1. rainshadow
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    rainshadow Member

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    Question on Dialog

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by rainshadow, May 6, 2009.

    I'm curious to see how other members would handle a situation that came up in my latest work.

    I'm writing a story that includes dialog for several different languages. Since it is written from the POV a couple of different characters who know most of these languages, it requires the dialog be written so that my readers understand it without having to go to a translator. ;)

    Most writers italicize said dialog, but I use italics for direct, word-for-word thoughts. Now this might not be a big deal -- one obvious solution is to not italicize character thoughts -- but as is the text is pretty cluttered with italics. In some Star Wars novels I've noticed alien dialog is written into brackets.

    I'm curious to see how others would solve this dilemma, or whether you it's really a problem at all.

    Thanks!
     
  2. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Italics is obviously the convention, but if its posing a problem, leaving them un-italicised shouldn't be a problem, especially if the non-English dialogue is particularly prevalent in the text or if you have a lot of other italicised wrting. That said, if you do have a lot of italics in your work, you may want to consider revising it. It really bugs me when I read over-formatted work, and again, if direct thought constitues a large part of the work, it probably isn't necessary to italicise.
     
  3. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    And if there are any non-English readers here, I have a question: how is English formatted in non-English text?
     
  4. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    So it's a question of how to write dialogue spoken in different languages? You use the language of the audience. So if you're writing for an American audience, you write in English, no italics. Simply mentioning that the person speaking is using another language is quite enough. After all, you can't very well use italics for both spoken dialogue and thoughts without confusing at least one reader. Actually, I wouldn't use italics for either purpose.

    On a side note, I've never seen this thing you mention in the Star Wars novels, though I haven't read an extreme amount of the things. The most dramatic thing I've seen someone do in Star Wars dialogue was put everything one character said in bold, and even that had a reason for it.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    First off, don't rely on italicizing literal thoughts. If you write clearly, it is completely unnecessary.

    There are legitimate uses for italics in dialogue, and foreign phrases is one of them. However, you should limit the quantity of foreign language speech in most circumstances, because your readers' eyes will glaze over if you overdo it.

    You can establish in advance that everyone is speaking different languages but still understand one another, and then represent your dialogue in English. If they don't understand each other, then leave out the text:
    The narrator (and the reader), knows that some private joke was just spoken, probably at his expense, but because he doesn;t speak the language, the text of the dialogue fragment does not belong.

    The use of italics for unspoken dialogue is not standard. It is a lazy habit, and some publishers have picked it up, mostly to cover poor writing. If you write your character thoughts well, there is no need to italicize them or jump through oter typographic hoops.
     
  6. rainshadow
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    rainshadow Member

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    You've all been very helpful. I appreciate the input and it has shed some light on my own style as well.
     
  7. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    There is no English text - most languages use the Latin alphabet, as does English. If you mean English writing, then it's either translated or written in English.
     
  8. rainshadow
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    rainshadow Member

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    I don't know the Japanese language, but I do often see romanized English sprinkled into Japanese text from time to time.
     
  9. g1ng3rsnap9ed
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    g1ng3rsnap9ed Contributing Member

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    One thing that I've seen (in Dan Brown's Angels & Demons) where one character knows a language in which the reader does not went down like this:

    The Italian man said something italian. Hello everybody, I am Italian.

    Except much better than that. :D
     
  10. rainshadow
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    rainshadow Member

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    I would hope so... LOL

    I need to go to my bookshelf then. I do have that book. I was also looking through my Star Wars books (it'd been ages since I actually picked one up) and I couldn't find a single bracket. I do remember it was the book where Leia went to the Wookie homeworld and was actually talking to a Wookie leader who spoke with a speech impediment. (The stupid things we remember... LOL)
     
  11. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    Rainshadow: No, I meant that English uses the Latin alphabet. We're writing with it now.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Sorry, but that is abominable. If your POV character doesn't know the language, then what is the value of stepping out of the POV to supply subtitles? I blame Hollywood for that.

    Really. when you have a POV,stick to it. If you need to switch the POV, do so cleanly, and show the foreign dialogue in English, with the character who doesn't speak the language staring blankly. But don't hop POVs like a frog on a griddle.
     
  13. rainshadow
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    rainshadow Member

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    g1ng3rs...

    If you mean something like the following passage ...

    ... then I shudder. I'm not sure what No avevo paura means, though I suspect it means "I was afraid of that"... as Cogito refers to.

    I just can't use that on principle. In that prologue it's not so much hopping POVs, I think, but that the physicist Vetra knew and understood the language, and that Brown was simply subtitling the language. It's bad enough that he did it, but to do it as he did has potential to make readers who don't understand the language (I'm assuming Italian) think the villain is hopping back and forth between languages.

    I give Brown credit... he is an amazing storyteller. Not all storytellers are the best writers, however. I don't consider myself much of a writer... I do like to think that I'm a capable storyteller who is trying to improve his writing.

    I intend to follow Cogito's advice... but I did have one other question.

    You do mean that I should drop italics even from dialog that is translated for the reader's benefit, correct?
     
  14. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    I alternate between three or four different languages in what I write, not including English. I use this sort of thing:

    The phrase 'mo chreach' means 'my ruin,' so the statement afterwards goes some way to translating the phrase. More importantly, however, it gets the connotation across to the reader, who know the use of the phrase and why Seonaidh is using it.

    Hang on, I'm looking for a better example.
     
  15. rainshadow
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    That seems to lead into the style of a young author out there that has grown increasingly popular... Chris Paolini, author of the Inheritance Trilogy. He tends to throw in his invented language and in the end have a glossary of the terms. Other fantasy writers use that method. I don't know if you use a glossary of terms, but that particular style seems much more suited to fantasy. My work is more of a thriller.
     
  16. rainshadow
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    My apologies for missing this. No worries, Gallowglass... I know what you meant. I didn't explain my intent; I was simply giving an example of what I've seen from some Japanese writing.
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Italics are used primarily for two things in dialogue: foreign phrases, and emphasised words. But if your dialogue fragment is entirely in anothe language, you shouldn't italicize it either. Then follow the dialogue fragment with the translation, niether enclosed in quotes nor italicized.

    You can see a masterful use of mixed dialogue like this in Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead. In that book, the main caracter speaks both languages fluently. The inclusion of the Portuguese provides additional subtleties of context that don't translate to English. Otherwise, he'd have been better off leaving out the Poruguese entirely.
     
  18. rainshadow
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    rainshadow Member

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    Excellent! I'll check out that book the next time I visit the library.

    I thought perhaps that was what you were getting at, but I wanted to clarify. Thank you Cogito... you've been very helpful.
     
  19. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    follow cog's sage advice... he's right!
     

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