How do I describe the sound of a low growl in a low technological culture context?

All that comes to mind as possible descriptions are the sounds of rolling logs, or the wheels of a wagon.

Note: this culture also does not know what the sounds of thunder or rain are, or even running water.

But back to the growl sound.

Would it be comprehensible to the reader if I describe this as something similar to the sound of logs rolling on a floor?

And yes... I am looking for your opinions too, since they do matter in this instance, so... put yourselves in the shoes of my readers, please?

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    Just curious: Are there no thunders? No waterfalls? Why would a "low technological culture" not know these "basic" earth things? Nov 1, 2017 at 14:06
  • @TopQuestions Maybe they live in a desert. Nov 1, 2017 at 14:18
  • Sometimes it also rains there - and there are thunders. Nov 1, 2017 at 14:23
  • @TopQuestions They live in an old underground parking-lot. Nov 1, 2017 at 14:41
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    I personally have no idea what rolling logs sound like, so it would be hard for me to envision this, but I do know what a wagon wheel sounds like. I would add the wheel, just in case. Nov 1, 2017 at 20:20

6 Answers 6


In general, a human will tend to hear a sound as similar to something familiar. If you've never heard a watch alarm before, you'll probably think it's some kind of insect call because of the high frequency harmonics. If you've never heard, say, steel wheels on a steel rail, you're likely to think of the sound as similar to rocks scraping together (especially if you're unfamiliar with thunder or large scale water movement).

The basic principle here, however, is that the mind makes the unfamiliar into something more familiar. See a light in the sky, and if it stands still it's a star (or planet, if you know about those). See something vaguely below the surface of moving water, you'll think it's a huge boulder or shoal if you don't know about whales.

Overall, the phenomenon is a branch of pareidolia, which in general refers to seeing patterns where there are none -- animal shapes in clouds, faces in electric outlets, and so forth. All humans have it to a greater or lesser extent, and it's generally stronger in primitives than in those familiar with a much broader range of phenomena.

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    Good point. I wasn't thinking that far, but your answer sure will help me with this and in other instances as well, when he sees something he has never seen before. My main character at the moment only has knowledge from a very restrictive cultural point of view. And by the way, your name @Zeiss Ikon always makes me smile. I have one of those beautiful cameras, an Ikon Zeiss ^-^ Nov 1, 2017 at 13:24

Logs rolling on a floor is good, but if it's an animal (including a person) growling, I would be inclined towards something more wild and menacing.

[Not suggesting what to write], but how about rocks rolling down a hillside or something like that? Something primitive that works for the world in which the story is set and will be familiar to everyone there.

  • That's what I was going for, something familiar. Thanks. Nov 1, 2017 at 13:17

If the characters in this universe aren't familiar with thunder or waterfalls, I guess I would question how they'd be familiar with the sound of logs rolling on a floor. Likewise rocks rolling down a hillside. It sounds like an urban setting, albeit post-apocalyptic. I guess they could have heard those things in their world, but I'd wonder why no thunder or rushing water.

Might they be familiar with the sound of a collapsing building? Or the rumble of a concrete pillar before it crumbles under its own weight? A tunnel caving in, an old subway tunnel for example, and the lingering roar echoing afterward?

Are there still motor-driven vehicles? Could they be familiar with the grumble of an old engine at idle? Or wildlife roaming their urban expanse, like a snuffling boar, or a bear?

Or, more intimate to the characters, an amplified version of someone's empty belly roaring for food?

I can't even imagine what it would be like to live someplace where I'd never heard an earthquake, the rolling sound of distant thunder, or a raging waterway, but if the characters don't have those in their experiences, maybe it's helpful to make a list of things they would be familiar with, and the sounds that list of things might make.

Perhaps one of those will be close enough to what you're looking for.

Sounds like an interesting setting. Good luck with it! :)

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    There was a large cash of logs in a warehouse near the place they call home, underground. This warehouse seems magical, the logs, and other items, never run out. Nov 2, 2017 at 0:57
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    Awesome! Then I guess the sound of the logs on concrete would be a familiar starting point. :) You can have one of the characters note how the growl is similar but different somehow to emphasize they don't recognize it.
    – Josh
    Nov 2, 2017 at 14:34
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    Great idea! I can have the character try to figure out what he's hearing until he nearly stumbles over the animal. Nov 2, 2017 at 14:38
  • Makes for a great tension builder, too! Sounds exciting! Best of luck with it! :)
    – Josh
    Nov 2, 2017 at 14:39

To me, a growl sounds like a very loud and sustained clearing of the throat, or a combination of that and a shout caused by injury, as people (particularly men) may do when they hurt themselves. Surely the residents of your garage have done something to hurt themselves in the past: breaking a finger in a fall, for example.

  • That's more of a groan? Do you mean something between a groan and a a throat clearing? I see that description fitting a snarling sound that goes to a growl and then to a menacing bark. Nov 1, 2017 at 15:51
  • It is not a groan to me. Groans are not LOUD to me, I once smashed my thumb with a hammer, and it was more of an "AHHHH, God DAMN IT!" A shout. Groans and moans are not full voiced. Shouts are full voiced.
    – Amadeus
    Nov 1, 2017 at 17:19
  • Exactly! but this growl is a low growl, not a snarling loud one, more of a continuous rumbling sound, like distant thunder. Nov 1, 2017 at 17:29

Consider, rather than describing the thing, just telling us what it is.

Descriptions tend to get lengthy, and even concise ones slow down the scene. "I heard a noise" might be enough to get us into the action.

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    This description is needed for the plot. It's not something that is there for the sake of being there, it's something that shows this character discovering the world. Nov 2, 2017 at 19:46

You've had some really good answers so far, but I think you might be approaching this from the wrong angle.

Instead of trying to describe the sound that's unfamiliar to the character in a way that makes it recognizable to the reader, why don't you show the effect that a sound has instead.

A deep, threatening growl has an impact beyond mere auditory recognition, and it's one that is deeply, deeply ingrained in humanity. You feel it in your chest, adrenaline surges, hair on the nape of you neck will rise and, instinctively, you know that there is danger close by. It's primordial. It's menacing, and no amount of technological advancement (or subsequent loss) changes that reaction - you're fighting against hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. It's a warning sound for this reason.

As an aside, a low menacing growl sounds nothing like timber of wagon wheels, which is more of a crash or rumble than a growl. And humans growl all the time, especially young ones. If you've ever raised children, some of the first sounds they consciously make are growls. To say that they would not be familiar with a growl because they are low-tech or whatever is probably stretching the suspension of disbelief a touch too far.

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