Avoiding onomatopoeia, all-caps, and unnecessary punctuation in your writing

Onomatopoeia, All-Caps, and Punctuation Abuse


BOOM!!! The bomb went off and destroyed every bit of the chapter.

Previous clients of mine know I don’t actually say stuff like that when editing—that’s mean. However, there are three things that should not be found in YA, NA, etc. What are they? And what kind of rule is that?

Onomatopoeia. All-caps. Over-use of punctuation. Yes, that’s what will be discussed today. I’ve grazed over these topics before, but let’s continue.

Onomatopoeia is a telling word

When you open your eight-year-old’s chapter book, you’ll find pictures (sometimes) and the three things labeled above. Onomatopoeia is one of them, but I’m happy to say you’re a better writer than that. Now, this is no place to read a post if you are writing a children’s book. If I don’t see at least one “AHHHH!!” in your children’s book, I want no part of it. My nephew deserves a good “AHHHH!!” with his numbers and colors, and I expect nothing less than that. And more. So give this post to another writer. I don’t want to corrupt you.

Now, for you writers who want to write the bigger words for which middle schoolers still need a dictionary . . . rip the onomatopoeia out. At this stage, high schoolers know what screaming sounds like. They know how to pronounce it. What you need to do is describe it. “AHHHH!!” can be a shriek, a yell, a cry, a scream, a bellow, a soprano note, or a kid opening his/her mouth for the dentist. Anyone old enough to read your book should know that whoever is doing any of those is enunciating a vowel other than “y” or “u.”

Here’s an example:

“Ahh!” the woman screamed when the mouse ran by. It stopped in front of her, unafraid.

I don’t write children’s books. They’d write it better. Now, let’s change this up and put an older twist to it.

The woman’s shriek echoed throughout the room, her eyes wide above the beady eyes that stared back, unfrightened by the sound of her fear.

That’s probably not the best I’d come up with, but you get the point. The sound of the scream didn’t really change, but I described it better with words than I did with onomatopoeia. Don’t try to argue that you can use shriek in both because, yes you can, but does that mean you still need that sound? I promise, your readers don’t need it.

All-caps does not get a point across faster

I’m surprised how often I see it. It’s not blasphemous, but it doesn’t do anything for a story. If I’m yelling at you about using all-caps, it’s safe to say I’m not happy. I DON’T NEED TO TYPE THIS ENTIRE POST IN ALL-CAPS TO GET THE POINT ACROSS.

Ever see spam in your email? How often are you going to click on something that says “FREE MONEY FROM YOUR BANK”? I won’t. If you say you would, don’t click it. What if something said this, though? “Find Out Why 10,000 People Have Earned Extra Money From Their Bank.”

I’m a spam-skeptic, so I wouldn’t click on that, either. But which is more enticing? The cool words, right? They’re different words, but that’s my point. You’re a writer. Use your words. Words get your point across. Words make people want to turn the page. Words tell the reader someone is furious. They tell the reader someone’s face is red as the bell pepper when it’s ripe. Words do this. Words tell the reader how angry someone looks, how happy they act, and how sad they feel. Fancy all-caps will not do the same thing. Not for your intended audience.

Overuse of Punctuation Only Offers . . . . . . . . . . . . . Dead Space

You can’t make something more suspenseful with twenty periods. You won’t make someone seem more curious with four question marks. You won’t show more excitement with two exclamation points. One more: An exclamation point and a question mark will not express excitement and confusion.

They will, but not as well as you can, writer.

I said it already. You’re a writer, and you can write better than any number of question marks. It’s sloppy for a reader to see all that stuff. Instead of thinking one question mark is a question, two is paranoia, and three is panic, let’s get to the extreme and show panic with just one question mark, shall we?

“Where did you put them, James?” She dug through the drawer, sifting through everything like a squirrel searching for her stash. She fumbled with pencils that slipped from her hand, then tore into another drawer to clear its contents.

I don’t think two or three question marks would have helped that as much as you could. In fact, I bet you could one-up me and write one better. Don’t handicap yourself. Don’t handicap your reader. They know how to read. They learned what a scream sounds like, how to understand body language, and they’ve formed an imagination. Don’t deny them their knowledge and logic. That’s not nice.

You’re a writer. That means you should write. It means you have the power to create worlds, people, and describe things in a way no computer can. You’re the job that can’t ever be replaced because the story—or truth—is in your head. Even if you didn’t have a typewriter or a pencil, the story would be something you could tell. Would you use any of those then? You won’t catch me telling an adult there was a “knock, knock” at my door.

I’ve seen each of these, and they’re easily used to replace a few sentences. But, we’re not trying to write as little as possible. We’re trying to write a story. So, do that. And do it well. Then, tell me when you need an editor. 😉

Write for yourself, but edit for your reader.
Cayce Berryman

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