The fine art of making up words is typically not something practiced by serious writers. You do, after all, want the reader to focus on the information you’re conveying without being distracted by the language used to convey it.
However, there are times when you do need to be a little inventive with your vocabulary. Onomatopoeia, a poetic device used to describe a sound, invites writers to use whatever combination of syllables they need to represent a noise that their characters have heard. From the ziziziiiiip of a snapping rope to the ka-rak of a gunshot echoing off a distant cliff, there is plenty of room for improvisation when you’re using onomatopoeia in your prose.
As with all attention-grabbing poetic devices, onomatopoeia should be used very carefully. If you use this device to describe every sound your characters hear, you’ll soon find that your prose resembles a fight scene from the old Batman series with Adam West.
Instead, reserve your onomatopoeia for occasions when its effect is really needed. This device has a way of jerking your readers out of the cadence of your narrative and grabbing their attention. It can make an excellent sudden transition between scenes; an attention-grabbing introduction to a chapter; or a satisfying conclusion to a section of your story. However you use it, the onomatopoeia will draw the reader’s focus, so make sure you’re encouraging the reader to focus on a sound that has some significance to the story.
Although I’m usually hesitant to encourage writers to reach for ornate or unusual words, onomatopoeia gives us an occasion where we’re much better off innovating and coming up with a word that perfectly matches the sound you’re trying to communicate. A well-placed an inventive onomatopoeia draws your readers into the story at exactly the right moment.