Whether you're writing about Middle-earth or the Beika district of Tokyo, you'll be dealing with foreign languages that you may or may not know. You may be tempted to work in some of the native languages to give your readers a greater feeling of immersion in the world. There are several things I'd like you to keep in mind though.
- Don't assume that your readers will know as much about the language as you do. Therefore, use the same language you use for the narration for all of the dialogue. Any term not in this language should be clearly defined for the reader. This also applies to honorifics, titles, and terms of address, like Mr./Mrs./Mz./Miss/Lord/Lady. Translate them or leave them out entirely.
Say someone is jumping into a fandom for the first time, and doesn't speak any Elvish or Japanese or Na'vi. They click on a fanfic that looks interesting, but they can't read the dialogue because it's a word-salad of languages they don't know. They give up and go away.
- Write the dialogue from the point of view of the characters whose point of view you're using. You can use a different language to reflect the characters' inability to understand what is being said to them, immersing the reader more into the characters' perspective.
So, you've got a Japanese character in a Japanese setting, and you're writing in English. They'll be able to understand everything said to them in Japanese, so write all of the Japanese dialogue in plain English. But, if the character doesn't speak English well, or at all, you could phonetically transcribe the English into the Japanese phonology, so it seems just as foreign and bizarre to your English speaking readers. Here's an example:
“Ah, I didn't see you there; forgive me,” Kogorou said, stepping aside.As you can see, it is as confusing and incoherent as Kogorou would find it.
The woman with a long nose and carefully fluffed brown hair looked confused a moment, then said, “Aimu sari, ai dina kachi za. Kudju ripii za?”
Kogorou blinked, uncomprehending. What was this strange amalgamation of sounds this woman was spewing?
Conan sighed loudly behind him and answered the woman. Ran tugged him aside and whispered, “It's English; Dad, they're speaking in English.”
For another example, say you're writing in English; your POV character only speaks of Westron in Middle-earth, and they meet an Elf, who only speaks Sindarin.
I stood back, surprised. To me, it'd looked like the tree and sprung to life, but now, I realized I was looking at an Elf. A real, live elf. The elf backed up a step, hands up to show she wasn't holding any weapons. “Goheno nin. Ú-ethilen dhe thostad.”Another situation that you may come across is a bilingual character. You need some way to distinguish the fact that they're speaking another language, but it needs to be in plain English. I suggest putting the dialogue in the other language in italics (no more than that though, too many layers of italics, bolding, and underlining can be distracting) or simply mention in the narration that they're speaking this other language now.
I blinked. What was this “thostad,” and did it hurt?
Ah, I didn't see you there; forgive me,” Kogorou said, stepping aside.In scenes such as this, using the foreign language in the dialogue makes sense. Most of the time, just don't.
The woman with a long nose and carefully fluffed brown hair looked confused a moment, then said in English, “I'm sorry; I didn't catch that. Could you repeat that?”
Kogorou blinked, uncomprehending. Conan sighed loudly behind him and answered the woman, “He just apologized for bumping into you. He's very sorry.”
- Make sure that the translations you use are accurate. Bad translations could end up annoying or insulting everyone who does speak the languages in question. Or rather, it's a pet peeve of mine and it drives me up the wall.
This is so bad in Anime fandoms. The Fan-Japanese is so... so... *tears hair out, flails uselessly at the screen for a few minutes, mouth starts frothing* MAKE IT STOP.
- Using foreign terms in the narration is the most effective, and could lead to using them in the dialogue.
This is pretty simple to do, actually. You have a character think about or discuss the term. Here are a few examples:
Ran scowled down at Shinichi, hands on her hips. “Stop using my name without honorifics. Little boys should call older girls 'Neesan.' I'm older than you.”Now the reader will know the significance of Shinichi addressing Ran as Ran-neesan when in his child-form, and they get some insight into Shinichi's situation and personality.
Shinichi looked down, inspecting the floor. He hated being reminded of his condition. “Yes Ran-neesan,” he mumbled to his toes.
“I don't think I heard you. Say it again.”
He glared back up at her. “I wanna go home, Ran-neesan!”
My fingers brushed across the net the Elfwoman had tucked my hair into. I'd never seen such a device before, but it was holding in all of the stray hairs with ease.In the scene, we get a taste of Elven hair-styles by having the elf character teach our human about Elven hairnets.
The Elf tugged gently on the net. “Cathrae,” she said, clearly pleased with my reaction.
“It's a cathrae.” I said, tasting the word.
“Ma!” she said grinning. “Cathrae.”
Once home, she absentmindedly stuffed her shoes into the kutsubako, a small shelf by the door that they put their shoes away in.Or, it can be as simple as this.
Write in whatever language you're writing in.
Don't expect everyone to know as much or as many foreign languages as you do.
Use foreign languages from the perspective of the characters that you're telling the story through.
When introducing foreign terms, define them carefully and creatively in the story.
Make sure the translations are correct, because this little linguist and translator is driven insane by bad translations.
Back to the Rant Index
I always could see gods. They are shadows, vague shapes, but sometimes they’ll take the form of something from my memory. If they are dangerous, they’ll take the shape of something that frightens me. If they benevolent, they’ll take the shape of something that comforts me. They each have their own personalities too… some are mischievous, some are shy, some love attention and being doted on. They like to live in statues and shrines. Other’s care little about humans. They have important jobs to do, like moving clouds and making goats mate.
I was eight years old when I realized I was seeing gods. I was traveling with my family, taking fresh wool from the herders on the mountain, to the River City. We stopped to pay homage to the local gods, as one must do when traveling through their territory. (if you don’t, they might become vengeful) and I saw a man who looked like a king that I’d seen a glimpse of being carried by a dozen slaves. He wore bangles and fine skins, and jewels were everywhere on him – even strung on wires that ran through his skin. When he saw us coming to pay homage to the great statue, he became very excited, and started kissing the dying flowers in the offering bowl. To our amazement, the flowers came back to life and blossomed anew. My grandmother, who also is our shaman, told my father that this was a good omen. This god would protect us through its land. We gave it offerings of dyed wool.
I thought differently. Hadn’t they seen the king-magician kissing the flowers? While they told me there was no such man, and that the king I spoke of was far, far away from us, he stepped between us to stare at me. Instead of hunching over to get a better look, he simply shrunk to my height.
“I look like a king to you?” he asked.
I nodded. My grandmother took it as a sign that I’d been corrected, and they went about getting the great ox to move again.
He puffed out his chest and grinned wide. “Most people see only my house,” he said, pointing at the statue.
I looked at my parents, who were busy snapping at slaves. They still didn’t notice him.
“It’s solid wood,” I whispered, turning away so they couldn’t see me talking. “There’s no space for someone to live.”
“I don’t need space,” he said. Then he slipped into the statue, and out of sight. I could still feel his presence though. “I am Nagoy, the Road Guardian!” he shouted in his most mighty voice. “I give flowers their perfume!”
“How does that help guard the road?”
“It doesn’t,” he popped his head out of the statue, “but it’s fun.”
“Does this mean that you are the god of the road then?” I asked.
“Of course I am! I live in the statue, don’t I?”
“My family is traveling through your land, will you take care of us?”
He paused a moment, and chewed on his lips. “I might miss more offerings. And my home is here, not the entire road.”
“What if I gave you a new home?” I scurried over to the cart with the bag full of woolen dolls from the mountains, and pulled out a doll with wool jewelry stitched into it. “It looks like you.”
His eyes widened with glee. “You’ll carry me with you? Will you show me lots of flowers?”
“We travel everywhere. My mom says that we have traveled to every place with a name in the world!”
With that, he left his wooden statue and jumped into my doll. “I am Nagoy the Caravan Guardian!” he shouted in his mighty voice. “I give the flowers of all of the named places their perfume!”
Never had we had a sweeter smelling journey.
Index | Next Chapter
See that mountain there?
A powerful witch lives there.
She stops death there.
Her valley is fruitful there.
Her people never die there.
All you need is to get there,
With a token of your God there,
Learn handspeech and live there.
Part 1 - The Witch
Chapter 2 - The Merchant
I really haven’t been keeping up with my weekly writing regimen, but oh well. I’ve been swamped with homework and barely been able to breathe at all this semester. As I write now, we are in Seattle for SakuraCon - our yearly Spring Break adventure. Trevor (my husband) and I watched the premier of the Dragon Age animated movie. The creators of Dragon Age worked with Funimation to put it together, so we were pretty stoked. Right after that we went to a panel about sexism in the geeky-nerdy community and how we can fight it – so that definitely has colored our review of it. After the feminism panel, we went to a fantastic Indian restaurant called A Taste of India. As we waited in the incredibly long line to get in, we discussed the movie at length and jotted down notes for this article. Therefore, it really is from both of us. This will be heavy in spoilers.
( Spoilers! )
It was kinda obvious that there hadn’t been much in the way of directing of the voice actors. They were supposed to be so-totally-not-French accents, but the voice actors’ accents were all over the place. Many of the actors ended up blending accents or going back and forth between three or four different accents. Some actors gave up and just went British or their American accent. Other than that it was pretty good.
Definitely a low-budget production. The motioncapture looked great, but there were a few times that they didn’t use it which ended up looking really bad – especially with the horses. They cut a lot of corners, including almost never animating facial expressions. In fact, Cassandra’s face was left in a blank, emotionless state for most of the movie, which jarred with the voice acting often. The design of the scenes went for wow-they-were-in-a-hurry to Oh COOL!!!!, and there’s a lot more cheap shots than nice looking ones.
The animation of the magic was sometimes awesome, and sometimes lazy. The fire spell was really, really cool. The fight scenes – not so much. It basically consisted of throwing balls of light around like water balloons. We’d thought that the magic they’d use for fighting would involve making the environment fight for you, since the Templar can shrug off magical attacks with ease. Things like making the ground turn into quicksand to impede their movement or making lightening strike them or pieces of buildings fall on them. That would have been so cool! But, we get magic glowing water balloons instead.
The cheapness doesn’t bother us near so much. Cheap movies can be awesome if the rest of the movie is well done, and this wasn’t. It really feels like a lazy, last-minute slapped together project built to cash in on Dragon Age – but it could have been a lot cheaper and a lot more offensive as an addition to the canon. This was mediocre, but at least it had a great main character and an a few admittedly awesome fight scenes.
This is actually three rants put together. Why artists should at least be familiar with clothing design, designing functional clothing and designing clothing for a new culture. It is an expansion on my short rant in my review of Tokyo Majin.
First off - sewing is really easy. No really - it is. Your ancestors have been making their own clothing by hand for millions of years. Once you get used to putting together 3D shapes from 2D material, wear the clothing that you made. If it isn't working right - you did something wrong. Try again, and adjust the design. It's actually really really easy. If you're an artist, you'll already be able to visualize and foresee how to the shapes would change. You'll notice that a lot of things don't work the way you thought it would. Like gravity. Gravity works on clothing. Those gigantic boobs will need a support system built into that strapless dress, or some way to cover up the support underneath. There's a trend in anime designs lately which has these detached sleeves that are tied around the upper arm. You'll discover why this is stupid. You'll discover that a design that requires double-sided tape isn't a good idea when designing something that needs to be worn every day.
Designing Functional Clothing
This is probably the biggest problem in fiction. First thing to think of is "How does the clothing interact with the plot?" Often times, I see writers describing and artists drawing clothing styles that are impractical or down right dangerous for the characters to be wearing. Everyone remembers the "running in heals" cliche, and plenty of people have ranted about the uses of armor in fantasy fiction. This is kinda like that - just with regular clothing.
Take the rather innocent lovely blue-green dress that Sophie wears in Howl's Moving Castle.
It's a late 1800's style dress - built to go over the top of a corset and several layers of peticoats and bloomers.
Somehow, that dress becomes this:
And then back again!
Firstly, if you've ever stretched a T-shirt collar out, you'll notice that it it doesn't ever regain it's shape. This stretching out is an extreme of that. Why hasn't her dress, which just previously was a petite little thing, which was obviously designed to be worn over a corset - suddenly a large, baggy dress? There are several dangerous problems in this transformation not covered. The collar in the young version is very tight. She'd be strangled by the dress as she transformed! And what happened to the corset? She'd be like someone stomping on a tube of toothpaste - except with internal organs and ribs spewing out. Why is she wearing the corset again later on in the story?
A better way to handle the transformation would have been to have her go to bed in her nightgown, which is much more roomy and lacking in constricting undergarments, and when she wakes up she finds herself old and fat.
Transformations aren't the only times that the restrictions of clothing needs to be taken into account. The ambient temperature is also important. People wear heavy clothes during winter. They wear lightweight clothes in the summer. On a windy day, a wind breaker. On a rainy day, a raincoat. Think of all the different ways that you adjust what you wear in accordance to the air around you. If you're cold - you throw on a sweater. If you're hot, you take a layer of clothing off, or change into something more lightweight.
So, your ultra-cool protagonist is hitting the streets in its continuing mission to slay demons for the protection of mankind, in the middle of winter. You started the series when it was summer, and you have a really cool costume for your masked fighter. Great. Now, there need to be some adjustments made to make it feasible during the middle of winter. And no, I don't mean "add a scarf." Scarfs on their own don't do much.
I hate this one so much. Yeah, she's hot. Why does she have protection for her knuckles but none for her internal organs?
I mean, you're going to have to change your masked fighter's costume to match the weather. If the only way your character can be recognized is because of its one costume, perhaps you should work on the design more, or work in ways to identify the character when not drawn in its main costume. The best I've seen this handled was in Fullmetal Alchemist. The problem of the way metal reacts to cold temperatures and Edward's automail was actually dealt with and not ignored. A nice touch.
By the way, short skirts aren't very warm. Hot chicks are still hot when they're wearing pants.
Now, lots of artists and writers love to describe/draw long flowing clothing. There is a very good reason not to give long flowing to your characters.
Long flowy clothing gets caught on stuff. Or stuff gets caught on it. The reason that the long flowy designs get popular for the upperclassmen in many cultures is that it is very constricting. If you can wear long, flowy clothing, you don't have to do much manual labor or anything that requires you to be able to move around with ease. The same idea applies to hair. Long hair is like a handle waiting to be grabbed and yanked. Factory workers at the turn of the 20th century had to chop their hair off or wear it in tight buns to keep it from getting caught in the machines. So, artists and writers should not only have to make the clothing but have to wear it. Try running through an obstacle course in that gown. It's really hard, isn't it?
When you're designing your characters' "look" - make it fit what the character does. Don't put it in things "because I think they're cool!" but because "this is what this character would wear". If the character prefers to wear something impracticle - then it'd have to suffer the consequences.
Designing a New Culture's Clothing
Oh, the weird ass shit I've seen in fantasy series...
First thing to do when coming up with a clothing style for a new culture is to forget your own, and look at it like an anthropologist. Actually, you should have been doing this all along. I've already mentioned the Prestigious Clothing concept - a mark of prestige is wearing impracticable, constricting, difficult to wear clothing. Keep that in mind.
Start simple. VERY simple. Most clothing styles of cultures has developed in two ways:
Wrapping the material around oneself:
This sort of clothing resulted in kilts, togas, and saris.
Poking a hole in the fabric for your head
The poncho start results in clothing like the Japanese kimono, Roman tunics, and modern-day T-shirts. It's likely that pants also developed from this starting point.
It's perfectly fine to mix the two, or have one for men and the other for women. The idea is to not just recycle our own history's styles or throw them into random cultures of our world's clothing.
If you look into how clothing and clothing styles develop, you'll notice that there's very little original thinking going into their development. They just revise or add to what they already have. Japanese kimonos are identical for men and women. The difference is the sashes. Women wear incredibly restricting sashes that are wide and made of stiff fabric - often with lots of padding to give them a cylindrical shape and gigantic knots to tie them off. Men wear a narrow sash with a small knot.They obviously come from the same idea.
Think of how the different styles would develop for the different classes. The lower classes are going to have clothing that is easier to make, easier to wear, easier to move about in, and that require less material. They'll also have ways to easily mend the clothing.
In cultures with a very large difference between the upper and lower classes, the lengths that the rich will go to to prove that they don't need to do any manual labor will be to the extremes. In China, wealthy men would grow out their fingernails to insane lengths to prove they never had to use their hands. In Rome it went the other way - men who could spend their time body-building and tanning their skin weren't having to work a trade. If the culture also puts men or women above each other - it will be reflected in the clothing. Keeping women as incapable of movement as possible is a trait of patriarchal cultures. You'll see it in Chinese foot-binding and in the ridiculous corsets in Europe. If it takes a lifetime of mutilating your body to achieve, you must have had a life of leisure. You can actually see this happening in our culture today - with cosmetic surgery.
Another important point is that different styles will often develop to be used as markers of different sub-cultures. Think of the goth sub-culture. The clothing and adornment isn't actually all that different from the main stream, it's just been altered a little bit. Think also of the hippy movement in the 60's. Then, a lot of foreign clothing styles were adopted to mark that subculture.
Often, the clothing changes to meet the needs of the profession - Cowboy clothing styles - and later gets expanded on to other layers of a society when the society revolves around that profession.
So, you can use clothing/costume design to tell your readers a lot about the cultures you're designing. You don't have to be restricted to a bunch of modern cliches and archetypes of other cultures.