I've been looking for a word to describe this tone of voice for a long time but never came across it. Now let me just spread a pinch of context. It's a first person novel, and our protagonist is very emotionally conflicted within. Dead parents, dead friends, blames himself etc. The only thing he has left is his younger companion who he cares for like an extremely over-protective older brother. Our protagonist is responsible (involuntarily responsible) for some earthquakes (long story), and his younger companion at this point in the novel questions if he himself was responsible for it.

This is how it goes...

He didn’t say a word, as he stared motionlessly straight ahead. He was doing that thing where he overthinks.
“Stop overthinking. I’ve told you if you keep doing that you’ll get grey hairs.”
All of a sudden his eyebrows curled against each other, and his eyes widened with grief, “Please don’t tell me I caused that earthquake?” he whimpered.
Hearing this, I dropped to my knees, and grabbed his face, “Have you absolutely lost your mind?” I yelled.

OK. So the final bit of dialogue where the protagonist asks "Have you lost your mind," is actually the part I'm struggling with here. He does't actually yell. His voice is more like a throaty growl, as if to convey some frustration as well. Hearing this from Raaisel (younger companion) just turns his world upside down, because he would never allow his naive younger counterpart to step foot near the earthquake. Yeah, so instead of "I yelled," what the hell is that word. You ever watched the dark knight... where Batman goes to the joker "Where is she?" in that interrogation scene. Well it's a voice like that, but obviously with a bit less aggression. A brooding voice. God, what's the damn word?!

Anyway, thanks if you take the time to read and/or answer my question, and sorry for my panicky tone. I get super worked up over minor word haha.

Oh, and one last thing. I feel like I could have simulated the "I dropped to my knees and grabbed his face," a little better. How do I describe holding Raaisel's face in urgency?

  • 1
    BY WRITING IN CAPS!!!, maybe? " Have you absolutely LOST YOUR MIND?!!" i yelled
    – CptEric
    Sep 9, 2016 at 10:26
  • @CptEric Caps might be a bit jarring in a novel, but you might be on the right track. I would recommend italics, as it conveys emphasis. All you'd have to do after that is convey the slightly increased volume and disbelieving hoarseness of the voice. Sep 9, 2016 at 16:55
  • 1
    As to the "grabbed his face," I agree it sounds a bit off. You could probably make a separate question for this over on EL&U SE, but I would recommend something like: "I reached up and held his face between my hands, the urgency I felt causing me to hold him a bit tighter than perhaps I had intended." The main points here are between my hands. Helps to bring down possibly violent images. Urgency comes from your own fitting last line. Than I had intended still gets the pressure across while simultaneously reassuring the reader of the protagonist's intentions and emotions. Sep 9, 2016 at 17:00
  • 3
    "His voice is more like a throaty growl" he growled?
    – Andrey
    Jan 24, 2019 at 20:02

9 Answers 9


Your trouble in finding a word is that it does not exist. You will need to use adjectives and other descriptions to properly describe it.

My first piece of advice would be to find a good example of what you want and describe it. You've found a good example with batman, but you're obviously having trouble describing it, so here's what I'd do:

Step 1- Breakdown

I believe the scene you are referring to in the Dark Knight is where Batman 'interrogates' the Joker, and, upon realizing Dent and Rachel are both gone, yells 'where are they?'

The first thing you need to do when trying to figure out how to describe something is go for the technical and literal side of things. Break it down into exactly what is going on.

  • Elevated voice. Batman is pancking, realizing what is going on, and his voice is raised as a result.
  • Gravelly undertone. Here it's because Batman is trying to hide his identity. I don't think your protagonist is doing that (unless he's a superhero too), so we'll come back to that.

Step 2 - Brainstorm Description

Once you know what's technically going on, describe it. I often find I don't have the right word or answer for something. When this happens, I sit down with a piece of paper and start writing descriptions, no matter how ludicrous or implausible they might be. Make them up if necessary. Below I'm just going to write whatever comes to mind to describe the two above characteristics.

  • Elevated Voice. Angry. High-pitched. Loud. Yelling. Shouting. Echoing. Shattering. Violent. Stinging. Reeling back from. Sudden.
  • Gravelly. Undertone. Deep. Gravelly. Rumbling. Threatening. Ominous. Like subdued thunder. Dangerous.

Step 3 - Determine Cause

Now go back to your scene, and determine the protagonist's emotional state.

  • Responsible. The protagonist (I'l call him Jim due to lack of a name) is responsible, and obviously Raaisel doesn't know that and thinks he is instead, so Jim is probably feeling a shade of guilt over that.
  • Panicked? Really depends on the background, but it feels to me like Jim could be a bit panicked. His world got turned upside down you said, so I think this is reasonable.
  • Afraid? Afraid for Raaisel. Obviously Jim cares for him a great deal, and besides obviously not wanting him to be hurt by bearing the burden, he also doesn't want Raaisel to take the blame and the hit that will inevitably come with it.

So we know that Jim is probably a bit afraid/panicked, probably feeling responsible for what's going on, and since he's overprotective, most likely wanting to shield Raaisel from any potential damage.

Step 4 - Apply Description

Now all we have to do is figure out which of the descriptive terms we have in step two will work, given our context.

The first half of the words relating to elevated voice deal primarily with loudness. You don't want this. Some of the later ones seem to hit closer to the mark. Shattering has interesting visualizations. Reeling back from and sudden indicate Raaisel wasn't expecting the tone of voice. Actually that presents an interesting idea: instead of trying to describe the words, describe Raaisel's reaction to the words. We'll take that into consideration.

Moving on, we have the gravelly part of the dialogue. Rumbling has a nice ring to it, as well as dangerous. I like the subdued thunder idea, and that also gives me a thought: we could be using the setting to describe Jim's words. There's an earthquake, right? If it's still going on, it conveniently has the low rumbling, dangerous sort of undertone that you're looking for. You could just say that Jim's voice matched that.

Step 5 - Put it all together

So using that, I'll give this a few runs:

Hearing this, I dropped to my knees, and grabbed his face. “Have you absolutely lost your mind?” My voice was filled with fear and the urge to protect Raaisel, and just a hint of guilt.

There's a thought. Take out the tag completely. Note that I've replaced the comma before the dialogue with a period, as the previous sentence has ended.

Hearing this, I dropped to my knees, and grabbed his face. “Have you absolutely lost your mind?” My voice shattered the quiet before it, rumbling, trembling, almost dangerous.

Let's try describing Raaisel's reaction.

Hearing this, I dropped to my knees, and grabbed his face. “Have you absolutely lost your mind?” My voice was low, rumbling, but louder than I had intended.

Raaisel blinked as my words struck him, actually taking a small step away from me.

Now I'll try using the setting.

Hearing this, I dropped to my knees, and grabbed his face. “Have you absolutely lost your mind?” I said, my voice akin to the rumbling of the earthquake below us.

Now I'll just say the line a few times myself the way I think you're visualizing it, and describe it that way:

Hearing this, I dropped to my knees, and grabbed his face. “Have you absolutely lost your mind?” My voice was half way between a whisper and a shout, deep, rumbling like the earthquake below us, but still full of the panic and guilt I felt in my heart.

The word whisper brings the mental tone way down, but the sentence keeps going. 'Shout' and 'earthquake' bring the volume up slightly, and 'panic' is far enough after 'whisper' to bring it up to the level you want. 'Guilt' adds a hint of emotion contradictory to 'panic,' giving the whole line a taste that can't quite be defined, but is still understood by the reader.

A lot of this depends on Jim's emotional state at the time, as well as that of Raaisel if you use his reaction for the description. Changing those factors will probably give you different results.

Sorry for the long answer, I tried - believe it or not - to keep it as brief as possible. Hopefully you find it helpful, and welcome to the site!

  • 1
    +1 for the great technique you described. If I could, I'd give you another for the way you described it, with examples, showing evolution. Long answers aren't automatically bad. This one was great! Sep 9, 2016 at 0:37
  • Wow! This is wonderful! Very detailed and very helpful.
    – Numi
    Sep 9, 2016 at 3:28
  • 2
    Your answer is great. One comment though, the phrase "half way between a whisper and a shout" may seem to add dynamic, but all you say is "my voice was normal", which doesn't fit the rest of the sentence. It could work well in a book that is fast paced and doesn't encourage much reflection. However, if you let the reader think about it then it will dilute emotions instead of intensifying them.
    – dtldarek
    Sep 9, 2016 at 9:53
  • I admit I was having second thoughts about those two. I was aiming for the hoarseness of a whisper, combined with the volume of a shout. Basically a hoarse shout. If that makes sense. When it comes to descriptions, I can let technicality go a bit for the emotional picture it creates, but that might just be me. Sep 9, 2016 at 16:54

The best way to give the reader the sense the the character speaking is angry is through the words they say, not through the description of how they say it. Make the word angry and you don't need to describe the voice. The reader reading angry words will hear an angry voice.

Effective writing is about focus. If you describe every intonation and twitch of a speaker, you are inviting the reader to focus on the face, not the words. This works (and is necessary) if your speaker is giving curt one word answers. The reader cannot tell from "yes" or "no" if the speaker is angry, so you describe the tone. But if the reader cannot tell that the character is angry from "Have you absolutely lost your mind?" then they are singularly tone deaf.

Never give the reader more than they need. It simply becomes a distraction. If you want them to focus on the words, don't distract them with facial expressions and tone. If you want them to focus on the face and voice, don't distract them with excess words.


Generally speaking, "said" will be the most effective choice. As a writer, "said" might sound repetitive or too boring, but it's one of those few invisible words that the reader will just glide over. Anything else draws attention to itself.

If you're relying on one specific word to convey the emotion from your dialogue, you might want to take another look at your scene. Your dialogue should stand for itself. You must be able to craft the scene in such a way where the reader should be able to effectively imagine how your characters say what they say.

In other words, this...

"Leave me alone," he said angrily.


"Leave me alone," he growled.

can be rewritten as this...

"Leave me alone," he said, slamming the door. He stormed to the middle of the room, fists clenched, then kicked the chair beside his desk.

Exaggerated, but you get the point. Depending on how you construct the scene, your reader should be able to have a sense of the emotion that each character is feeling. What happens in the scene and what happened to lead up to the scene are more important things to consider than a single dialogue tag.

In your case, instead of "I yelled," go for "I said," or you could even remove the dialogue tag completely. Your character's action of dropping to his knees and grabbing Raaisel's face makes the reader understand his intentions. Even before you told me that the main character was growling, I heard his words in my head that way already. Considering how this scene is in the middle of your story, you should have established the main character and Raaisel's personalities by now, and the reader will also know their background. The reader will know the main character's relationship to Raaisel and how he feels toward his younger companion. So, when Raaisel sounds like he's blaming himself for the earthquake, the reader will understand that the main character will be very alarmed. What he says ("Have you lost your mind?") is also a hint toward what he's feeling, so it works well enough for me.

As for the "I dropped to my knees and grabbed his face" part, I think you're gonna have to wait for another answer that addresses that. It sounds fine to me, but then again I don't know too much about your characters!


I'm going for your addendum: "I dropped to my knees and grabbed his face,"

Grabbing his face sounds to me like you have positioned the hand in front of the face. Palm at the nose/mouth area, finger tips along the hair line (like a face palm turned facehugger). Is this really what you want?

I think you'd prefer to grab his chin instead. The line from thumb tip crossing the palm to middle finger tip follows more or less the chin line. This way you can forcibly control the way he faces (probably to look into your face) and it keeps him free to see and breathe.


Some interesting answers here - I think it's important to recognise POV in this. Since we're in the POV of the character you're trying to portray as angry then using angry sounding adjectives to describe the voice is awkward and inserts unnecessary distance between character and reader. It also dilutes the immediacy of the scene. Less is (almost always) more.

I snapped and grabbed him by the face. "Have you lost your mind?"

would do it for me. Any added anger signifiers could be demonstrated in the expression/reaction of the other character. Remember whose POV we're in.

I snapped and grabbed him by the face. "Have you lost your mind?" Seeing terror in his eyes, I drew back.

I'd remove all possible speech tags and adjectives, and only put back what you absolutely have to.


I looked up at some words on this list and the ones I found best were "gruff" and "penetrating".

Yowl - noun Yowling/yowled - verb I don't know, maybe?

  • I looked here too LOL. I'm so stuck. I kinda wanted a word to replace yelled so like a verb. Ahh
    – H. Alley
    Sep 8, 2016 at 21:09

I know this post is years old but I found it searching for a similar question...

I just wanted to say your writing reads fine without anything after the speech. From context alone it's obvious you're the one talking, and by the action of taking his face in your hands, it's clear this will be an empassioned sort of cry - a cry, as in a slightly desperate shout ;)

Otherwise, i'd say the word could be demand. 'Have you absolutely lost your mind?! I demanded,' and follow up with 'you're not to blame.' or something like that...

Anyway I'm sure it's irrelvant by now, happy writing ^^


I believe you may have been looking for the word gruffly:

Hearing this, I dropped to my knees, and grabbed his face, “Have you absolutely lost your mind?” I said gruffly.

I could absolutely be wrong in my thoughts on the emotions of the moment but gruff seems to fit well.


Deep or very high pitched you could also describe it as loud or rumbling

  • Remember to press the arrow at the side ( the top Vedeo) Oct 5, 2020 at 0:52
  • Welcome to Writing SE, really we are looking for answers to provide some level of detail and explanation as to why they are correct, as it stands your answer is more of a suggestion without any real explanation as to why these two (almost opposite) descriptions provide an expression of a voice being angry. Oct 5, 2020 at 8:54

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