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!

 

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5 Reasons To Draw Your Story World Map

I love drawing maps. In fact, I got into map-drawing before I ever started writing stories. I remember sitting in my room as a kid, taping together sheets of paper to form fantasy lands big enough to cover my floor. My love for squiggly coastlines and pizza-slice mountains translated nicely into world-creating for my fantasy stories.

 

Map
Map of Akor, the fantasy continent for my Wattpad novel, The Broken City of Crows. (Drawn by hand, then colored and detailed with Photoshop.)

 

 

I’m a firm advocate of having a complete map for your fantasy setting, and even if your map-drawing skills aren’t exactly Ptolomeic, I think creating your own map is a valuable resource for fantasy writers. Here are some reasons why:

#1 Map-drawing forces you to develop a complete story world

To fill your map, you’ll need landmarks, cities, political boundaries, etc., and it’s way easier to keep track of all that information if you’ve got a map on the desk beside you. Gone are the days of having to make up awkward city names on the spur of the moment. Even if your story takes place in a reduced area, having that complete map gives your book that behind-the-scenes development it needs.

#2 Map-drawing gives you ideas for in-story locations

If you draw your map before or during an early draft, odds are you’ll get inspired for a cool setting for that scene you’ve been trying to nail down. Penciling in a lake in that one trout-shaped valley? That might be a fun setting for a battle…well, “fun”. You know what I mean.

#3 Map-drawing provides a reference for important information

Wait, how long should it take my protagonist to get from this river to that town? Oh, I’ll check my map measurements! Could an army actually make it through that forest? Check the map. Where does the city import its goods from? The port-towns? Good! How far away are they? Check the map.

You’ll be surprised how often you reference your map for questions you never thought you’d have to answer. Laying it all out on paper helps you avoid inconsistencies or fallacies of time and distance as you write.

#4 Map-drawing results in a valuable resource for readers

Most readers appreciate having a visual reference to help keep track of your story’s locations, especially in the fantasy genre. Once you get your map drawn out, you can share it on social media, on your website, or even in the very pages of your book, if you think it’s good enough.

I don’t know about you, but anytime I find a map at the start of a fantasy novel, I take a few minutes to study it so I remember where the major points of interest are as I read.

#5 Map-drawing is just plain fun

Drawing maps is, at least to me, another extension of the creative engine all writers have. It’s an artistic expression that complements and develops our story ideas, and sometimes it just feels good to take a break from writing and scratch out some of those squiggly coastlines and pizza-slice mountains.


Do you enjoy drawing maps as much as I do? Tell me about it! If you’ve never made a map, I highly recommend giving it a shot. In the meantime, have a great day!

5 Takeaways From My First Week On Wattpad

Eight days ago I created my first Wattpad account. Seven days ago I posted the first chapter of The Broken City of Crows. Now, a week later, I’ve taken a look back at the first taste of what will hopefully become a long and enjoyable experience (I suspect it will!).

wattpad cover II.png

Obviously, these won’t be experience-based tips, advice, or anything like that. I’m still a newbie. These are mere observations or highlights of my first few steps. Maybe they’ll be enough to convince you to join and share a story!

I’ve felt a lot less pressure

As an indie author looking to build a career on self-publishing novels, I often feel pressured to ‘perform’ well in fear of not succeeding economically. I’ve found that, on Wattpad, that pressure is non-existent. Yes, I want my story to be as good as it can be, but not having to worry about sales makes the experience of sharing a novel one chapter at a time way more relaxing and fun.

The feedback is great

A few blog followers and Twitter friends warned me that they received, occasionally, feedback that was either spam or harshly critical. While I’m sure someone like that is bound to show up, my experience so far with other Wattpad users has been nothing but positive. I’ve received general enthusiasm comments as well as constructive criticism. Both keep me going, and the fact that I can go back and make changes based on that feedback (if necessary) is such a big help.

I’ve gotten more reads than I expected

When I posted the first chapter of The Broken City of Crows, I didn’t set any goals or expectations. I was curious to see if anyone would read it, just for fun. Now, seven days and three more chapters later, The Broken City of Crows has received well over 300 reads. I know that’s not a huge number, and I’m sure a lot of writers would have easily topped that in their first week, but for little old me, that’s not half bad. In fact, I’m pretty excited!

Compared to the slow trickle of sales my other books get on Amazon, seeing so many people read (and enjoy) my work makes me a very happy writer. Again, there’s no pressure to reach certain numbers or amounts, a fact I’m quickly learning to value.

An established schedule keeps me productive

I upload new chapters each Tuesday and Friday, and knowing that readers will be waiting for that chapter to go up is a healthy motivation to stay on top of things. The chapters in The Broken City of Crows are on the long side (3000-4000 words), so editing them before posting takes some time, but I love the feeling of consistent productivity.

Working without a detailed outline broadens my horizons

You all know how much I love outlines. But for this project, I’ve decided to not rely on them so much. When I posted the first chapter, I had about 30K words written and a fairly solid plotline in mind. I’m not worried about hitting a dead end anytime soon. However, knowing that sooner or later I’ll have to start writing new chapters with fewer guidelines than I’m used to is a welcome challenge. Writers gotta grow and try new things, right?


If you’re looking for a way to share your work, interact with readers, and motivate yourself to keep writing, I think Wattpad is a fantastic place to do that. Once again, this has only been my first week. I have no doubt I’ll hit roadblocks, encounter nasty people, and get discouraged.

But for now, things are looking pretty great.  You should give it a try! In the meantime, have a great day.

7 Truths Writers (Probably) Won’t Admit Out Loud

Highlight the ones that apply to you and go confess your sins afterward.

#1 We stalk our readers on Goodreads to see what their progress updates say

But only because we value and crave feedback. Not because we’re paranoid. Why would we be paranoid?

#2 We don’t write as much as we pretend to

Raise your hand if you’ve tweeted #amwriting when you’ve done nothing of the sort. Good, now put it down and get to work.

#3 We do care about the money

Despite a hundred wise (and obnoxious) sayings to the contrary, most of us want to earn money through our writing, and it’s frustrating when sales are constantly flatlined. Not that I’m trying to be a Scrooge, but “I write because that’s who I am” doesn’t pay many expenses.

#4 We have at least one genre we hold a grudge against, though we’d never say so out loud

For me, it’s paranormal romance (sorry?). For you, it might be fantasy, and I forgive you.

#5 Knowing someone’s reading our book scares the sock monkeys out of us

Because a fraction of our soul is about to be either approved or rejected and if that doesn’t make you break a sweat, I don’t know what will.

#6 We easily get jealous of right-place-right-time authors who pop out of nowhere and make big bucks without visible effort

Is jealousy a fault? Yes. Is it natural? Also yes. But while we applaud the writers who find success through hard work, every now and then it genuinely feels like some people get it all handed to them and then some. (Oh, and is it a coincidence that those out-of-nowhere bestsellers tend to be the mediocre ones? Maybe. I’m trying not to be too salty here.)

#7 We joke about procrastination when it’s actually a legitimate problem

Every time I scroll down my Twitter feed I spot a few tweets making some snarky remark about procrastination. And yes, I do it too. But still…if we did something to solve the issue instead of seeking mutual giggles on social media, perhaps we’d have less to tweet about and more to publish? Oops.


Disclaimer: I wrote the list based on personal experience, so take it with a grain of salt. Got anything to confess or add? Drop a comment below. Subscribe and follow me on Twitter to receive your complimentary bunny in a teacup.

And as always, have a great day!

The Writer’s Life According to Star Wars

I’m back from Christmas vacation and a blogging hiatus. It seems to have been a Star Wars themed break as well, given Rogue One and a number of re-watches at my place. Therefore, I decided to kick off the 2017 blogging year with a Star Wars themed post. Here we see the writer’s life as told by Star Wars gifs…


1
When a new story idea wakes you up.
2
When you solve a plot hole in the middle of, well, some random activity…
3
When MS Word starts underlining all your made-up words.
4
When you find a typo in your proof copy.
5
When you try writing without caffeine…
6
The aftermath of a character death.
7
When someone tells you how hard it is to make a living as a writer.
8
When you realize how hard it is to make a living as a writer.
9
When you find out your friend is reading Twilight.
10
When your villain starts to grow on you.

Have a great day everyone, and may the Force be with you!

Author Interview with Ashley Elliot

Hello, wordmigos! Today I have the pleasure of sitting down* for an interview with splendid indie author Ashley Elliot from Inklings Press.

*To be fair, it’s quite possible she was standing up when she answered my questions. Or doing one-handed pushups with a baby koala on her back. Let’s not make assumptions.

Ashley and I, along with a handful of other indie authors, are doing a giveaway thingy [insert fancy giveaway clicky thingy here] together, and you still have time to go participate for a shot at one of eight free e-books!

It was good fun to ask Ashley some questions about herself and her writing, and she provided some great answers!

(Note: I’ve included some interviewer interjections purely for the sake of clarity.)

N: So, can you tell me a little bit about your writing style? What genre do you tend to work in?

A: My writing style is very seat-of-the-pants, never really planned (I’ve got general ideas and know how it’ll end, but I let the characters tell me where they want to go), and very sporadic. It’s changed from book to book, as I like for all of my characters to have their own voice, but I’m more dialogue-heavy than anything else. My first novel, Becoming Nikki, is very light and airy, whereas my second, The Art of Letting Go, is a lot heavier (and more depressing; sorry). I write young adult fiction, usually coming-of-age, with lots of lessons cleverly hidden inside the pages.

N: What’s been a favorite experience of yours as an indie-author?

A: Once, I got to go to a local authors’ spotlight at a library with a fellow indie author friend and sold exactly one book. I also love it whenever somebody tells me that something I wrote touched them.

N: If you could go back in time and offer one bit of advice to your younger author self, what would you say?

A: Keep writing. Never stop, no matter what people say. Your writing may suck now, but you’re getting better, and it’ll show… eventually. Oh, and write out what your plans are for that novel because you’re going to get old and forget and it’s going to be very sad.

N: What do you think is the hardest part about being an author, whether self-published or traditional?

A: I’d have to say that the hardest part for me personally is knowing that what I’m writing is actually good. I’ve got a lot of self-confidence outside of writing, but I hate showing people what I’ve written because I never think it’s any good. And that seeps into finding motivation to write, which I think is the second-hardest thing. Sometimes I just don’t want to write, and self-confidence can play a major part in that.

N: Can we get a peek at something you’re working on now? Or is it all FBI levels of confidentiality?

A: Haha*, well, something I’ve been working on that’s definitely more public is a novel called The Art of Letting Go, which is about this girl who loses someone very close to her and has to figure out how to move on.  I’m done writing it, but the revising stage is taking a lot of time and effort that I don’t really have at the moment.  It’s on hold until I finish college, which will hopefully be in March!  (When it’s done, though, I’m going to try and publish it through the traditional route.  Fingers crossed!)  The project hidden under FBI levels of confidentiality is currently in the brainstorming stage, and if I told you anymore besides that, I’d have to kill you**.
*Please note that such slang vocabulary does not reflect the serious, professional nature of the blog or the blog host.
**The interviewer had no desire to be killed, so he didn’t pursue this issue further.
 

N: You’re currently submitting Becoming Nicki as part of our December giveaway. Can you tell us more about that book?

A: Yes, I am! Becoming Nikki is about a girl who has this awful relationship with her brother, and after he loses his memory, she has to figure out whether to let everything stay the same or try to start anew. (Gosh, it’s been forever since I wrote a blurb on that novel. I started writing it when I was fifteen and published it on my twentieth birthday, and I’m turning twenty-two tomorrow*, so it’s been out of my mind for a while. I still love it, though.)
*Here, the interviewer pauses to wish the interviewee a happy birthday and to eat some cake.

N: You have ten seconds to choose your absolute favorite book from your bookshelf. Which one do you grab?

A: I’ve got the Bible app on my phone, so don’t you DARE try to judge me* for not grabbing that! I’d grab The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly.  It’s not very well-known, but I’ve recommended it to all of my friends since I read it for the first time a few years ago.  It’s a retelling of Little Women and it’s about finding your way in the world – and it came to me at a time when I was trying to do just that, so it holds a very special place in my heart.  (And then I’d use the remaining six seconds to grab Wonder by R.J. Palacio and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.)
*At this point, the interviewer wiggles his fingers judgmentally.

N: We all know being a writer is tough. Where do you find the most support or encouragement to keep going when things get hard?

A: Honestly? Pinterest. I don’t have very many writer friends, and Pinterest encouragement is available 24/7. I use it to brainstorm, I use it to encourage me, and I use it to file away all the ideas I get for later, when I’m in a writing slump or just need something quick to write when I need a creative outlet. It’s amazing and I love it dearly.

N: Have you ever had any fun, unusual, or memorable interactions with your readers? Care to share?

A: Not really… although it’s always great whenever somebody reviews my book (period), but especially whenever someone’s like “There’s no way you’re not a professional ice skater!”  I just smile and say, “Nope. I’ve been ice skating a lot, but I suck!” I love being able to allow my characters to do the things I can’t!

N: Random fun question to wrap up: if you could have written any well-known novel out there, which one would you put your name on? (Don’t worry, the real author won’t feel too bad!)

A: The Harry Potter series – or something like it.  Wouldn’t it be amazing to have written something so universally adored by millions of people, connecting them through their mutual love for it?  #goals


Huge thanks to Ashley for taking the time to share her insights into her writing world! It’s been great fun, and be sure to go follow her blog! In the meantime, have a great day!

Sunshine Blogger Award Tag – Triple Dosage!

Today I’m participating in the always-fun Sunshine Blogger Award Tag. Unlike last time, however, I’ve been tagged by three people recently, so I decided to do a Q&A blitz of sorts. Big thanks to Benita J. Prins, Katelyn Buxton, and S. M. Metzler for the tags! Go follow their blogs and leave them an offering of chocolate and a caffeinated beverage.

Being tagged by three people, however, means I have not ten, but thirty questions to answer, so let’s get right into this!

From Benita J. Prins…

  1. Who is your favorite actor/actress and why? Will Smith or Liam Neeson.
  2. How many languages do you speak well enough to hold a conversation? English, Spanish, Catalonian…so three. Four, if a very simple conversation about the weather in French counts. 
  3. What is the last book you read that you couldn’t put down? The Miss Peregrine series, by Ransom Riggs. 
  4. What is one genre you would never read? Paranormal. Or pure romance. 
  5. Do you have any unique quirks? Haha…yes.
  6. What’s the best book-to-movie adaptation you’ve ever seen? The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
  7. Do you like maps? Yes. Maps are awesome. I was drawing maps before I started writing stories.
  8. How often do you write by hand compared to typing? Not very often, only when I really need to shake things up or concentrate better.
  9. Which author’s books can you never resist picking up? Neil Gaiman.
  10. What is your favorite letter of the alphabet? R, K, A, Y, N, S, in that order.
  11. How much chocolate do you consume on a weekly basis? Not much, if any.

From Katelyn Buxton…

  1. What’s your favorite movie? Oh boy. C.A. Civil War…or The Two Towers…or…
  2. A song that made an impact on you. Mercedes’ Lullaby 
  3. Math or creative writing? Creative writing (how is that even a question?)
  4. Do you have any pets? If so, what are they? If not, what kind of pet would you choose? My family has a Fat Cat and some Fat Fish and a Fat Rabbit.
  5. The last book you read. The Slow Regard of Silent Things (Rothfuss)
  6. What’s your favorite TV show? The Voice.
  7. If you could forget a book and read it over again for the first time, which one would you choose? Why would I want to forget a book?
  8. Do you prefer cold weather or warm weather? Cold. Fall weather is perfection.
  9. What’s your favorite color? Black.
  10. What’s your favorite artist/band? I don’t really have a specific favorite.
  11. What’s your favorite genre in books? Fantasy/adventure.

And from S. M. Metzler…

  1. When did you start blogging? About four years ago (on a different blog).
  2. Name three books that everyone on Earth should read. Fiction books? Not sure. That’s a tough question, and it may not have an answer (gettin’ all philosophical over here). 
  3. Favorite pop music artist and film score composer. Pop music bores me. Koji Kondo. 
  4. Name your three biggest fandoms. MCU, Nintendo (yes), Lord of the Rings.
  5. What is your favorite musical? Pass (sorry…just not that interested in musicals).
  6. Spiderman or Ant-man? Yes, the new Marvel ones. Spiderman all day every day.
  7. What time of day do you write the most? At night, usually, or at least in the evening.
  8. Tea, coffee, hot chocolate, or apple cider? Yes. 
  9. A tagline for the first story you’ve ever written. Boy, that was a long, long time ago.
  10. If your book was going to be made into a movie, is there an actor/actress you’d choose to play your main character? Tom Holland might be a good choice. 
  11. Rey or Princess Leia? Why? Rey, because, uhm, she uses lightsabers and is awesome and has a killer staff-stick thingy. 

Awesome! Now you know 30 things about me you might not have known before. We’re practically best friends. I won’t keep the tag going (sorry!) because anyone I can think if to tag has already been tagged or has tagged me, so I’ll stick to my questions.