When it comes to world building, most of us think about settings, creatures, and places. When honing in on the creatures aspect of creating with our words, often times we will resort to describing how something looks to the reader, the famous ‘show don’t tell’ ideology. However, sometimes you can really add to a creature by describing the sounds it makes. Think about it. Many people were fascinated by the sounds of dinosaurs, or rather, what they could sound like. But we don’t have to look to the past to find eerie, or positively gorgeous sounds for our fantasy creatures. There are some sounds you might have never heard before that might work for the menagerie of mythical creatures in your world as well. This article is going to explore some of those sounds, and what sort of creature they could possibly be used for.
5. Bird Calls: Barn Owl
In terms of bird calls, there are so many that, with just surface research, you can render something truly eerie–especially if you combine them. I’ve gotten lost in my fair share of odd youtube videos, and among the most fun are the world’s weirdest bird calls. The first bird I’d like to bring attention to, however, is the barn owl.
When you look at the barn owl, you wouldn’t think it has the sounds that it does. Some eerie, high pitched song, perhaps, but not the scream of a banshee. However, that is exactly what they sound like–and they can be applied to a variety of creatures. I would describe this as “a scream that shakes the very core of your soul, or the cry of a barn owl.” Come to think of it, maybe the owl’s look does match up to the screech. For, to be honest, it does look rather spirit-like.
Here’s some ideas where the barn owl screech can be applied:
- The Harpy would be an excellent choice for the sounds of a barn owl. They often are described as screeching and hellish, which is appropriate for how the barn owl screams are described. Not to mention, birds of a feather fly together.
- We’ll go with a ghost-like entity as well, the poltergeist. These creatures are beings of mischief, but can sometimes be more malevolent. Still, mischief or malevolence, a screech to send shivers down the spines of victims could be super effective.
- These dragons/dragon-like creatures have anatomy similar to bats. They reptilians with two legs and two wings. The barn owl screech could make a fearsome wyvern, regardless of the size in your lore.
4. Mammals: Tasmanian Devil
Here’s a fun fact: Tasmanian Devils might have a fighting chance against the horrible cancers that have been decimating their populations. The more you know! Now that you know some good news, it’s time to delve into the sounds of these rather aggressive marsupials.
I actually have this animal in my series as a shapeshifter. I love describing her roaring screeches, a different flavor of sound from the barn owl. I would say a high-action, extremely aggressive creature would fit a ‘snarling, claws-on-stone-like scream similar to the Tasmanian Devil’ tag. It’s a noise fit for a larger creature than it emerges from, so you can have fun with describing a sharp-toothed, fur-or-scaled-spiked being with wails that virtually shred your ears apart. Unlike a ghostly-horror creature like the barn owl, I think the mythical beasts or aliens these sounds fit for would be more attuned to war-like battle creatures. Here are some applicable mythical beasts for these sounds:
- The hellhound is a supernatural canine or canine-like demon that shows up at various points in fantasy lore. The snarls of the Tasmanian Devil fit this creature exceptionally well, because while the devils aren’t canines, the sound they make is what many would consider demonic.
- The manticore has the face of a man, body of a lion, and tail of a scorpion. Sometimes, they are depicted with wings. These beasties tend to be very violent, and the warbling noise of the tasmanian devil might catch people off guard. Most would expect a lion roar, naturally, but one with a bit more varied edge could make this unique.
- These blood drinkers are a fascinating cryptid. When I look at them, I would expect them to sound something like a tasmanian devil, to be honest. I imagine it would utter the screeches when cornered or something, not to mention how varied the chupacabra is said to look. If someone includes these cryptics, utilizing the tasmanian devil for their noises would really get the point across that they are not to be messed with.
3. Bird Calls: Loons
I honestly don’t know why ‘loon’ is an insult, but I sometimes use it myself. Just so, they have a super unique sound to them, and it’s haunting in a way that the other two on the list don’t hope to encompass. Instead of an eerie screech or aggressive yells of the Tasmanian Devil, it sounds almost…otherworldly.
Now, I discovered the sound of this bird from the video I mentioned earlier. Here is the sound of the black-throated loon from the video, with a timestamp. I honestly had no idea this is how they sounded prior to this video, but I was utterly captured by how odd it sounded. I think this sound descriptor would be fit for a much less aggressive creature. Perhaps an ethereal being flying across the sky, announcing its presence with the “blanket of starry calls like the cry of a loon”. Sure, without context people might be confused at first, but active readers might be amazed. I always imagine something celestial or ‘dripping stars’ when I hear that call, for some reason — meaning it’d be a good match for sci-fi too. Here’s some mythical beasts these could apply to:
- This bird, which represents the life cycle or rebirth, is something I imagine would be mysterious and elusive. The cry of a loon would really be appropriate, not only because the loon is a bird, of course. Hearing this cascade across the sky, announcing the arrival of a phoenix, is no less than epic.
- A much darker creature this sound could be applied to would be a siren. They use their voices to lure in their prey, and I can see how the call of a loon would be very enchanting. If I heard this and had no idea the source, I’d wonder where it was coming from myself, lure magic or not. Of course, following it would mean certain death.
- These greek mythological beings are, in a way, nature spirits, or the embodiment of nature from greek mythology. Applying the voice of the loon therefore seems appropriate, because it is a beautiful sound to match with the creature itself. Of course, again, it could work as a dark undertone, and if the nymph is land-based, it could work almost in a siren-like fashion but for the land.
- I don’t have a specific link for this creature, but I see celestials as beings made of stars, maybe not necessarily gods or god-like. Powerful, no doubt. But these creatures, I imagine, would take a shape and rush across the sky, fighting their own battles or even visiting the world below for who knows what. I imagine the loon is exactly what they would sound like, regardless of the shape that they take. Obviously, they can’t be made of true stars if they’re visiting some small planet, but they’d take on a look as if they are decorated with constellations
2. Reptiles: Barking Gecko (yes really)
It’s an understatement to say that people don’t usually think of reptiles when it comes to… ‘barking’. But an unusual species known as Ptenopus can do just that. The calls are used for territory defense or to attract females, as most unusual calls go. Of course, these little guys aren’t exactly ‘fierce’, but they have gumption.
The bark of this gecko would be fit for a rambunctious little creature, I feel. In a sci-fi setting, tiny aliens that possibly snatch resources, or communicate back in forth with the little barks, could be a neat critter idea. Even making them bipedal geckos would be cool, and no, I’m not making the joke everyone wants me to! But really, tiny two-legged reptile things in either fantasy or sci-fi could be neat. They don’t even have to be reptiles, it’s just unusual to see a reptile sounding like this. I always imagine such a fantasy creature with “the itty bitty yelp of a barking gecko” to be small, but imagine a fantastically large critter that sounds like…well…that. Here are some examples:
- Sentient Raptors
- By these, I mean the dinosaurs, not the birds (although sentient bird raptors would be neat too). Velociraptors are super neat, and I imagine they’d have some form of communication system. If they had barks like these geckos, I imagine it’d be neat, though I’m unsure what biological structures they would need to accomplish this. There could be different tones and pitches for these fellows with their barks for an extra slice of complexity.
- Behemoths are often considered gigantic monsters, and for good reason. So how amusing would it be if they sounded like barking geckos? They open their enormous jaws to utter… barks like that. It’d be amusing, to say the least.
- Small dragons
- Smaller dragons with this sort of bark would work as well. They could be pack-like and communicate with the variations in the barks, as opposed to the normally solitary large dragons. A lot can be world-built with this.
- In folklore, these amphibians aren’t like anything like their biological counterparts, but rather usually accompanied by the element of fire. Imagine a pack of fire salamanders hunting, and mixing the sounds of the barking gecko with that of crackling fire. Or if fire just…suddenly started barking at you.
- Large dinosaurs
- Like the behemoth, another comedic example could be large dinosaurs. I suppose one would have to give them vocal cords for this, for the large chest cavities and vibrations certainly wouldn’t make loud barking noises. But imagine the typical T-Rex making chirping, barking noises like the geckos? Amusing, to say the least.
1. Bug: Katydid
Let’s face it–bugs can get loud. It’s not strictly the first think people think of when considering ‘loud animals’, but if you’ve ever been outside on a summer night anywhere in a warm climate, you’ve likely heard the “screaming of insects”. The Katydid is no exception to this. These leaf-looking bugs might blend into the forest, but boy they can be loud when they want to be.
The interesting thing about this member of the list is just how loud and surprising I feel it is, because of how the bug is meant to blend into its environment. One moment, it’s a leaf, the next moment, it sounds like a higher pitched chittering noise. If I heard this in the wild, I wouldn’t think ‘bug’, I would think some sort of rodent. I think a good match for this one, the “chittering like the rapid shouts of the katydid”, would be for an unexpected beast. Something blending into its environment, but say a body part is stepped on, then suddenly, WHAM, a wall of very unhappy sounds. That happened to me with a squirrel once, actually. One started chitter-yelling at me in a way I never knew how squirrels sounded, and I think it wanted to take me on. It didn’t. The point is, the unexpected nature of this one is what takes me. Here’s some ideas to utilize:
- These nature entities would play very well into the hidden-but-suddenly-loud ideology. Imagine being chased through the forest by a humanoid-tree-like entity emitting sounds like this. I feel it would likely be quite the fright, and considering it sounds like bugs and squirrels, it fits the creature.
- Sentient trees
- We see sentient trees quite frequently in fantasy. Trying to cut one down, then hearing this, would no doubt cause a woodcutter to think twice. It certainly would abolish the idea of a quiet, serene forest, at least if the trees sounded like this when disturbed.
- Giant bugs
- This is a natural entry for this list, considering the katydid is already fairly loud. Large bugs would likely produce an even louder sound than this, but some could have this chittering. It just feels super fitting for these noises to also be paired with…well.. A bug!
I could make an entire list of ideas on bird calls alone, or any critter-type, really, from what I’ve presented here. I wanted to give a sample, however, to get brainstorming going on just how neat it could be to utilize the various sounds of animals in world building. Hope you enjoyed, and hope it struck some thoughts!
BONUS: Geko scream