5

(I realize there have been similar questions before, such as this and this, but the answers to those unfortunately did not help much with my specific issue.)

I have three characters. Sally speaks both English and Japanese, Bob only knows English, and Shintaro only knows Japanese. The story is written in English.

In the first part, Sally goes to Japan, where everyone speaks Japanese. She meets and makes friends with Shintaro there. Because the book is written in English, all of the dialogue will be in English. The reader should understand everyone is really speaking Japanese.

Then, in the second part, Sally brings Shintaro to the United States, where people speak English. She introduces him to her childhood friend, Bob.

How can I effectively write a dialogue involving these three characters? Not just for their first meeting, but for the rest of the story? Sally is the only one who understands both languages, so she's essentially the translator. But I fear that having her translate everything for Bob and Shintaro will make for terrible and confusing dialogue:

"I feel like I've seen you before," said Shintaro.

"What did he say?" asked Bob.

"He says he feels like he's seen you before," Sally said.

Bob rested his chin on his hand. "Well, I did go on that trip to Tokyo last year."

"Bob says that he went to Tokyo last year," Sally said to Shintaro.

"I was living in Tokyo last year," Shintaro said. "Maybe that's when I saw you."

Would it work if I got rid of Sally in the translator position? Would the readers understand that everything Bob and Shintaro are saying is being translated by Sally?

"I feel like I've seen you before," said Shintaro.

Bob rested his chin on his hand. "Well, I did go on that trip to Tokyo last year."

"I was living in Tokyo last year," Shintaro said. "Maybe that's when I saw you."

But, if I take the second route, what should I do if Sally wants to purposely mistranslate what one person says? In such a case, could I then introduce Sally as the translator? Would that be strange since in all previous dialogue, she was never seen translating anything?

Bob's head was down. "I'm the one who killed your sister."

Shintaro waited on Sally with a helpless look. Sally struggled to find her words.

"Bob says he's sorry your sister died," she said.

Shintaro's gaze softened. "I appreciate your sympathy."

"He says he's over it," Sally said to Bob. "Shintaro forgives you."

One last thing: how do I handle a scene where Sally and Shintaro try to teach Bob Japanese? Do I stop translating Japanese to English? Do I actually write what he's learning in Japanese?

"Repeat after me," said Sally. "Hajimemashite."

"Hajimemashite," Bob repeated.

"Oh, he's pretty good," Shintaro said.

"Only because he watches too much anime."

Or:

"Repeat after me," said Sally. "Nice to meet you."

"Nice to meet you," Bob repeated.

"Oh, he's pretty good," Shintaro said.

"Only because he watches too much anime."

I have heard using italics help lessen the confusion... but what if I use italics for emphasis already? That just seems more confusing.

7

You're 95% of the way there; you have good instincts for what's readable.

• For your first example, I'd try to put as much of the logistics of translation into narration as I could manage. After a bit, the reader will understand that Sally is acting as the intermediate.

"I feel like I've seen you before," said Shintaro.

"What did he say?" asked Bob. Sally translated. Bob rested his chin on his hand. "Well, I did go on that trip to Tokyo last year."

"I was living in Tokyo last year," Shintaro said after she explained. "Maybe that's when I saw you."

"Where was he in Tokyo?" Bob asked Sally. Shintaro hedged, but eventually told Sally the name of the neighborhood.

"But I had a good reason for being there."

"Of course you did," Bob agreed.

• Your second example is perfect. Sally is established as translator, but you don't need to have tons of repeated dialogue.

• For your third example, use the first version, where you actually use the Japanese because you want the reader to understand that Bob is speaking a new language. What the words mean isn't the point of that passage; it's that he's learning the Japanese words.

2

It's a very interesting question.

I feel like, of the choices you provided, combining the first route and the 3rd route would be most effective. But, I also agree that writing things twice does tend to be a bit redundant.

Having faced a conundrum such as this in my own writing, the third method might be easiest to use completely, if you actually speak Japanese. Then, you'd have to translate every part of dialogue while their in Japan instead of only what Shintaro is saying. And in cases where she's intentionally misinterpreting, you would merely have to actually translate, then explain the misinterpretation.

If you don't desire to use either the 3rd route or mix the first and the third, you could just not use as much dialogue while their in Japan, and instead explain what the people are saying, example:

Sally walks into a bar with Shintaro, and catches snippets of Japanese exclamations and greetings. Shintaro apparently is friends with the bartender, as he greets him warmly, then asks about his wife and kids. The bartender sees Sally and offers her a drink, on the house. She accepts the offer graciously, and asks Shintaro how long he has known the bartender. He replies by explaining that they are old friends from primary school...

If you choose to use this method, then the 3rd method is a bit easier and less confusing and more consistent than switching methods.

Keep in mind this is merely what I had done in a similar scenario, though I hope this eased your own decision making process.

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