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  1. Songbird21
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    Songbird21 Member

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    Showing the character is speaking in a different language?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Songbird21, Nov 10, 2014.

    I'm almost done a novel I plan to self publish though Amazon and I need advice. There are several parts where characters are speaking in Greek but I write out the text in english because I don't know much Greek and it's less clunky. I've been putting parts spoken in Greek in bold. What do you guys think?

    SAMPLE:
    When they passed the door to the armory the guard spoke to Nessia. “Lady, Nessia,” he said in confusion, “What are you doing up at such a late hour?” he asked in Greek.
     
  2. jaebird
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    jaebird Active Member

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    It's probably better that you put it in English rather than Greek. Anyone who doesn't understand Greek will likely skip that part of the dialogue altogether. But putting it in bold? No. Something like that is distracting. If you can alert the reader ahead of time that the next bit of dialogue is in a foreign language, you don't need to put it in bold anyway.

    A few questions: How much dialogue is "several parts"? If it's just a few, you could just work a note in at the start of the dialogue (at the start, not after it's already been said) that the following will not be spoken in English, but the reader needs to understand it. Is it a certain character that always speaks in Greek, or prefers to? I would try to find some stability like that, where you wouldn't even have to tell the reader that this person is speaking in Greek every time they open their mouth, just the first time.
     
  3. Songbird21
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    Songbird21 Member

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    But what if you have characters speaking English and Greek in the same scene? Wouldn't it be a bit cumbersome to keep saying "She spoke in Greek." each time I change the speakers' language?

    Example from my novel:
    “Don’t play innocent! You tried to kill me!!” Alex yelled.

    Vasilis jabbed an accusing finger at Sam. “You did this! You turned my precious son against me!”

    “What did he say?” Sam asked Alex.

    “He said you turned me against him,” Alex translated.

    “You’re so full of shit the whites of your eyes should be brown!” Sam retorted angrily.

    The guards were confused so Alex happily translated what Sam said for them. One of the guards let out a snort of a laugh but an icy glare from Vasilis instantly rid her of her levity.

    Vasilis turned his gaze to Nessia. “Nessia, please go inside where you’ll be safe.”

    About four or five scenes.

    A couple characters are multilingual but at one point they go to a country where everyone (With some exceptions) speaks only Greek. Vasilis speaks both and so does Alex.
     
  4. jaebird
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    jaebird Active Member

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    Yes, if you said "she spoke in Greek" every time you switched. If you have bilingual people, then think about their motivation to speak in one language or the other. If, for example, Alex started to say something to Vasilis that she realized Sam shouldn't hear, you could do something like this:
    "I told you before, I'm not-" Alex paused, her eyes moving to Sam's alert face hanging on every word. She cleared her throat and finished the rest of her sentence in Greek. "I'm not.. (I'm too lazy to come up with the rest lol)"

    The point is, you'll have to find ways of slipping it to your reader that the language has changed without just throwing it out there.

    Who's point of view is this scene written from? I'm assuming it's Alex's, which makes it a little more difficult to do smoothly. Is most of the novel from her point of view, or does it change? Since Sam obviously doesn't speak Greek, it would be simple to inform the audience that another character isn't speaking English with things like "He spouted a mouthful of intelligible words while he jabbed an accusing finger at Sam."

    If it's just Alex's POV, you could still do something like that and not have to repeat what was said. But you'd want to change it to something like "He spouted a mouthful of Greek while he jabbed an accusing finger at Sam." And then she could translate it for him.

    The next thing I would think about is are there places where it's not important to point it out at all.

    'Vasilis turned his gaze to Nessia. "Nessia, please go inside where you'll be safe."' Does it need to be pointed out that he's speaking in Greek here? If Nessia only speaks Greek, then it would be obvious anyway.

    Hope you don't mind that I borrowed your characters a bit :)
     
  5. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    The standard is to put the language translation in chevrons, <like this>.
     
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2014
  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I've struggled with this issue in my own novel, and it can certainly get tricky.

    If all characters in the scene are speaking the same language, that's easy. Just indicate early on that they are speaking to each other in Greek.

    If one person is speaking Greek and the others don't understand the language, then you have several choices.

    If the Greek speaker is the POV character, then let us know he's speaking Greek and the other people don't understand what he's saying. He'll get frustrated, perhaps, and either shift to the language they DO speak (English?), or if he can't do that, he'll need to communicate some other way.

    If the POV character doesn't understand Greek, then let us know the speaker's words make no sense to him. He'll also need to find another way to communicate.

    If one of the other people in the scene speaks both Greek and English, then you can have this person translate for the others. How this is done depends on whether the person doing the translating is the POV character or not.

    You can throw in a few untranslated terms for flavour, if you want to, and if the context is clear. Put the foreign words in italics. I mean, if a French person says oui, most of us know what that means or can figure it out from the context. You don't need to translate the term.
     
  7. Songbird21
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    Songbird21 Member

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    Chevrons. I like it :D

    If I knew Greek that would work. As it stands the couple of Greek words I do have in the story are from Google translate. Lol.
     

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