Writing uplifted canines without making a dog’s breakfast of the whole thing.
As I’ve mentioned both here and on Twitter, my work in progress includes mildly uplifted dogs. And it has been quite a challenge to get right. It’s hard enough to get into the heads of characters from wildly different backgrounds in a dystopian future America, how the hell do you write from the perspective of a species who can’t even tell you when you’re getting it wrong?
Well, you read canine psychology. And you train a few dogs. And you make some things up.
There’s a difference between working dogs and family pets. Dogs react differently to assertive leaders vs people who are passive or submissive. In groups, they have their own pack social structure, and when humans ignore the hierarchy it causes strife within the pack.
How would this dynamic play out if dogs were even more intelligent than they already are? If you could explain things to them as you would to an average eight year old? Dogs aren’t going to speak back in English, they are ill equipped physically for human speech. They aren’t going to use our tools very well; dogs don’t have thumbs. Dogs don’t generally experience self-pity, canine amputees adapt remarkably quickly to their new circumstances. Dogs do mourn, they understand the concept of death, and can be sad or depressed after losing a companion of any species. Working dogs NEED to work, they have a very strong drive, but they don’t generally sustain their work for very long and need frequent breaks to stay at maximum ability.
After trying several methods, I opted to write dog internal monologue in simplistic English, capitalizing a few words used in unique ways due to canine perceptions. Dogs are going to grow more intelligent as the series goes on, and I hope to ramp up the complexity of canine internal monologue to show this alongside portraying the increasingly complex decision making and social structure of the uplifted dogs. By the end, I hope to have canine society moving to a level of complexity above packs, much as human societies eventually became larger than individual tribes. This is one thing I’m doing a bit by the seat of my pants; I don’t know yet exactly how they’re going to turn out, and that’s antithetical to my usual style. I’m going to need to write a good portion of book two before it becomes clear exactly what their society is going to look like, and I don’t think y’all want to wait for me to do that before I publish book one.
You call me a dog
Well that’s fair enough
It doesn’t bother me as long as you know
Bad luck will follow you
If you keep me on a leash and
You drag me along
– Temple of the Dog, Call me a Dog