Bilingual Characters – 4 Common Mistakes

I’m fluently multilingual (English, Spanish, and Catalan). Even though I read almost exclusively in English, I’m a big fan of seeing other languages incorporated into a story through dialog and cultural immersion.

However, it’s frustrating to see foreign languages get butchered by native-English writers. So…I guess I’ll offer a few tips? Just a few, very broad brush strokes, at least. Definitely not trying to be pretentious. But I this is one of the few areas where I feel I have some small say in the matter.

I’ll be using Spanish to give made-up examples, since it’s one of my languages of fluency as well as a frequent victim of misuse. 


Try not to…

#1. Rely on stereotypical catch-phrases

“Well, amigos. It’s time for my siesta. Buenas noches!”

I don’t mean to be harsh, but this is lazy writing. Your seventh-grade Spanish class notes aren’t enough. 

#2. Insert translated phrases/vocab at random

“Say, that party at Jacob’s was muy divertido! Such a huge casa!”

Unless you’re writing Dora the Explorer fan-fiction, don’t. Bilinguals don’t talk like this. If we don’t know a certain word or phrase in our second language, we use a synonym. Or we find another way to say what we want to say, even if it means making mistakes. OR we just gesture wildly and say “the thing” until someone understands us.

Mixing languages is fine. Multilinguals do it all the time when we speak. But when we mix languages, we do so chaotically and messily. Not this neat, organized, one-word-per-sentence method of substitution.

#3. Use Google translate

Google translate (usually) works fine for single words or short phrases, though even then you can get some funky results. But for anything longer, don’t even bother. Besides, Google translate gives you a stale version of your text. Spoken language rarely mimics such results.

#4. Comment/highlight how difficult English is for the character

“Today I have to go to…how do you say? English is not my language. Oh, yes. The doctor!”

This comes across as really condescending. And again, we don’t talk like this.


Instead, try to…

#1. Be willing to learn

Invest the time and energy it takes to understand how bilinguals think and speak in their second language. What’s their level? How long have they been learning/speaking it? If they struggle with vocabulary/grammar/expression, how are they most likely to compensate?

If you have bilingual friends, ask them questions. Second-language speech is complex, and it rarely fits the mold your Spanish/French/German 101 textbook taught you.

#2. Treat foreign language dialog the same way you’d treat English dialog

When I speak Spanish or Catalan, it’s imperfect. It’s messy and full of idioms, incomplete thoughts, fragments, subtext, implications, etc, just like when I speak English. The same is true for anyone who speaks any language.

Yes, that probably makes it frustratingly hard to write foreign dialog (or mixed dialog), because it means you have to understand the language well enough to be able to break its formal rules naturally. 

But a lack of effort almost inevitably leads to The Things You Should Not Do, as laid out above.

#4. Understand cultural/regional influences

When your bilingual character DOES fall back on their native language, remember that language is heavily influenced by region, culture, social upbringing, etc.

For example, the Spanish I speak here in Barcelona differs (mildly) from the Spanish they speak in Madrid because of the strong Catalan (regional language) influence in Barcelona. Furthermore, there are vast differences between the Spanish spoken in Spain and the Spanish spoken in, for example, Chile.

Idioms, expressions, forms, and even basic vocabulary can all depend on where your character is from in a very specific sense of the word. 

And maybe Spanish is one of the more extreme examples, since it’s such a widespread language, but the principle still applies to bilingual characters of any native language.


Here’s an image I found on Pinterest that captures the essence of what I’m getting at. I took the liberty to black out some unsavory language, but honestly, these snippets are about as accurate as it gets.

bilingual


To sum things up, bilingual characters go through thought and speech processes far more complex than many writers realize. If you’re not fluently bilingual, get help from someone who is. We don’t mind imparting our knowledge! If you put in the time and effort, your readers will enjoy the authenticity of your diverse dialog.

It’s worth it for us and for you!

 

How to Outline Your #NaNoWriMo Novel

We’re just about halfway through October, which means those of us participating in NaNoWriMo this year are up to our proverbial necks in preparations (the #NaNoPrep trend you’re sick of seeing me tweet about).

I recently ran a poll on Twitter regarding outlines, and it turns out the vast majority of writers that responded do use some form of outline before writing a first draft. I also had quite a few Twitter followers tell me that they want to start outlining more but that they’re not sure how to go about it.

And I thought to myself, “Say, what a wonderful topic for a blog post!” And so here we are. Now, please understand that I’m not a writing expert. My methods aren’t universal or honed to perfection. However, when it comes to outlines, I do feel like I’ve got plenty of experience under my belt, and that’s what I’m going to share with you.

But why outline?

I definitely encourage some form of basic outlining, even if you consider yourself a pantser (a writer who prefers to create the story as they write). Here are the main reasons why:

  1. Outlining saves a lot of rewriting in later drafts.
  2. Outlining gives your story a healthy structure before you start writing.
  3. Outlining provides a solid sense of direction and a path to follow.
  4. Outlining helps avoid the “I don’t know what to write next” days.
  5. Outlining provides a surefire way to get all your ideas down in an organized, easy-to-follow way.

Important: outlining does not remove organic growth or development from your story! Many writers make this assumption, and it’s simply not true. 

The most important part of outlining (as with any part of the writing process) is to find what works best for you and develop your own strategies. Here’s my method; follow it to the degree that you wish.

Note: I follow this method for most of my writing, but I tweaked it a bit for maximum efficiency in preparation for NaNoWriMo. Just thought I’d point that out! 

Pre-outline: Brainstorm

This step could take hours or days or weeks. You need time to think. Your goal here is to understand your story from start to finish. You don’t need all the details, but you should come up with a solid plot and a cast of characters to work with.

Step 1: Write a one-page summary

Summarize your novel from start to finish, and keep it to one page. Try to do this in one sitting. Don’t focus on details. Don’t use paragraph breaks. Just keep writing one sentence after another until you’ve told your story. Make sure you’re implementing all of your characters as well (the main cast, anyway).

Step 2: Mark your three-act structure

Here I recommend printing out a copy (or several) of your one-page summary. A print copy is always easier to work with. Grab a colorful pen and separate your summary into the three acts.

If you don’t know what a three-act structure is, do some research online. It’s not a complicated topic, but it’s an essential tool for giving your story a proper structure. 

Next, highlight, circle, or underline the sentences from your one-page summary that correspond to the following elements:

  • The status quo (how things are before the conflict; this should be the very first sentence of your one-page summary)
  • Inciting event (the event that initiates your conflict)
  • Major disasters (the plot-significant events that make things worse for your characters). Usually, there will only be one per act, and they will normally take place towards the end of their respective acts.
  • The crisis and/or climax (the final confrontation of your story’s main conflict).
  • The resolution (how things have changed after the conflict).

Now you have your story’s basic structure marked. You’ll always know what major event or turning point comes next.

Step 3: Develop a summary for each act

Act by act, develop your summary. Don’t edit the one-page summary! Keep that, and start this step in a new document.

Here you can go into more detail and explanation. You can go as long as you want for each act, but remember, you still just summarizing. Don’t narrate every single bit of action.

If you’ve read up on the TAS (three-act structure), you’ll know that Act II is usually the longest, followed by Act III, with Act I being the shortest. Look back at your marked one-page summary. Do your act divisions line up accordingly? Revise if necessary.

Step 4: Create a visual, scene-based outline skeleton

This is where your “actual” outline begins. Personalize this step as much as you want. You may want to draw a timeline (give yourself plenty of space to work with!), or you may prefer an academic outline approach, or maybe bullet points work best for you.

You already have your major events identified from Step 3, so put those in their proper place first. Something like:

Inciting event – major disaster 1 – major disaster 2 – major disaster 3 – crisis – climax – resolution. 

Of course, your end result will vary according to how you’ve done the previous steps.

Step 5: Fill in the visual outline with each individual scene

Now go through your extended, act-by-act summary and fill in your outline with as many individual scenes as you have to identify. The purpose of this step is to establish which events you will show in your story and how to combine them into solid scenes. Generally speaking, each sentence or cluster of sentences in your summary will form an individual scene.

Now you have a start-to-finish visual outline with no gaps, no question marks, and relatively few hiccups. As you write your first draft, you’ll always be able to reference this outline to check what event comes next and how it relates to the broad structure of your story.

Step 6: Create an index card for each scene

Your outline is done, but this additional step will be a huge help during later drafts, so I’d urge you to get it done now. Following your outline, create an index card for each individual scene. Include the following information:

  • Scene number
  • A one-line summary
  • POV character (if your story includes multiple POV characters)
  • A spot for word count (to fill in after you write it, of course)

…as well as anything else you think you might need to be able to quickly reference.

Make sure to leave plenty of space on the front or back of the card, because it’ll be super handy to jot down edit notes later on!

If you’re the artsy type, color coding certain elements of your index cards can be fun and helpful too. For instance, I assign a color to each of my POV characters and mark a border around each card with the corresponding color. Or maybe you’d want to color-code your cards according to what act they belong to, or whatever tickles your fancy.

What you end up with

A one-page summary: your big-picture reference, and a handy precursor to your synopsis (though they won’t be the same thing!).

An extended, three-act summary: a complete narration of your story, a great resource for an overview of character development, subplots, and other nuances that don’t fit in your one-page summary.

A visual outline: your guideline to follow while writing the first draft.

A stack of index cards: a fantastic resource for subsequent drafts and editing. You can reorder scenes and make edit notes without having to mess around with a long document.

And remember…

Outlines don’t remove organic growth from your story. Quite the contrary! Each of the aforementioned steps gives you a chance to change your story and discover/add new elements. Just think, following all the steps probably takes a few days or a week, at least. During that time, you’ll constantly think about and mull over your story, so new ideas will surface naturally. Don’t be afraid to go back and change your work at any point!

Also, your outline won’t be a rigid ruler to follow. Even when you write your draft, you can explore new options and change your outline accordingly. You’ve created guidelines, not boxes.


So…this post is pretty long, but I hope it helps you understand outlines a bit more, and how to create your own! As I said before, my strategy isn’t the only one, and it may not be the best for you. Mix and match my steps with your own as much as you want, and find what works best for you.

In the meantime, have a great day!

10 Twitter Bio Tips For Writers

#1 Make sure your profile picture matches your bio.

A clear shot of your face is usually better than a company logo or a random kitten, because other users want to know who they’re connecting with. That being said, feel free to be as creative as you want, as long as it’s purposeful.

#2 Avoid 3rd person bio descriptions.

I’m often put off by bios that go like this: Joe Schmo is a mystery author and dog lover. He lives in Alaska and collects marbles. Well…is this account yours, or isn’t it? 3rd person bios can be confusing at best and pretentious at worst.

#3 Use hashtags, but don’t go overboard.

Hashtags (#writer, #amwriting, etc.) are a great way for people to see what your account is about even if they don’t read the whole bio. Hashtags stand out. But if your entire bio is one solid chunk of hashtags (which I see far too often), it becomes clutter and I’ll probably skip over it.

#4 Don’t put yourself on a pedestal.

So many author/writer bios say things like, I’m the next bestseller; my books will knock your socks off. No, I’m not exaggerating. There’s a line between confidence and arrogance. Don’t cross it. I’ll decide whether or not my socks have been knocked off, thank you very much.

#5 Sell yourself, not your products.

Your bio is there for people to get a glimpse of who you are and what you do. It’s NOT there for you to tell people how great your books are. Instead of saying I’m the author of [insert book title] which you can get here: [insert link]. Try something like I write romance books, and here’s my blog/website if you want to see more! I want to connect with people, not merchandise.

#6 Use the available link space for your website, not your book.

I strongly recommend using the link space provided by Twitter to direct people to your blog/website rather than your amazon links. Being personable is more important than trying to sell your product, and if I like your blog, I’m much more likely to come back for more. Odds are I’ll never even click on your Amazon link if that’s all you give me.

#7 Be creative.

Listing facts/info about yourself is fine, but in my experience, bios that have a humorous or creative twist get more attention. You don’t have to be a comedian, but try to throw in a line or two that stands out from the other 1.000.000.000 writer accounts.

#8 Don’t compare yourself to successful authors.

Please don’t try to convince me you’re the next Tolkien or Rowling, because you’re not. Trust me. Nor will all fans of Harry Potter love your book even more (yes, I’ve seen that). You can’t pretend to be as good or successful as those big names before you’ve even finished your second draft. Again, it’s pretentious, arrogant, and 99% likely to not be the case.

#9 Keep your bio clutter-free.

It’s fine for your personal account to include emojis, sparkles, symbols, and random upper case letters. Please keep those elements out of your writer/author bio, though. You can be as personable, fun-loving, and crazy as you want (Twitter needs more of you!), but your bio should still look clean and clear, because it’s your first (and sometimes your only) chance to communicate to the world.

#10 Stay focused.

I know you’re a complex human being. I know writing isn’t all you do or like. But if you use your account to connect primarily with other writers/readers/editors/etc., you’ll benefit from a focused bio. For instance, if I come across a bio that reads: Food junkie, gamer, writer, reader, photographer, lover of cats, distant relative of Scottie Pippen, french fry enthusiast, and defender of turtle-neck rights, how do I know what you tweet about the most? I don’t want to spend time sifting through your tweets to find what I’m actually interested (which, in this context, is the writing part). Nor do I want my home feed saturated with pictures of french fries.


These are some of the tips/strategies I’ve garnered from my own experience as a writer on Twitter, as well as from advice from people with a lot more knowledge than me. You don’t have to follow them if you disagree, but I do think they’ll help your Twitter bio perform its function to a higher capacity!

In the meantime, keep calm and write on, friend!

11 Tips For Maximum Writing Productivity

Find your best writing time: most writers have a particular time of day when they have an easier time concentrating and getting the job done. Be flexible yet consistent.

Find your best writing place: regularly writing in ‘your spot’ (and using that spot only for writing) puts you in a focused mindset.

Establish a healthy environment: make sure you’re comfortable and your posture isn’t warping your spine, and keep the room well lit and ventilated.

Eliminate distractions: avoiding distraction is a choice you alone can make. Know your weaknesses and actively remove them.

Set achievable goals: motivate yourself to keep going with small objectives you know you can accomplish. These small goals quickly add up to surprising results.

Take frequent breaks: get up, walk around, go outside, grab a drink, talk to people. Keep your mind fresh and your body active to avoid burning out.

Plan ahead: if you know what you’ll be writing before you sit down to do it, you’ll be more productive. Try to have at least a list of scenes for the day, or a basic chapter outline that you can follow.

Find alternate ways to stay productive: sometimes you can’t seem to get the words out at all. Don’t give up and waste your writing hours in self-pity! Find something else to do to advance your project and give you the satisfaction of a productive hour.

Establish accountability methods: if you set hourly/daily/weekly goals for yourself, have a strategy to make sure you meet those objectives (friends, prizes, word-count meters, etc.).  Find what works best for you.

Keep your writing tools simple: don’t get distracted by the dozens of apps/programs/toys that do everything for your manuscript except get it written. You can color-code your chapter headings later, friend.

Respect your limits: lastly, don’t be too hard on yourself. Put the whip away. Now and then you just need to take a day off.