Originally Posted by Phogg
Are not screams, by their primal nature, inherantly undignified expressions of shock or terror?
Is it a worthy goal to sanitise something raw and heartfelt in all forms of telling a story?
I can see simply using description if you are narating in a third person perspective, or if a character is recalling a past event. That is the proper continuity of style.
I'd say no, that a scream, in an appropriate setting, is not undignified. It's not expressing raw emotion that is undignified; it's doing it in a way that doesn't sound right for the moment. If you do not attempt onomatopoeia, you can't get the sound wrong.
If the bad guy is bearing down on the main character with a machete and a thousand zombies, screaming is entirely appropriate.
But, say my mental idea of the hero's scream and the sound the author supplies are vastly at odds with each other. She writes one thing, and to her it sounds like a manly expression of terrified frustration. To me it sounds like a little girl shrieking at a spider. Now I've got an image/sound disconnect in my head, and the resultant response is no longer appropriate to the situation, and thus undignified.
If you will, imagine Indianna Jones running away from the horde of Zombies, he's just about free when he notices the gaping chasm in front of him. He stops and lets out a yell of frustration. Say Harrison Ford then goes, "Eeek!" Now, having done that, we're all laughing our asses off in the theater because that's not the sound that works.
So, as a writer I'd say, skip the sound of screaming, and just tell me he screamed, add as many adjectives as you like, but don't try to spell it out. The chances of having it bite you are just too high.