Monday, March 6, 2017

What if your characters don't speak the same language that you speak?

I have a problem. The only language I am fluent in is English and yet, none of my characters speak English in any of my books. This isn't a problem because I need everyone to speak English, but because things get lost in translation, even when their language is an imaginary one that not even *I* an fluent in. The things authors say, am I right? Like,"Oh my God! The imaginary people in my head speak a different language than me. I'm so upset."

There's my Fate Of Eros series, where my characters speak Ancient Greek. Not Modern Greek, Ancient. Because they are Greek Myths, whose hometowns were places like Athens. So they speak a dead language that absolutely no one speaks today. And then there's my "The Last Of The Gods" series. Absolutely no one speaks that language at all or ever has because it only lives in my head, it's completely imaginary, and I am not fluent in it. It's not just one language either, Bright and Night speak some kind of holy language, Adonya speaks a human language, and the people she runs into as she's traveling her world speak other human languages that are foreign to her. Many of them.

The way I write fantasy is different than how other people write it. (I think? I'm not fluent in how all other fantasy writers write either.). I don't write urban fantasy usually. When I invent my own setting, it takes place in an alternate universe. There is no such thing as earth or anything else that exists in our universe. They've never even heard of us most of the time. There are no people who speak English and their time periods do not reflect our own. They are unique: separate from us, in culture, language, and sometimes appearance.

This is why people get "confused" about what time period and place my characters live in. It's not a time period or place that can be related to our earth in any way and they don't think it's a big deal or weird that they live in this alternate dimension, only we do, so I never make a big deal of explaining that it's different. That would be very out of character for my characters to think about or wonder.

I am fully aware because of it, that I am translating the things they are saying into English and that in their native tongue, it sounds totally different. Because of this, I write them speaking as if they spoke modern English. It's a translation, so why not? I want the reader to best understand what they are saying, so I can't write it in their native tongue. I don't use slang words, except for curse words (everyone cusses in every language, so why not?) because their slang words would be different than ours, but otherwise I keep it the same.

But people have this idea in their head that if you are writing a fantasy novel, even one that takes places in an alternate universe, that has no knights in it or anything of the sort, that the characters must speak old English or it doesn't make sense. Even when the characters speak Ancient Greek, you must write it in old English. I guess all foreign and old things, the characters are supposed to speak old English to English speakers.

I don't do this because it's not accurate to the characters at all. They don't know a word of English from any time period. And it makes it harder for the reader to read and understand.

Besides, this whole idea that people speak that type of English comes from the New King James Version of the Bible. We have Christian roots in this country, so everyone thinks that stories of people who lived a long time ago should read like old translations of the Bible.

I think this is especially ridiculous because back in the old days, back during King Arthur and Beowulf's time, back when we think all fantasy novels take place, they didn't speak a NKJV of English. They spoke Old English and it looks and sounds like a completely different language. Example of Old English poetry:

So, it might be that people object to the curse words I put into my books because I guess people think cursing is only a modern past time (which its not), but I can't justify deleting those either (even when it comes to suspending disbelief.). I guess I could use old time cursewords, but I don't know why because I don't write the rest of it in old English.

It all has to do with character development. A nice guy (well, people might disagree with me on this), I'll say my character who tries to be righteous (even if he's misguided), like Bright, won't curse very much. He has a deep sense of responsibility. But a guy like Night will curse constantly because he just doesn't care and if I delete those curse words, I am not being true to his character. Why would a guy who has no problem breaking the bones of a woman he's in love with be weird about using curse words?

I suppose I could invent curse words for my characters that don't exist on this earth, but whenever I imagine that, I think of Xenon: Girl of the 21st Century and how ridiculous her exclamations were. My best friend's little sister absolutely loved those movies when we were kids and we'd always say "Zetus Lapetus" because it was so hilarious to hear that movie playing in the background and hear her exclaiming those words every once in awhile. We used to tease her over it.

So I don't want their cursing to sound mock-worthy That will draw people out of the story.

I'm open-minded to changing the way I write based on reviews and critiques. I've already done so many times. Sometimes I consider unpublishing some of my old stories because I've grown and changed as an author. I've gotten better at marketing and I've listened to the reviews. I try to write books, these days, with happier and better endings. I work on my character development a lot and the development of the love story between the two characters. But if I unpublish every book that I have learned from and gotten better at writing since, then the only books I'll have published is whatever my most recent novel is.

But I don't see a better solution to this.

It just doesn't make sense to me that if I write fantasy novels, I should for some reason translate all my characters dialogue into NKJV English.

But if I find a better solution, I will use it. I bet it's a problem more fantasy and science fiction authors face than regularly talk about it.

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