Using Google Translate and other techniques to improve the dialogue of your characters

The Roman aqueduct of Segovia with the Cathedral de Santa Maria in the background

English is my first language but the majority of my writing is historical fiction and so often the original dialogue of my characters would have been spoken in another language. Rather than over use colloquial sayings or try to invent phonetic version of words to give them a German, Spanish, or even an Australian accent I decided to research the peculiarities of the source language.

My current work is set in Segovia around the time of the Spanish Armada, and so most dialogue would have been spoken originally in Spanish.

First of all I listened carefully whenever I encountered a native Spanish speaker who spoke in English. A Spanish barista, when handing my coffee at his busy café smiled and said:

Thank you for the waiting.”

When in actual fact he meant: “I’m sorry you had to wait,” or “Thank you for your patience.”

I also looked to on-line language education tools, discovering the Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) order etc. Rather than saying:

I am hungry.”  or “It’s a beautiful day.”

A Spanish person will express themselves:

Yo tengo hambre.”  (“I have thirst.”), or “The day is beautiful.”

My dialogue improved dramatically but still lacked the verisimilitude that I am striving for. When a link to Google Translate appeared on the side of my browser it sparked another idea:

What if I translated my English dialogue into Spanish and then translated the result back to English?

I worked my way through the first chapter of my manuscript, cutting and pasting phrases between tabs. The result in many cases was nonsensical, in others rendered almost no difference. But when it was altered it was as though the words exploded from the mouths of my characters themselves.

The most enlightening peculiarity of Spanish I discovered was that they never use an apostrophe and an “s” to convey possession as they are in English. For example:

This is Consuelo’s father.”    or    “The cat’s fur is brown.”

Would be phrased:

This is the father of Consuelo.”    and    “The fur of the cat is brown.”

My current work is written in first person present tense and so I immediately commenced a search and destroy mission to find all occurrences of the damned “apostrophe s”. What resulted was a complete disaster; an unreadable cacophony of words that was as painful to read as it had been to write.

Pairing this back I decided to restrict these rules to dialogue and the result was immediately effective. The contrast of the phrasing of dialogue to that of the narrative highlighted these subtle differences and delivered the result I hoped it would.

My research also highlighted another peculiarity of the Spanish language; they do not capitalise titles or days of the week e.g. “commander” or “tuesday”.

I’d love to hear if you have any other ideas along these lines too in the comments section below.

Who would take a one-way journey to Mars?

Mars One

Mars One is a not-for-profit organization whose goal is to establish a human settlement on Mars

Mars One is a not-for-profit organization whose goal is to establish a human settlement on Mars. In January this year they began the selection process for the astronauts who will make the one way journey to establish a human settlement on Mars. The road map has designated 2023 as the year that the first four humans will land on Mars.

Mars One have begun a search to find the best candidates for the ‘next giant leap for mankind’

Although they have not set an upper age limit for the first crews to settle Mars, with my age placing me in my mid fifties at the time of the scheduled first landing, I suspect I may be beyond it.

Even so I have written a short post on the type of person suitable for this one-way journey.

Australian National Maritime Museum

Many humans have travelled to new lands with the intention of never return but there has always been the potential of a return. Even the convicts forcefully transported to Australia in the eighteenth century departed with the dream of one day returning to their homeland, buried deep in their hearts. In contrast the astronauts of the Mars-One missions must be able to embark on the first truly one-way journey in human history. They must choose to severe all physical ties to their past, and everyone they hold dear. But the void this will leave, like the vacuum of space, will be filled by Mars.

Many of the early seafaring peoples left their homelands to travel to new lands, sometimes on voyages of discovery, other times to help build new societies, but there remained always a chance to return. Even the brave ancestors of the Polynesian peoples, floating in the expansive Pacific Ocean in little more than voyaging canoes, would have held tight to a small hope that they could choose to risk a return journey.

COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII PRESS Side and top view of an Outrigger canoe from Satawal, Caroline Islands.

A Mars-One astronaut must sacrifice all of this; they must jettison all hope of return. They will never hold the people they love in their arms when they laugh or cry; or hear their footsteps; or begin a journey home to them. They will have to accept that they will be several hundred million kilometres from their loved one’s arms when they exhale their last breath.

Experiences that have been part of human existence for Milena will become foreign to them; walking in the open air, swimming in the ocean, feeling warm, no, hot sun on their face. Even walking in one direction for more than a minute, without a spacesuit, will be many years away from being possible.

When they jettison all of this they will be an empty cup, ready to be filled with everything that is Mars. Apart from gaining 37 minutes and 22 seconds each day, they will participate in the birth of a new society and make a positive influence on its formative years. New experiences await them: learning to eat, drink, and exercise in a new gravity; smell and touch the martial soil and rock; seeing the horizon closer than it has ever been.

They will take their newborn existence, like the dry martian soil, and moisten it with the human spirit to alchemise the raw, unformed clay that will be moulded over many years to become a human Mars.

They will need to be learning creatures, and imbibe the essence of whatever they are charged with learning; much like the properties of some rocks to imbibe fluid, drawing it into themselves. They will need to be writers too, of their experiences and emotions but also of Earth. I feel that the first Martian novel will be of Earth.WritingPadAndBooks

Curiosity must drive their behaviour and creativity will be an indispensable element of any of the first Martians but it should not be the bloody minded kind that works in isolation. Any candidate must prove they will be open to the ideas of others and capable of trusting them enough let go of their own. They must be active collaborators and strive to be an enabling ingredient of a team that empowers it to achieve more than the sum of the individual contributions. They will need to let go of old ways with practised ease to release and foster new methods of practise and existence.

English: Mars Terraforming

English: Mars Terraforming (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The selection of the first humans to live the remainder of their lives on Mars will be long and exhaustive. The qualities they need to posses such as resilience, trust, curiosity, and ingenuity are also the qualities that will mean these people will have real relationships on Earth that they must physically sacrifice to become the first Martians. They will have to throw the ropes, that physically connect them to earth, into the water just as the ancient mariners did but for them it must be without harbouring any hope of return.

So which of you would take this one way journey to Mars?

HUGE New Gale Crater Panoramas from Curiosity

Associated posts:

[In]NaNoWriMo – halfway point

[In]NaNoWriMo

INterNAtional-Novel-Writing-Month

This is my first [INter]NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth, aka. InNoWriMo, and for the traditionalists in the USA: NaNoWriMo.

The aim is to get back in to the habit of writing and making it a daily exercise; not editing, not plotting, and certainly not worrying whether my prose cuts it. I have been working on a large piece of fiction for a couple of years and have fallen in to the “pit” and cannot climb out of the latest chapter, constantly re-editing, cutting characters, adding and removing B and C plot lines etc.

This has to stop, and a month of strictly enforced vomit writing seemed the obvious remedy.

I spent October plotting and found Kristen Lamb‘s eight part series on Plot Structure to be a most valuable resource. I read her posts and applied some of the techniques to my basic idea for a story and started day one with a twenty-five chapter outline, a passable Log Line, and the scenes for the first seven chapters planned out.

I’m not sure I would have made it through the first week without that preparation “in the bag”.

So here I am at the end of day 14 with 20,229 words and eight chapters completed. based on the official NaNoWriMo schedule of 1667 words per day I am a little behind, but based on my own schedule, that takes in to account a new other commitments such as my youngest son graduating year 12 at school, I am pretty much where I want to be.

I have made mistakes but, so far, have resisted looking backwards and trying to fix them.

I have left stubs; where research is needed, such as where I don’t know the particular military ranks in the Spanish Army of the fifteenth Century e.g.

“Off you get [rank],” a disheveled officer said to me.

…and this helps to quieten the pedantic editor and perfectionist lurking inside me. Now…End Blog, and back to the vomit draft.

What might have been?

So much of the built landscape of the Australian bush stinks of what might have been, even some areas quite close to major cities.

It’s like we lost the fight against a harsh unforgiving environment, and an almost genetic apathetic indifference. It seems that for most Australians okay is not only good enough, it is the absolute height of their ambition.

Let this frustration temper our ambition, not lower it!

A Fettered Mind:

A timely reminder to look at the big BIG picture!

Originally posted on The Byline Blog:

“I really think — what I hope — is that when Curiosity lands on Mars…it’s just going to blow everyone’s mind, and we’re going to see this explosion in interest in science the way it was during the Apollo era. That’s our hope, anyway; we’ll see what we deliver.”
- Charles Bolden, Head of NASA (here)

Image

Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygen’s illustration of Mars, the first of its kind (1659).

At 1:31 A.M. EDT this Monday, August 6th, a machine the size of a Mini Cooper with a red, laser-spitting eye, will land on the surface of Mars.

The scientists and other team members at NASA’s Mars Science Lab have nicknamed this, the newest rover set to comb the Red Planet, “Curiosity” – as this mission surely represents for the scientific community, and for the rest of us, an ushering in of a new and important era…

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How can a westerner come to understand Seppuku?

If there is one part of Japanese culture that alludes most westerners it is ritual suicide by disembowelment known as seppuku, or “Hara-kiri” as it is better known outside Japan.

Seppuku became an integral part of Bushido (The way of the Warrior) and was used in several ways:

  • Capital punishment for disgraced samurai rather than be executed (this was not an option for other classes)
  • To avoid falling into enemy hands, and possible torture and revealing military secrets
  • To follow your Lord into the next world
  • In protest of a lord’s decision

Seppuku is poorly understood and is often used to support an argument that the Japanese people hold human life in little regard, when in actual fact it is more truly a proof of the opposite.

The act of seppuku is common in historical literature and drama, the most famous in my experience is the story of Forty-seven Rōnin.

The Forty-seven Rōnin also know as the Genroku Akō incident (元禄赤穂事件) occurred at the start of the 18th century and is the story of group of samurai who are forced to become rōnin(masterless warriors) when their daimyo (feudal lord),  Asano Takumi-no-Kami Naganori, is ordered to commit seppuku after being tricked into insulting a court official.

These rōnin plotted for over two years to avenge Asano’s honour.

Even early in my martial arts training I was exposed to mentions of these”Forty-seven Rōnin” but it wasn’t until I read the novel The Tokaido Road by Lucia St. Clair Robson that I learned more than that these rōnin were the epitome of bushido.

It was while reading this novel that I had a satori moment where I feel I came understand seppuku.

St. Clair Robson’s novel tells the fictional account of Lord Asano’s daughter who, also vows to avenge her father’s honour, and travels The Tōkaidō Road disguised as a high-ranking courtesan to reach Oishi, the leader of these Forty-seven Rōnin.  From her point of view he and the other rōnin have done nothing to avenge their Lord for two years.

Spoiler Alert

In the end the story matches the historical facts and the Forty-seven Rōnin succeed in killing the court official who betrayed their lord and then surrender to the will of the Shogun. The shogun deliberates; will they be executed, forced to commit seppuku, or set free?

As a typical westerner I read an appreciated the story of revenge and truly expected them to be rewarded for the honour of this act and be set free. This story, and history, had a different ending and it appears that the happy ending eventuated but was not the one I expected; The Forty-seven Rōnin, were granted “the right” to commit seppuku, thus returning the honour of both their Lord Asano and their own families.

I had a double take and read this again, while my mind raced and was forever changed.

What would Takuan Soho tell Mark Cavendish?

A letter by Takuan Soho(1573-1645) to Mark Cavendish, pro tour cyclist, winner 15 Tour de France stages

Although you see the rider that moves to pass you, if your mind is not detained by him and you meet the rhythm of the advancing bike; if you do not think of blocking your opponent and no thoughts or judgements remain; if the instant you see the moving bike your mind is not the least bit detained and you move straight in and wrench the lead from him; the line that he was going to use will become your own, and, contrarily, will be the line that defeats your opponent.

Adapted from the letter by Takuan SohoThe Mysterious Record of Immovable Wisdom” to Yagyu Munenori, head of the Yagyu Shinkage school of swordsmanship.