So, in a novel I'm writing, there is a situation where the first-person protagonist is in a lot of pain, so much that she is screaming and sobbing. I've seen the onomatopoeia "Augh" used to represent a person screaming. Normally, I stray away from using too much of those like "bang, clang, ding, etc." because they tend to be more distracting and I often don't have a place for them in my writing unless I'm using them as a verb. But, in this case, the screams are to come as an interruption of her thoughts, so instead of saying "I scream again" every few lines, I decided the onomatopoeia would be more natural to use to convey the effect of her being unable to concentrate.

I also do this later in the chapter, but instead of using only "Augh," I use "Augh" and "No." Here is an excerpt from the chapter:

Augh!" I scream out as a pain like a knife being pushed slowly through my head, and my skull, and my brain, takes hold of me.

It hurts so much... I can't process. I can't-

"Auugghh!" I scream again, this time punctuating it with sobs, as another stab of pain derails my train of thought.

"Jade!" Someone shouts. It's Cale. I saw everything. I saw it from his eyes. That's not –

"Auughh," Another scream escapes as if the very sight of Cale could cause me to reenter his mind. I shut my eyes and clutch my head.

"No! No! No! No!" I scream. Why am I saying no? What am I saying no to? I don't know. I don't know anything. Everything is impossible. It's not possible for me to see me from the eyes of the person that's carrying me; it's just not possible, and it can't happen but, it did. "No! No! No!"

"Jade, you have to calm down. You're going to hurt yourself even more if you keep thrashing around. You're alive; it's going to be alright." Deen tells me.

"No! No! No! No!" I shriek. The knife pain is not just in my head now. It's spread to my leg and my back and my entire body.

It needs to go away. I need to understand how I could –

"No! Auuuggghhh!" I scream. It won't let me think; I can't even try to understand how I could see all of it. I shouldn't remember. I can't be able to remember. "No!"

"Auuuugggghhhh!" The knife pushes itself further in.

Kinnie saved Tammie's life after she had the heart attack. She knew how to fix Tammie's –

"No! No! No!" The knife is almost at the front of my skull now, and it's still twisting.

Deen led everyone through the woods until Spenzo took over. Deen was going so fast that Kinnie and Tammie had trouble keeping up. After the heart attack Spenzo carried Tammie, and Deen offered to –

"Auuuuuuuuggggggghhhhhhhhhh!" It's through. The knife is through.

Is this style too distracting for the readers? Or is it just distracting enough for the context?

Any feedback you guys provide would be a great help. And, if this onomatopoeia usage is too distracting, what's an alternative I could do to convey the same effect?

3 Answers 3


There is one major mistake your making, in my opinion. You are repeating multiple letters inside the dialogue. For me, this would really detract from my reading experience.

"Auuuuuuuuggggggghhhhhhhhhh!" It's through. The knife is through.

We'll take that for an example. In my opinion, writing many letters on 'augh' appears childish. Rather, I wouldn't use dialogue at all at this point. Instead, perhaps you could try something like this:

My stentorian wails failed to repel the knife, and it buried itself into my heart.

Or perhaps

Wild groans slithered from my throat while pain wrestled my mind.

There certainly are other ways of saying this without using multiple letters in dialogue. Furthermore, I wouldn't use scream all the time. You've used scream five times in this very short extract, which in my opinion, is too much. I think you should either use synonyms, like groan or shriek (you used shriek), or you should just not mention that you're speaking at all. Every time you end dialogue, you don't need to say said, or the myriad of other words like that.

You might want to try saying:

"No! No," I tore at my breast, leaving bloodied scratches.

That would be entirely valid. I know you already know this, because you used it in your extract, but I think you should use it more.

In the first bits of dialogue, you use scream almost every time. It removes the effect of the world. Instead of creating a harrowing, grievous call, you are making your character scream like a newborn baby. Lets take a look at a strategy to suprress the screaming:

"Argh," I direly called again, this time punctuating it with sobs, as another stab of pain shreds my thoughts.

This sentence was really good. I like the use of the word punctuating. I changed scream to direly called because it has a similar connotation, a loud and bellowing yell. I think it would be interesting to use call here instead of yell - almost as if you were calling for someone to come and tend to you. I edited out derails because I think it just comes too fast, and to me, shreds gives me the feeling that the control of thought is being destroyed. Augh was changed to argh because argh sounds more like a scream.

As a final note, I have this piece of advice. In this scene, do not use exclamation marks at the start, rather, it would be effective to use them at the climax. Save them, and make them punch the reader in the face.


  • Don't use dialogue with onomatopoeia in over and over again. Rather, just say 'wild groans' or something.

  • Try not to spam out 'scream' or any word expressing the fact that someone has spoken all the time.

  • If there's one thing I want you to take away from this answer, please do not have multiple letters in your onomatopoeia. Please. As a different option, you could describe the lengthy scream or use a word like 'crescendo'.

  • Personally, I don't think you even need to describe every single scream. Just say that they're screaming, and you should be fine.

As a final note, I would change I shut my eyes and clutch my head to I shut my eyes and clutched my head.

I feel like I've been nasty this answer - sorry! Anyway, I hope this helped you.

  • 1
    It wasn't nasty at all, and I took your advice and edited out almost all of the onomatopoeias, limited the repetition, and didn't describe every scream. The passage significantly improved, so I appreciate the feedback. Oct 2, 2016 at 18:40

While fully agreeing with @Lythric on the multiplying letters in the onomatopoeia (it does sound childish and looks rather comic-book-like) and repeating action words (scream) I am not at all sure the following suggested passage fits into the narrative:

My stentorian wails failed to repel the knife, and it buried itself into my heart.

To me it sounds too encyclopedic and distant from the rest of a narrative.

Or this:

"No! No," I tore at my breast, leaving bloodied scratches

I seriously doubt that the person in so much pain would care to check in the mirror if the scratches on their chest are bloody.

But it's just me.

And frankly (for me, once again) the main problem with the given excerpt was not the use of comic book onomatopoeia and repeating words.

While desperately trying not to slip into the uninvited literary critique, I have to admit that despite clearly getting the picture of the POV character being in a lot of pain (you made that work all right), I had no idea what is really happening.

Is someone trying to cure a heart attack by putting a knife through the person's skull? Where than the pain in the leg fits? Or back? I would wish for more segregation between reality and biased perception of it (through pain).

I do, however, understand that this is an excerpt and there is a story leading to it, so you have the right to ignore this remark.


  • 1
    I gave my examples to show options, not to actually edit what the writer was writing, if you see what I mean. I agree with you on the abstractness of the excerpt, I think more of a background should have been included. Oct 2, 2016 at 17:13
  • @Lythric I see your point, please do not take it as a critique of critique, it was my internal editor taking over—I apologize. Completely with you on the rest.
    – Lew
    Oct 2, 2016 at 17:17
  • Yes, I understand your confusion, it's probably from the sections from the passage I took out of the work, the top half and the bottom actually do not go together, and I took a bunch of intermediate lines out that provide more context, but from the beginning of the chapter I make it clear that is a metaphorical knife, not an actual knife, but her intense pain causes her in her mind to describe it as an actual knife. I just used those sentences to show what I meant about the onomatopoeia usage. I wasn't actually seeking a critique of the passage, just the onomatopoeias. @Lythric Oct 2, 2016 at 18:30

Like many things in writing, it can be good if done well and bad if done poorly or overdone.

If you wrote a story that was filled with onomatopoeic words, it would surely quickly become tedious.

Bob cried "Ola!" to me as my car clunked down the bump-bump street while my dog made grr-ing noises in the back seat ...

Worse if they're made up words rather than established ones. Like you'd get away with referring to the cat's meow and the machine's banging noises more than the cat's mmm-preee and the machine's brang-a-lang.

Picking one combination of letters to represent a moan or screen and re-using it throughout a scene seems pretty safe to me. I don't most readers would notice a problem. Well, there could be a problem if you go on and on about the character moaning and screaming and the scene gets too drawn out, but that's a different issue.

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