Over the last 20 years as a writer, I’ve developed a few techniques for writing screams.
Here’s how to write a scream:
Write a scream in as script by capitalizing the word scream or placing the word in parenthesis. Write a scream in a story or book by stating that a character screamed or by describing the physical and emotional details of the scream. Use figurative language to capture the emotion of the scream.
In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to write a scream in a script, book, or story.
How To Write a Scream in a Script
There are two standard ways to write a scream in a script or screenplay:
- Capitalize the word (SCREAM)
- Put the word in parenthesis (screaming)
Either option is perfectly acceptable but you want to use them strategically in your script.
Use capitalization when the scream is an action you want to emphasize:
- Jesse SCREAMS and covers her face with her hands.
- The priest SCREAMS as the hellish portal opens on the altar.
Use parenthetical when is more secondary stage note that explains what’s going on in a scene:
- Jesse covers her face with her hands (screaming).
- The priest backed away from the hellish portal (screaming).
You don’t want to overdo any one method. Mix and match and always use capitalizations and parentheticals intentionally and strategically to write screams in your script.
Here is a good video about how to format screams (and other basic screenplay elements) in your script:
How To Write a Scream in a Book
Whether it’s a blood-curdling scream or a quiet whimper, a scream can be an incredibly effective way to create suspense, horror, or drama in a book.
In a book, a scream is more than just a sound.
It’s a visceral response to something or someone. It’s a vocalization of internal emotion. And, because you’re not limited by time or space the way you are in a screenplay, you can really dive deep into the POV of the screamer.
You can describe the scream in detail and even get into the thoughts and feelings behind the scream.
For example, let’s say a character is screaming because they’re angry.
You could write: “She screamed in anger, her face turning red as she felt the veins in her neck pulse.” Or, if a character is screaming in fear, you could write: “He screamed in fear, his body going rigid as he felt the cold breath of death on his neck.”
If you’re looking to add a screaming scene to your novel or nonfiction book, there are a few things to keep in mind.
- First, consider the character’s motivation for screaming. What (or who) are they reacting to? What emotions are they feeling at that moment? Is it terror? Fury? Grief? The more specific you can be, the more effective the scene will be.
- Next, take into account the setting of the scene. Screaming curses in an empty room will have a very different effect than one uttered in a crowded street. Pay attention to small details like lighting and sound effects to set the stage for the reader.
- Finally, don’t forget about the aftermath of the scream. What happens next? How does the character react? Do they regret letting out their feelings? Are they relieved? The aftermath of a scream can be just as important as the act itself.
Keep these things in mind when writing your own scream scene, and you’re sure to create an effective and memorable moment for your readers.
How To Write a Scream in Dialogue
Including a scream in the middle of dialogue can be a great way to intensify a scene and add some suspense.
There are a few different ways to write a scream, depending on what effect you want to achieve.
If you simply want to indicate that a character is screaming, you can just write “He screamed” or “She let out a blood-curdling scream.”
If you want to spell out the scream itself, you can use onomatopoeia like, “AAAAAH!”
Or, if you want to mix the scream into the other dialogue and action, you can write something like, “He was about to say something when he saw the knife coming towards him and let out a terrified scream.”
Here are a few longer examples of how to write a scream in dialogue:
- “Nooooo!” screamed the girl as she leaped from the burning building. “Help me!” she cried as she ran towards the crowd of onlookers. ” Somebody please help me!” But it was too late. The girl was engulfed by the flames before anyone could reach her.
- “Get away from me!” the woman screamed as she backed away from the man following her. She tripped, staggered sideways, and fell to the ground. The man closed the distance between them in an instant.
- “I’m coming for you, you monster!” shouted the man as he charged towards his enemy. “You’ll pay for what you’ve done!” But his opponent was ready for him. With a quick slash of his sword, the man was cut down before he could take another step.
Regardless of which approach you take, screams can be a great way to add some excitement to your story.
How To Write a Scream of Pain
A scream of pain is usually a high-pitched noise.
The pitch of the scream depends on how tight the vocal cords are. A scream of pain is often accompanied by other physical expressions, such as grimacing or clutching at the area that hurts.
To describe a scream accurately, it is important to use sensory details and figurative language.
For example, you could say that the person’s face was contorted in agony, and their cries pierced the air like shards of glass. Or you could say that the person let out a blood-curdling scream that sent chills down your spine.
You might describe a painful scream as “a sharp, high-pitched wail that pierced the air like a knife.”
Or you could write that “the scream echoed through the room, bouncing off the walls and leaving my ears ringing.”
How Do You Describe a Scream
In order to properly describe a scream, one must first understand the physiology of screaming.
When we scream, we open our mouths wide and exhale with great force.
The tissues of the vocal cords vibrate as the air passes through them, creating the characteristic sound of a scream.
One way to describe a scream is to focus on the sound itself:
- Is it high-pitched or low?
- Is it sharp or ragged?
- Is it loud or soft?
Another way to describe a scream is to focus on the expression on the person’s face:
- Are their eyes wide open or shut tight?
- Are their teeth bared or clenched?
- Is their mouth open or closed?
In addition to the physical act of screaming, there is also an emotional component. A scream is often the result of fear, pain, or rage.
Consequently, writing about a scream can be challenging, as it requires capturing both the physical and emotional aspects of this primal act.
For example, if you are writing about a child who screams when they are angry, you might want to describe the sound of their voice and how their face looks when they are yelling.
When writing about screams in nonfiction books, it is important to be as specific as possible.
This means using descriptive words and phrases to paint a clear picture for the reader. For example, you might write that “the screams pierced the air like knives” or “the screams echoed through the hallways, bouncing off the walls and floors”.
You could also provide some insight into what might be causing their anger.
When writing about screams in novels, you have more freedom to be creative. You can use metaphor and simile to describe the sound of a scream, or you can use descriptive language to capture the emotion behind it.
For example, you might write that “the screams sounded like sirens wailing in the distance” or “the screams were like nails scratching against a chalkboard”.
You can also use personification to give the screams human characteristics.
You might write that “the screams begged for mercy” or “the screams demanded to be heard.”
By using these types of descriptions, you can give readers a better sense of what it would be like to actually experience the scream yourself.
How To Write a Screaming Sound
In other words, how do you spell screaming sounds? What sounds do people make when they scream and how can you portray that on the page?
Here is a handy list of screening words and sounds:
- OH, NO, NO, NOOOOO
It might also be helpful to have a list of words to describe screaming:
Final Thoughts: How To Write a Scream
Writing screams in stories and screenplays is part art and part science.
There is no right or wrong way to write a scream. All that matters is that it works.
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My personal experience
National Institute of Health (Research on Screams)