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27 January 2015 @ 11:03 am
A formatting question  
I've been writing an epic story, and within that story, a lot of the dialogue is taking place in French. I'm not a person who thinks that writing something in a foreign language and then immediately translating it into English is a good way to handle foreign dialogue, nor is throwing in a few words here and there, so for the most part, I've been using the translation convention of writing everything in English with the implication that the bilingual main character is translating as he goes.

However, my original plans to indicate someone speaking in French by using Italics is now not working so well, due to the sheer amount of French being spoken in some scenes. Basically any piece of dialogue is now in Italics, and Italics are distracting to read and draw attention to themselves. So, my question is, can I get away with starting off the dialogue with a 'he said, in French' tag and hoping my readers will assume the conversation continues in French until otherwise indicated? The problem with that is that there's no visual cue for when the languages change, which makes everything sort of fuzzy. And mixing the two options has a lack of consistency which might make it even more confusing.

If it were a oneshot, I wouldn't worry about it, but if I get it done, it's going to be several chapters with an increasing amount of French as it goes along.

So, here's basically what it looks like now:


"Hey, look, I'm talking in French," Character A said.

"That's good, since we're in France and it would make sense for us to speak French a lot," Character B replied.

"It's a good thing that English is so common, though," Character A said, thoughtfully. ""Because that means awanderingbard can get away with using more English than she would otherwise."

"Yes, but she still has to decide how good that character's grammar would be," Character B replied. "Without making them sound like Hercule Poirot."

Character A and Character B sat and contemplated why writing is hard sometimes, and smoked a cigarette, which they shouldn't because smoking is bad for you, but it's okay to do that on British television, even though in America, nobody smokes on TV except probably on HBO. They looked up as Character C approached.

"Oh, look, it's Character C," Character A said. "He doesn't speak French, so we better speak in English now. Hello, Character C, how are you today?"

"I'm fine," Character C said, with a smile. "It's nice that awanderingbard doesn't have to type all those Italic HTML tags when I talk."


I feel like all the Italics are really distracting and make the surrounding words hard to make out. So my other option would be something like this:


"Is she going to keep writing meta dialogue for us?" Character A asked, in French.

"It does seem like she will," Character B said. "I'm an established French character, so it's safe to assume that I'm responding in French, did you know that?"

"I assumed that, due to your established backstory that we know awanderingbard has spent more time than necessary on," Character A said. "But she's made it hard for herself by also making it clear that you do speak and understand English, so that might complicate things when we aren't using Italic tags."

"She probably should have set this story in England, but it's too late for that now," Character B said, regretfully. "Oh look, Character C's back." She switched to English to address him. "Hello, Character C. Still feeling okay?"

"Yeah, nothing much has changed for me," Character C said. "Hopefully it's clear that I am responding in English, since that would make the most sense."


So, any thoughts on this matter? Which do you prefer to read? Any other suggestions on how I could format it? Would it be better if my journal style didn't render Italics in a different colour?
Current Mood: confusedconfused
shadowfireflameshadowfireflame on January 27th, 2015 05:09 pm (UTC)
I personally would prefer to read the second option. As a reader, my instinct is to not read huge amounts of Italics text in other languages (unless I think I can try to mentally translate it), so it might confuse me to see that much English in Italics, and I'd prefer that large chunks of Italics be avoided as much as possible.

I think it makes perfect sense to occasionally do your "He switched to French..." or "He continued in English," and then assume if you don't mention it again that they're still speaking in French, particularly if they're in France. :)
The Writer They Call Tayawanderingbard on January 27th, 2015 06:29 pm (UTC)
Awesome! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I would make things a lot easier on me to switch to that method, too.
aelfgyfu_mead: Natashaaelfgyfu_mead on January 27th, 2015 07:12 pm (UTC)
I'd agree that long stretches of italics can be hard to read–in any format, and the change in colors doesn't help. I would think that a tag alerting to the language at the start of the scene and then any to a language change should be sufficient once you've established that A and B are French and speak French but also English.

What I'd most recommend avoiding, however, you have already ruled out. I hate hitting passages of dialogue in a foreign language and having to go to the end of the chapter or story for translations! French I can handle, except that some idioms elude me; I know no Russian, and I have read stories that will have characters taking five turns each in Russian. If I jump to the end of the chapter or story, my eyes may catch more than I mean, spoiling me—but I also tend to lose track of where I am. The worst stories have multiple such stretches in one chapter and then a set of translations, and I get to the translations and cannot always figure out which set goes with which passage of dialogue!
The Writer They Call Tayawanderingbard on January 27th, 2015 07:41 pm (UTC)
I would think that a tag alerting to the language at the start of the scene and then any to a language change should be sufficient once you've established that A and B are French and speak French but also English.

Okay, groovy! Thanks for responding. I'd rather the people reading the story choose the method they like best, because they're the ones who are going to be staring at the screen trying to sort it out. I already know who's speaking what language, after all.

I hate hitting passages of dialogue in a foreign language and having to go to the end of the chapter or story for translations!

I admire people who've taken the time to research the language and use it appropriately (presuming they have, and didn't just run it through Google translate), but the jumping up and down the page is very annoying.

I only have two very brief sections in actual French, one is basic French that I hope is made clear by the context used, and then the other one is a plot relevant pun that can't be done in English, so has to be told in French. And since the person to whom it's being told to also speaks French, it wouldn't make sense for the character to explain it, so I'm going to have to put a note somewhere.
Michelle R. Wood on January 28th, 2015 07:26 pm (UTC)
Have you tried brackets?
I seem to recall a Star Wars book that used brackets to indicate an alien language. Specifically, I think Jabba the Hutt was talking to one of his henchmen and it went something like this:

Henchman: Hi there, reporting for duty, I'm a human so I speak in Basic standard language of the universe that sounds a LOT like English.

Jabba: [You're an idiot and I only speak in Huttesse, the official language of Tatooine.]
The Writer They Call Tayawanderingbard on January 28th, 2015 07:32 pm (UTC)
Re: Have you tried brackets?
Huh. That's a thought. It's a little less obtrusive, but I'm not sure if it still draws a little too much attention to itself. Although, French quotation marks might be appropriate.

I'll definitely play around with it a little before I make a decision on how I'm going to handle it. Thanks for the suggestion!