1. Elven Candy
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    Elven Candy Contributing Member

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    Struggling for words to mean sounds for a dragon character

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Elven Candy, Jan 29, 2016.

    I'm working on a book about a girl and a dragon. The dragon is one of the central characters to the story, which is written in third person point-of-view from Sarah's (the girl) perspective. The issue is the dragon cannot speak to humans, so he has to use physical gestures and sounds. I'm working on a list of sounds and their meanings (like when he'd use them), but there are a few sounds in my head that I can't figure out a word for. I don't even know how to describe them! They're softer sounds, like a cat's "rrrrr?" (only from the throat) or a voiceless exhale of air that isn't angry or snotty like a huff (our dogs used to make this sound).

    This is the list of what I have (please note that this is still a work in progress):

    Growls (heavy and light): Anger, frustration, warning (getting aggressive), go away, scolding, “no,” disagreement.

    Purr (comes from the throat): “I love you,” affection, soothing another when they're sad or emotional (not fearful).

    Rumble (comes from the chest and vibrates the ground): Soothing fearfulness, saying hello/introduction, sad himself.

    Whine: Pain, very worried

    Screech: I’m coming (casual, from a distance), where are you, get back or I’ll get aggressive, locating a friend, saying hello long distance to a friend
    —Usually intermixed with screams and roars during battle to show rage, usually very short.

    Scream: Extreme pain/surprised pain/pain in battle, frantic where are you (looking for young, etc.), I’m coming (worried/willing to fight if needed)
    —usually intermixed with screeches and roars during battle to show rage, usually long

    Roar: Long distance go away, get back (or I'll bite), I’m coming (to kill you/whatever’s hurting you), rage, saying hello long distance to a stranger (to show them his strength and to warn them not to fight him), territorial (this is how strong I am).
    —Usually long, can be used to substitute screeches and screams in a storm that drowns them out.


    And these are the two sounds I've figured out I need:

    "rrrr?" unnamed sound from throat (I guess this is almost sort of a growl, but not quite; it starts low and goes up in pitch): Curiosity (often coupled with a head cock), "how are you," asking something

    Voiceless exhale (can also be open-mouthed for more exaggeration/add a little volume): Agreement, yes,


    Any suggestions will be appreciated!
     
  2. Elven Candy
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    Elven Candy Contributing Member

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    I'm debating on adding "contented happiness" to the rumble, and a happy "hello/good morning" to the "voiceless exhale."

    I also just realized I don't have a sound set aside for excitement/delighted. I suppose that should be some sort of squeal or something, but I've yet to need one so nothing specific comes to mind. He's a fully mature dragon not prone to extreme emotions unless provoked (like if he's attacked).

    The "purr" also shows pride. I forgot that, sorry!
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2016
  3. MichaelP
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    MichaelP Active Member

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    I don't think being so specific with sounds is necessary in written fiction. The reader can only reference his or her own soundscape while reading your story, and since you don't have the advantage of audio, you should probably describe sounds that most people know. (For example, many people have no idea about that cat sound you're referring to.)

    In my opinion, if you do need to describe an exotic sound, you should compare it to the familiar. A person describing the sound of a lion's roar to someone who'd never heard a lion's roar might compare it to "a rickety engine speeding down a concrete tunnel" or whatever.

    When it comes to animal communication with humans, I've always seen it done much simpler than your plan. The animal would make a noise and the author would tell the reader what the animal said through the character's reaction.

    If a guy's dog whimpers, the guy might say, "I know you're thirsty, but crying about it won't do ya any good."
     
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2016
  4. Elven Candy
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    Elven Candy Contributing Member

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    Well, that's sort of what I've been doing. The issue is I can't just say, "Dragon made a noise." I have to say something like, "Dragon purred," otherwise it just sounds silly. I've searched and searched for other sounds that are like what I want--sounds I've heard in various dragon flicks--but I can't find anything even slightly resembling them. I'd love to not have to be specific, but it seems I either have to put a word to the noise (like purred, screamed, etc.) or make it sound like he's really, REALLY quiet.

    As an example I'll put in this excerpt. It's the first time he's ever communicated to Sarah:

    "The dragon cocked its head and gave a low, vibrating rumble that seemed to say, 'Hello.'"

    In that sentence I both described the sound and gave it a name: rumble. If I didn't have the word "rumble" for that sound, and I needed to use the sound a few more times in the story, wouldn't it be weird to read? This has been stumping me for some time, and has even tempted me to let him speak "human (English)," but that would basically ruin the story. I often figure out ways around it, like making him cock his head, nudge her, or smile; but, well, he does those a lot even without them replacing sounds.

    Have you ever written a story with an animal in it? How did you solve this issue?
     
  5. MichaelP
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    MichaelP Active Member

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    I don't really know how else an animal might communicate. I recently wrote a story about a guy who talks with an injured extraterrestrial via telepathy. Would telepathy work for your dragon?
     
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  6. Elven Candy
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    Elven Candy Contributing Member

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    No, telepathy isn't what I want (I did consider it for a brief time). Basically, I love the idea that he can't communicate words to her, but I'm struggling with him as the story progresses.
     
  7. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    I recommend writing out the sounds as best you can, dropping them into italics, and then using the same sounds or equivalent sounds for each feeling the dragon is trying to emote.

    As an example, I would write his purr as rruhruh and then latter uses the same letters to denote similar feelings, ruhurhur and hurahru.
    So classify his sounds. His growl is g and s sounds, his hello is h and w sounds, etc. Then use combinations, at random, to denote his moods.
     
  8. Elven Candy
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    Elven Candy Contributing Member

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    That's an idea, but I'm not sure I could make it work without it feeling awkward, especially since I use italics for her internal thoughts. Maybe I can just say stuff like, "'I don't think that's a good idea, So-and-so.' said Sarah. Valfredo made a sound of agreement," and after that I could just say, "Valfredo agreed," when he agrees with something and makes the sound that Sarah now associates with agreement. Would that kind of thing sound awkward and poorly written?
     
  9. Sileas
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    Also possible to use gestures, maybe...? Though strictly speaking, we can't assume that a head nod means yes in all cultures. But perhaps looking directly at someone and backing up a step could mean a kind of "welcome". Or head tilted to the side could mean "huh?" With the above example of "sound of agreement", you could perhaps use the "no news is good news" approach and have the dragon merely look at the person and maybe blink. If the dragon disagreed with the statement, you would expect more of a reaction.
     
  10. Elven Candy
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    Elven Candy Contributing Member

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    I like your idea of stepping backward to mean "welcome," and using the "no news is good news" approach for agreement. I've been using gestures of nodding and cocking the head, and recently I made him gesture toward a carcass by simply saying "he gestured...." The whole "show, don't tell" writing style gets really confusing when I have to tell some things . . . although, I admit I'm still a little fuzzy on how to do that writing style in the first place. I plan to research it a lot more before writing the second draft. For now, I'm just trying to get through the first one and have it make sense and be an enjoyable read for my beta readers.
     

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