if you’ve come across some then leave a comment below with those titles.
In writing the Carving Legacies series, I really wanted to dive into languages acting as barriers for characters. The obstacle I had to overcome was figuring out how I was going to communicate the change-over between Adami to Vat'tu, or to Drakish, etc.
Here were the options I was seeing:
At the end of the day, I combined the second and third options together. With the Adami common tongue as the ‘base language’ in default text for the dialogue, I chose italics as the visual indicator that the language has swapped. Then I would supplement the initial swap with a single narration prompt of to what language the narration changed. From there, it sets up the framework in that particular conversation of which languages are involved, and which specific language the visual prompt is reflecting.
“But what happens when you need to emphasize something?” I hear you ask. Great question!
Using italics as a language change now removes it as a tool for emphasis on dialogue, otherwise it creates mass confusion. I found it to be an acceptable exchange because emphasis abuse has the potential of running rampant (bad thing). Meanwhile, using it for language changes makes sense, and is part of the story, thus removing any notion of abuse (good thing). Plus, I needed the language swaps way more than I needed word emphasis in my dialogue.
“That’s fine, but what if you absolutely needed to add emphasis to something?” I hear you ask next. Don’t worry, I’ve got that covered.
Instead of italics, I decided to use capitalization to impact words in its stead. After all, if we’re going to use emphasis for something, we better have a good reason. Unlike italics, capitals are obnoxious as f%@k, which makes it overwhelming to the eyes when you abuse them. Ultimately, I found that when I took the easy-emphasis tool away, I trained myself to find alternative ways to narrate stronger sentiments in dialogue, or avoid them all together. Saving the capitalizations for single-word shouting in only a couple of key places.
“Okay, but what about a character’s inner dialogue?”
Yeah, this one was the trickiest of all, but this is where the First-Person Limited PoV swooped in to save the day. I originally wrote Key of Arcandus in Third-Person Omniscient. But the editor I hired said that the TPO PoV was going out of style, and [insert conversation here about trends I tuned out]. Ultimately, they wanted me to switch to First Person and only from the protagonist’s PoV, which I would not do because in later books this PoV choice would become a serious hinderance on a meta scale. I also don’t write to chase trends because those are fleeting.
As a compromise, I went with FPL as my PoV, which can bypass the inner thoughts of a character. Instead of writing out the mental dialogue, I either narrated out the most logically assumed perspective for the character, or I cut it out entirely and had the character emote their feelings via facial expressions.
There you have it!
What are your favorite ways that authors have tackled and integrated language barriers into their stories? Comment below to discuss!
I'm an author and avid gamer from the southwest who grew up on all things geek before they became chic.