Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Lost in Translation

There’s a Vietnamese grocery store on McPhillips Street and there’s a sign out front that says, “Free Run Chicken.” My thinking is that they’re selling free-range chicken and the translation between Vietnamese and English is maybe a little less than direct. Either way I have this image in my head of chickens running lose inside the store.

It got me thinking about what’s lost in translation and, in particular, how we try and recreate the world around us; especially now that there’s so many outlets to do this through.

In our Creative Writing class this week we’re working to create radio dramas which we’ll produce later on. Our instructor, Karen Press, is getting us to think about the tools available to us that’ll help create a sense of the real for our listening audience.

We listened to ‘The Suicide Tapes’ which with its tape recorder hissing (I learned this was a filter) sounded so legitimate that I thought they were real. The possibility of it being real made listening to the tapes all the more creepy. And interesting.

We also listened to ‘Afghanada,’ modeled on Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan. The problem I had listening to these episodes was not being able to tell when the narrator was reminiscing and when a scene from his memory was being re-enacted. Sure the extraneous goat bleets cued me into a rural terrain but it wasn’t enough to help me make sense of the structure.

Above all else, if what I’m listening to is supposed to be “real” then there has to be a reason to be listening to it. Like with ‘The Suicide Tapes,’ you can easily imagine you’re listening to evidence collected in what ends up being the murder of a psychiatrist by her patient. It’s their sessions and her case notes. Simple.

And what about dialogue?

When you’re writing  a fiction story, making your dialogue sound realistic (like it could actually have come out of someone’s mouth) is more than half the battle. Not only do the words used need to sound natural, the lines spoken by one character have to “sound” different than the words spoken by another. Creating different voices without a voice to speak them: it’s challenging. But you probably knew that.

What’s weird again is how much effort goes into sounding natural. I’m tempted to say that sounding natural should come naturally but that somehow sounds too contrived, like I was waiting to say that very line. Hmmm...

And take a moment to consider Twitter.

There are a small number of people in my class on Twitter who have crafted a very natural (and witty) voice in their tweets. Yes, that is a tinge of jealousy peaking through my letters. I’ve been on Twitter since September and have yet to feel comfortable hitting that send button.

It’s likely that the limitation of 140 characters compacts the trouble of creating a standout voice for either yourself or one of your characters, something that makes success all the more impressive. But it still seems to me a bit peculiar. Beyond that I haven’t quite figured out my opinion.


  1. An intriguing goat theme is emerging on your blog.
    Have you considered tweeting as a goat?

  2. I do love a goat. Planning on getting one so I don't have to mow the lawn anymore. :)


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