Thursday, March 25, 2010

How do you say it?

For any writer working in with a second language in their books one problem almost always comes up front pretty early… pronunciation. So many languages have silent letters, or letters that aren’t pronounced the same way. As a writer you want to get that across, but you want your dialogue and your narration to still sound natural and not forced. You don’t just want your narrator to come in and just tell the reader “It’s pronounced this way,” but you don’t want your characters to go through an awkward scene of explaining how it’s spelled or pronounced (especially not how it’s spelled, because the reader can see how it’s spelled).

I’ve seen writers do it different ways, having a non-that-language-speaker (that’s an elegant phrase :P) mispronounce it. But then you run into the difficulty of how do you spell the mispronunciation, and how do you show how to accurately pronounce it, etc.

I’ve seen writers ignore it. Look at the names in many Star Wars books and you’ll see names that look as though the writer banged the keys a time or two and then did copy – paste every time they needed to use the name. The writer gets used to seeing a name, not knowing how to pronounce it, but knowing that that clump of letters is associated with that character. I think this works best with science fiction and fantasy. And I’m going to stop heading down this track because my geek is showing.

Some writers pick new names. I think this is especially the case when almost all of your speaking characters are speaking this other language and the opportunity for mispronunciation is not really there.

You can provide a pronunciation guide at the beginning or end of the book. This can be especially helpful if you include a lot of little words in the other language in the book. Strangely enough, I think I’ve seen this done the most with Hawaiian terms.

However, last weekend I read what I think is the slickest insertion of how to pronounce a name I’ve ever read. It was in Tracie Peterson’s Dawn’s Prelude and the character’s name is Kjell (it’s Swedish).

To set the scene. Lydia has just arrived in Alaska via boat (this is set in the early 1870s) and she’s been sea sick most of the way and she passes out, right into Kjell’s arms:

“Hello,” he said, softly. “I believe you fainted.”

“I suppose I did.” [Lydia] put her hand to her head. “I don’t travel well on the water.”

Kjell gave a chuckle. “You aren’t alone. Many folks have a hard time.” He thought she might ask him to put her down, but when she didn’t he started walking toward his carriage. “My name is Kjell. Kjell Lindquist.”

Chell? What kind of name is that?”

“It’s Swedish. Doesn’t look a thing like it sounds.” (70)

Later in the book another character, a bad guy, calls him Chill all the time. I love it. It gives the pronunciation, without it seeming awkward. It’s practically perfect.

Peterson, Tracie. Dawn’s Prelude. Minneapolis: Baker House, 2009.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Show vs. Tell

Any good writer, and probably almost all of the bad ones too, has heard the phrase “show, don’t tell,” at some point in their career. Actually, they’ve probably heard it a million times in their careers. From the classes that talk about descriptions, to the books on writing, to the writer’s workshops, that is a writing basic.

It’s an easier said than done kind of thing. Sometimes you worry that the point that you’re trying to make might just be too vague, that your allusion might be missed. So you tell your reader what you want them to see.

Or you want to be sure that your reader knows exactly how the characters are acting, specifically speaking, so you throw in that adverb so they know exactly what’s going on. We’ve all done it, there’s no need to be ashamed.

But, be it leading the reader directly where you want them to end up, or just not using strong enough verbs, too much telling is a sign of poor, or perhaps more accurately, underdeveloped writing.

The best example I can come up with to demonstrate this is the game My Sims Agent. This is a fun little game I have for the Wii system. I think it’s supposed to be for younger kids, but I’m not very good at any video games other than Bejeweled, so it’s right on my level. The basic plot of the game is that you’re running around the town trying to find clues to solve little mysteries, all of which build up to the big overarching mystery.

Every time you find a clue you don’t even have to try to guess what the clue means, the game out and out tells you, and it’s a little frustrating. Most of the time you’ve figured out what it means anyway, but all of the guess work has been taken out, all of the thinking has been taking out.

I suppose an example of a game with way too much showing and not enough telling would be the Myst series of games, where basically you had to guess what you were supposed to be doing the entire time, which just goes to show that it’s all about balance.

So next time you’re thinking about what to show or tell your reader think, is this a clue to a puzzle that they can solve on their own?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Sleeping Beauty Proposal

Bad blogger here.

I have an actual excuse for last week, my first graduate paper (an eight source annotated bibliography on Jacob’s Room and the Comedy of Manners).

This week my excuse is I’m on spring break, and by “I’m on spring break” I mean, I’m working. Oh how I miss being on the student side of academia.

However, I do have a recommendation for a good book. The Sleeping Beauty Proposal by Susan Strohmeyer.

Genie thinks that her hunky, English, writer boyfriend has finally proposed to her on national television… until he says that she said “yes” when she hasn’t actually talked to him. But her best friend has a “great” idea. No one (other than the two of them – and the not-fiancĂ© of course) knows that they’re not engaged, so why not run with it? Wallow in the gifts. Bask in the bridal glow for a while.

And that’s all great, until a guy come along that Genie might actually like to be with. But of course, she’s off limits and that a line that a guy like him would never cross (or would he?).

The story is well told with great, crazy characters and a fun narratorial voice. Those that like Sophie Kindsella or Meg Cabot will like this great example of good chick lit.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Reading List

Liz asked what the 24 books on my reading list for the year are. Here it is.


1. North and South – Elizabeth Gaskell

2. The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Vol. 1 – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

3. Persuasion – Jane Austen

4. A Tale of Two Cities Charles Dickens

5. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

6. TBA

Devotional-Type Books

1. Surprised by Joy – C.S. Lewis

2. The Four Loves C.S. Lewis (Completed)

3. Messiah – Jerry Thomas

4. Walk with God in Psalms – Don’t remember

5. Wild at Heart – John Eldredge

6. TBA

Books on Writing

1. Novel Ideas –Various

2. Art of War – James Scott Bell

3. From the Inside…out – Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck

4. On Writing Romance – Leigh Michaels

5. Write Away – Elizabeth George

6. The Writing Diet – Julia Cameron

Other Books

1. Alpha Beta – John Man

2. Gutenberg – John Man

3. The Welsh Girl – Peter Ho Davies

4. What the Dog Saw – Malcolm Gladwell

5. Atonement – Ian McEwan

6. The Man Who Made Lists – Joshua Kendall