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I'll be frank. I'm not all that interested in people contacting me here. If you want to say anything to me, it's better to go on irchighway and find me there. I'm nearly always idling.
Instead, I'm going to take advantage of this opportunity to help along my elusive quest to find a really good proofreader and adapter. No one seems to know what I am looking for. A guide to what I am looking for will be posted shortly.
Maybe an angel of a proofreader will show up.
I can hope.
Edit: New version coming up.
A. Basic Topics
Sentences, phrases, and fragments have to work together to convey the full meaning of a passage to the audience. Without a proper coordination of ideas, important meanings will be lost in retelling the story. This is really, really important. Responsibility for getting this correct largely falls on the translator, but the proofreader can help make it better.
I can’t exaggerate how important this is. Get this right or don’t bother with the rest.
Dependency between Ideas
When one clause is predicated on the outcome of another, the sentences should make the logical progression sufficiently clear to the reader. Inverting or omitting the dependency of one clause on another may have a large impact on the direction of a passage or the overall plot.
Examples: An action and response
When Karl took his case to the class president, Tom held a meeting with all of the students in classes A and B.
Karl took his case to the class president, and Tom held a meeting with all of the students in classes A and B.
Karl took his case to the class president when Tom held a meeting with all of the students in classes A and B.
When two concepts are introduced next to each other, the passage is being set up so that the reader will compare and contrast the two concepts. The use of juxtaposition will draw attention to the similarities or the differences. It’s important to use language that brings out this effect.
Quotations and Quotables
When one character directly quotes another character, make sure that the quote is exactly what the other character said. Without a clear match-up of quotes, readers will get lost because they won’t understand where the reference came from. If a direct quote is too hard to fit into the phrase, it’s better to reorganize the sentence; forego the direct quote and supply information about the original speaker. That way, the reader can figure out the original reference.
Passive voice particularly emphasizes the object being acted on. Unless there is a compelling reason to call attention to the object of an action, do not use the passive voice. When the subject and object deserve equal attention, do not use the passive voice.
Unwarranted use of the passive voice leads to passages lacking focus. Sentences read as if they are jumping back and forth between topics without settling down on any one idea. This is distracting to the reader.
Grammar isn’t optional. Having bad grammar will confuse readers. However, outside of a written essay, having a perfect by-the-book grammar is unnatural. People don’t talk like grammar Nazis. People don’t always think in complete sentences. Forcing essay-quality grammar into a character’s speech and thought results in very unnatural dialog. It’s best to know all the grammar rules, but take into account how appropriate they are.
Stream of Consciousness
When characters are thinking or talking emotionally or absentmindedly, ideas will spill out in fragments, rushing out and running onto each other. Sentence fragments are stronger in expressing the flow of thoughts, the lack of organization, or the emotional content. If a group of phrases falls under this category, do not intentionally connect them together into perfect sentences that transition well because the effect will disappear.
Conjunctions in Dialogs
Unlike in essays, in dialog, it’s perfectly acceptable to start sentences with conjunctions.
Person A: Let’s go sell ice cream at the beach! We’ll make a lot of money.
Person B: What a great idea!
Person A: And we’ll enjoy some fun in the sun!
In this case, “and” works just like “on top of that” but rolls off the tongue much more easily.
Some characters have their own set of grammar rules. For example, people speaking southern dialects will always break the rules. In fact, it would be incorrect and out of character to use perfect grammar and perfect spelling to reflect their dialog. However, either apply these special rules consistently or don’t apply them at all. A character that jumps in and out of character is worse than one without any.
B. Intermediate Topics
Here are a few ideas that are easy to explain but difficult to master. They largely revolve around experience with the language.
1. Word Choice
Using a more varied set of vocabulary will make it more interesting for readers, and using the right vocabulary will capture the meaning more effectively.
Set Phrases, Patterns, and Collocation
Some patterns for expressing ideas are part of the culture of a language. Some series of words just sound better together.
“pros and cons”
“I hate to speculate…”
Idioms, Slang, & Jargon
Idioms are sometimes the only way to make the imagery of a scene work properly. More exposure to the language and culture will help improve the use of idioms.
Slang is not recommended. Limit use to whatever is necessary to establish a character and then try to be consistent.
Jargon is recommended to a certain degree, especially the self-explanatory ones, but don’t pepper the reader with something obscure. Usually the author of the source material will already be wary of obscure jargon, so use the source as a reference for a good limit.
2. Character Speech
It’s nice to give each character a unique voice based on their experience and background. Leaking out hints of their personality will make characters feel more alive. However, it’s more important to be consistent. Popping in and out of character is worse than having none at all. Overdoing it also poses the danger of coming off fake.
The key ingredient in comedy is timing. Pace the build-up well and then spring the punch line on the audience for full effect. Misplace any of these steps or spring the joke too early and the humor could fall flat on its face.
For dry, deadpan, situational comedy, write some proper deadpan lines – in all seriousness.
C. Advanced Topics
Sometimes, the subtle features of languages will come naturally to native speakers as they formulate ideas. When translations don’t account for these subtle features, it’s easy to sense that something is slightly off, but it’s much harder to identify why it feels that way. Here are some ideas to get started. It may just be the tip of the iceberg. There may be many exceptions to these ideas. Discretion is highly advised.
Say it faster, better.
Parataxis is the technique of lining up ideas without explicitly establishing any kind of dependency between the ideas in the grammar. Sometimes the ideas are independent sentences. Sometimes the ideas are linked together by “and” or strung together as a list.
Examples of parataxis:
The weather was nice. The trees were beautiful.
I am riding my bicycle and you are driving your car.
There is no explicit dependency, but some languages such as English imply a dependency based on the order in which ideas are introduced. It is the most concise way to express a logical progression.
Parataxis with implied dependencies:
The weather was nice. I went for a walk.
Come and get it!
Crawl, walk, and run.
Get found out and they’ll kick you out.
2. Indirect Expressions
Softening the message.
All languages use indirect expressions. The indirect expression is primarily a method to soften the message out of a desire to be polite, out of the desire not to impose upon the listener too much, or out of reluctance to admit something. There are many other reasons for expressing ideas indirectly. Softening the message is the one that is universal in all languages.
The amount of indirect expression used by a character establishes the character’s disposition in being shy or bold. The amount of indirect expression used in a scene helps establishes the mood, social standings of speakers, or whether it’s a formal or an informal occasion.
Making a request politely?
“I want to staple these two pages together, but I seem to have a problem.”
“Don’t you want to fly?”
Expressing facts using litotes:
“It’s not bad.”
Beating Around the Bush
This cultural phenomenon is a tough nut to crack. Some languages and their respective cultural upbringings will require a lot more indirect expression in formal and polite occasions. They spend more time talking in circles and generally beating around the bush. Taking such dialog and fitting them into a more forthcoming language and an egalitarian culture takes some creativity.
3. Power Distance
Did you check if everything is going as planned?
With good news to be had, everyone, big and small, can be happy and joyful, but when the talk takes a more sour turn, the nature of conversations can vary widely depending on the social relationship between speakers and the language in which they are using to convey the negativity.
The most noticeable difference is in how subordinates and those with lower social standing will choose their words carefully when conveying really bad news. Sometimes the subordinate softens the messages in order to avoid being the messenger that gets killed for bearing bad news. Sometimes the subordinate wants to tell superiors to change their course of actions but holds back in fear of openly undermining their authority or questioning their competence. The softening and obfuscation of the message can come in several different forms.
Take for example, the situation of a passenger riding in a car that the driver is taking straight into a cement barrier on the road. Supposing the passenger is superior to the driver, the method of choice would be to issue a command:
“Slow down and avoid that thing!”
But if the situation were reversed with the passenger as the subordinate, the passenger might instead make a suggestive statement of fact to note the danger:
“We’re going mighty fast toward that concrete block.”
Or a more suggestive hint without mentioning the danger:
“Don’t you feel we’re going a bit too fast to be safe?”
Or a riddle:
“See that concrete barrier? Don’t you think it’s jutting out a bit?”
These statements are all made in the same spirit, the desire to induce someone more powerful to change their behavior. In that respect, they are equivalent. They are not equivalent, however, in their politeness or their effectiveness in communicating the message.
In the English language and especially in modern American culture, the power distance is usually very small. Upperclassmen and underclassmen, brothers and sisters treat each other more as equals and rarely recognize a difference in social standing. In the workplace, managers value the opinion of their employees, and junior workers are given some license to speak their mind. The power distance is generally very low, but it still exists in places with clear hierarchies like on board ships, in airplanes, in the military, and in the government.
All characters should adjust their lines to reflect the new social dynamic. Of course, be careful when the changes affect the plot. Being blunt might make it too obvious for a character to ignore, and speaking in riddles might make it too hard for a character to grasp the message.
4. Initiative and Response
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Language isn’t as exact as physics, but some actions have a highly anticipated response linked to them. “The subject acts. The world must respond.” If the response is predictable enough, one only needs to mention that the subject acted. Likewise, if the response has only one logical trigger, that trigger doesn’t need to be explicitly stated. This is how an action can indirectly indicate its logical reaction and vice versa.
In English, a language that highly emphasizes subject and action, the pattern is highly skewed in one direction--toward the action implying the reaction. When given the option of directly describing the response or describing an action that implies the response, it’s natural to use the action to imply its response.
Simple and direct:
He pisses me off.
A physical reaction:
He hit me first!
So I punched him back.
An emotional reaction:
I soundly defeated him in the match.
He was embarrassed.
A third party reaction:
There were so many of them that they blended together into the background.
There were so many of them that it became hard for me to notice them individually.
You don’t need to yell.
You’re being too loud.
5. Sharing your feelings
I’m itching to describe how excited I was.
The abstract concepts of how someone is feeling or how emotions are developing and changing are intangible ideas. They cannot be expressed by using concrete objects either as objects or in comparison. First of all, a dearth of nouns exists in everyday vocabulary to describe the many possible intensities of emotions. Second, emotions are a passive response of people to their surroundings and circumstances. Combined, they lead the English language to prefer conveying emotions by “showing, not telling.” That is, sentences will have the subject engage in certain actions that are indicative or serve as examples of the target emotion and its desired intensity. It is then up to the audience to interpret the action and its outward appearances to impute an emotion to the subject.
This method is most common when communicating from a neutral point of view, such as the narrator of the story. When communicating from a non-neutral point of view, characters have the additional option of expressing their own emotions by “sensing” them. That will at least avoid the passive voice.
“The child fidgeted in the chair” conveys restlessness.
“She trembled at the thought of…” conveys growing fear.
“He’s biting his lip” conveys controlling the urge to say something.
“I couldn’t sleep” conveys being preoccupied in certain contexts.
“Get the jitters” means nervousness in certain situations.
“Blow a fuse” means go above a tipping point for anger.
“Reap the harvest” means get what one deserves.
A more complicated example:
“Wasn’t that ironic? You told her about that trick. Then she turned around and played it on you.”
“I’m not laughing.”
When characters express emotions from their own point of view, they can directly state them using the verbs “feel” or “sense.” It won’t feel as genuine as using actions to show the emotion, but it’s acceptable.
In such situations, the word choice of “feel” avoids the passive voice and makes the abstract concepts more tangible. The verb also allows the audience to be more sympathetic. The rule of thumb is to favor the use of “feel” for emotional and intuitive reactions over more dispassionate verbs like “think.” Discretion, of course, is paramount.
Last edited by Unproductive; April 15, 2010 at 08:24 PM. Reason: Automerged Doublepost
If anything, I tip my hat off to you for posting this. I am highly thankful for the invaluable information you have here. Good Luck in your search for a perfect proofreader!