, but must be done in moderation to avoid the comic book effect. The description of reactions to a crash or other loud noise can work, but if you put the sound in a subordinate clause, like in dpaterso 's examples, that can diminish the strength of its effect.

Sometimes I like to put it in a clipped sentence, like "The sound of footsteps." I find this works for me because I use a very close 3rd person POV, in which the fact of describing the sound implies that it was perceived by the main character (because everything described is by necessity perceived by that character). You could go with something like "A sudden explosion -" after which you could head directly into character reactions or other sensory impressions associated with the blast.

Matera the Mad
07-18-2009, 05:52 AM
Use adjectives if necessary. Show effects of the sound, startled people and rattling windows/teacups. Contrasting moment of extreme silence after.

07-18-2009, 05:55 AM
They can feel deep sounds in their stomach. If an explosion happens far enough away, they could see the damage and then have the deafening blast hit them. They could only hear part of the sound and then as their pal tries to talk to them by yelling, they can barely hear over the hum. Etc etc.

07-20-2009, 06:10 PM
Or just say crash. I like to use words as sounds, and I put them on their own line in italics.




Don't overdo it, but it gives a sense of immediacy to the scene. Of course, one of my beta readers hates it, but she's learned to ignore it :)

As others have said, there's also other ways to describe it beyond just sound. Sounds words usually best when the sound it all you sense. If there are other components, like a visual clue, or a smell or feel, describing the whole event works well.

07-20-2009, 06:25 PM
I use a bit of onomatopoeia, but not comic book-ish. It works best with a fast-paced scene when I don't want to spend a lot of time describing the sounds of a gunshot, for example. It also delivers an immediate effect... probably best to follow with a longer sentence or paragraph to punctuate the pace.

Also, there are nouns and verbs that have auditory effects: clash, crack, croak, clang, boom, bang, plop, gulp, etc. Use those words to enhance the scenes.

07-20-2009, 06:46 PM
Think about what the crash sounds like. If its glass it is much different than if it's a silver serving tray that crashes. A window crash is different than a car crash.
metal, glass, wood, a body hitting the floor with a thud - they all crash differently.
I think if you zero in on the kind of crash and how it differs from others, and give your characters appropriate reactions to its intensity or scare factor, you should be fine. Metaphors that allow the reader to compare the crash to something is helpful also.

07-20-2009, 07:50 PM
What about your reading audience? If you are writing for middle grade, onomatopoeia should work better than using a round-about description of the sound followed by the characters' reactions.

07-20-2009, 08:09 PM
His head hit the ground with a smack.
The screech of the tires...
It was a sound he would never forget when [I dunno, a burrito was sucked into a turbine?]

07-20-2009, 08:20 PM
Whatever you do, however you do it, maintain proper temporal order. The stimulus has to come before the character's response (excepting supernatural beings who might be able to anticipate an impending stimulus).

Also, there is a classic and stereotyped human startle response to loud, unexpected noises. It consists of bent knees, hunched back, shrugged (elevated) shoulders, and bent elbows bringing fists up toward the chest (sometimes arms raised in triangle over head, to protect it). If you are going to have an unexpected loud noise, consider your characters' responses in relation to this standard human acoustic startle response.

07-20-2009, 09:15 PM
All great points, thanks guys/gals! I actually didn't go with the scene, it wasn't as necessary as I thought it would be... but these are great tips for any future crash boom bangs!

07-21-2009, 12:08 PM
I think we discussed this recently as well. And I stated there also that sounds are just silly. A crack never sounds like "CRACK!" and a snap never really snaps. I think one'd better describe what's happening instead of saying something like Boom! when a cannon explodes.

07-21-2009, 01:29 PM
Whatever you do, however you do it, maintain proper temporal order. The stimulus has to come before the character's response (excepting supernatural beings who might be able to anticipate an impending stimulus).

A question here: what about intentionally reversing the order to show that the events are so sudden and so messy that nobody is quite sure what is happening, not even to themselves. Kind of like a literary equivalent of shaky handheld shots and quick cuts in movies.

07-21-2009, 04:27 PM
Under normal circumstances, how can a person react to a sound (for example) before that sound registers in his/her ears? In fiction we can do anything we want, and there are many ways to approach a scene of mass confusion. Keep in mind that where we put the action and how we state it can either highlight it or portray it as somewhat inconsequential or in a way that will detract from its immediacy (just through sentence structure--see example below). There can also be accurate responses that take advantage of the difference between speed of light and speed of sound (as in thunder/lightening, or a muzzle flash and the sound of the gun discharge). My pet peeve is a sentence like...

He ducked behind the dumpster as the explosion shook the alley.

Some people may not see a problem with that sentence, but it is inaccurate. The two actions make up a stimulus-response pair, which means the character can't react until he/she perceives the stimulus. They are not simultaneous actions as the sentence suggests. Can a writer get away with this type of sentence? Of course. Is it a major flaw in that person's writing? Of course not. But the pursuit of writing excellence means we pay attention to accuracy in the small stuff in addition to the big stuff. This does not rule out purposely reversing proper temporal order for effect, but that has to overbalance the slip in accuracy (which is done for effect frequently in fiction, so it's not that big of a deal).

07-21-2009, 05:15 PM
My pet peeve is a sentence like...

He ducked behind the dumpster as the explosion shook the alley.

Interesting example. I'd accept that depending on the context. If the character expected the explosion, he could duck as it happened. Or if the writer wanted to suggest that his ducking was so quick that it appeared there was almost no gap between the explosion and the duck.

07-21-2009, 05:35 PM
In agreement with Browne and King (Self-Editing for Fiction Writers), the "as" construction is grammatically fine, and is clear in expressing the action, but aside from the "simultaneous" issue I've already expressed, shoving the explosion off in a dependent clause erodes the immediacy or importance of the stimulus action.

B & K come down hard on "as" and "-ing" constructions*, saying if they are used often they weaken one's writing.

My issue isn't so much the latter thing since nearly anything used too often could weaken one's writing. But even if we anticipate a sudden stimulus, our reaction still won't be simultaneous. It's physiologically impossible. That's the scientist talking, not the fiction reader. As I mentioned before, it's not a major thing, but one that I will catch every time. And it does tend to weaken the immediacy of the stimulus (which may be desirable in some instances).

* the -ing constructions are phrases like:

Pulling off his shirt, he flexed his chest muscles for the mirror.

07-21-2009, 05:56 PM
I write a LOT of action, mostly because I'm terrified of boring a reader :)

I find, that like others, a good mixture of both can work over the course of a novel. For instance, in my last book, I establish that whenever the evil ghost shows up, it sounds like a huge boom, cracking ceilings, shaking overhead lights, etc. So, later in the book when I have the heroine running for her life and I write:

..boom, Boom, BOOM!

It doesn't come across as strange because in context, the reader knows this means the evil ghost is gaining on her, almost about to get her. So, it can be a lot of fun--but it needs to be in context.

Had I started with the above, it would have come off as strangely comic-bookish, as was mentioned before.

Here's a recent example from (unedited as of yet) next book, which opens with a car crash:

Behind them, a man shrieked. The sound morphed into the high-pitched stuttering of skidding tires coming their way. Kaylee struggled with her seatbelt, ready to run, to get out of the way.

Her father looked in the mirror. "Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no."

Kaylee turned painfully back. The trailer of a jack-knifed semi rammed every vehicle in its path. The Saturn shivered harder as closer and closer, cars crashed one into another.

"Max…" her mother said hoarsely, fingers grasping the shoulder of his jacket, her other hand covering her mouth.

The pile up reached the Saturn, hitting their trunk with enough force to shove them up and onto the retaining wall. Kaylee shrieked and grasped for anything and everything. Her mother screamed again as they tilted toward the river far below. Another car hit them and the frame twisted. The windshield shattered as steel scraped along concrete.

"Max!" Her mother shouted, scrambling away from the passenger door and the drop to the river.

A horn blared constantly somewhere. All around, people cried out and shouted for help. The Saturn creaked and groaned, half on and half off the retaining wall.

As always, maybe not the best example, but the hope is that by using the noises that each thing makes (the stuttering of tires, the creak and groan of a twisted vehicle, etc.) it coveys the sense of "Crash!" with a little more illustrative information.

I like to think of writing as an interactive experience: the author paints just enough of a picture the reader's imagination is engaged and they supply the rest of the details.

Hope that helps!


07-22-2009, 04:26 AM
B & K come down hard on "as" and "-ing" constructions*, saying if they are used often they weaken one's writing.

Good point. By definition these constructions imply subordination of one clause by another.

As I walked by, he shot at me.
Driving by, I shot at him.