Furry Writers' Guild Forum

Describing the Indescribable?

Here’s a question that I’ve had a hard time dealing with. But first, a little background.

In something I’ve been starting to put together for NaNoWriMo this year, there’s…well…these entities, I guess you could call them. They’re the main antagonists of sorts. They came into the universe the story takes place in via “gaps in the fence” between their universe and the one the story actually happens in. They’re more or less between worlds, and they can’t communicate to any of the characters or “extras”.

So that’s where the problem lies. How do you describe, or even have characters comprehend something that they can’t understand? How would I be able to have them rationalize them and their motives? Anything else I should probably think about?

Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

When we try to rationalise something, we look for something familiar. So if we can’t see these entities but feel them, we might rationalise it as ghosts (maybe) because it’s a concept we understand.

Read lots of Lovecraft. :stuck_out_tongue:

That aside, I agree with the above comment. As humans, we tend to anthropormorphise anything we can’t really comprehend. Take the man on the moon, Jesus on our toast, dogs ‘smiling’, etc. The human brain will always try to place things in realms that we understand and will tend to initially accept only things that fit within our world.

Anton LeVay, the founder of the Church of Satan, once told a story about a party he held. He was in the kitchen with one of his guests when his pet lion peeked in through the kitchen window from the backyard where he resided. The guest looked at the lion yet didn’t respond at all because the lion was out of his personal perception of the world. It was only when LeVay called attention to it that the man freaked out because he was forced to recognize that something out of the ordinary was actually there.

All that said, have your characters react to the elements of these creatures that they can understand. Do they have a familiar smell, or one that can be associated with something else? (like ammonia, peanut butter, burnt toast?) Maybe something that reacts to vision, or sound, or vibrations, etc…

Hope that helps.

Ractus nailed in perfectly. Find ways to tie it in to similar things. If there’s anything akin to ghosts or spirits as the protagonists know them, maybe liken them to that, and include how they’re different. Are they corporal, incorporal, do they have wisps instead of legs? Do they make any noises at all? If so, do they sound like a hundred voices making nonsensical noises, or a bunch of stringed instruments out of tune, struggling and failing to find some sort of harmony?

By tying them into something familiar, even in a vague sense, it gives a great starting point to compare and contrast, thus giving a way to describe them.

Building upon that, having things with discordant or even opposite connotations and denotations can cause a bit of weirdness for the reader that helps them interpret that a thing is alien or otherwise indescribable in our system of reality. It can be subtle, such as “its hide was a sickening blue, with small canyons across it” (colors like blue or pink are often unconsciously considered clean, but it’s sickening; canyons are considered geographic features and thus big, but these ones were called small), or as blatant as “It burned with cold fire, reeking of the sound of your[her/his] mother’s voice”. They can be descriptive, even arguably correct, and still be weird enough to come across as “indescribable”.

I would say if you can’t describe the thing, give clues and describe what’s happens around it.

Does it damage the environment by being there? Are things rotted, deformed or mutated in a particular way because it was there? How exactly are the people that experience it effected? The temptation would be to just say they all go crazy, but that only says so much. Maybe they all go crazy with certain disturbing similarities? They’ll want to perform the same actions as others that came in contact, even though they never met each other. Maybe they always seem to be trying to convey something important or burned into them but its just beyond them.

Voice said it. Ol’ HPL built a whole career out of describing the indescribable. Cthulhu is his best known example. In the 1930s, his descriptions of Cthulhu in the weird-horror magazines could terrify. Today we have Cthulhu plushies and on T-shirts. O, tempora; o, mores!