Does a Translator Read?

I admit without shame that I am an avid reader.

However, I am running out of good stories to read.

Although I am not particularly picky when it comes to genres (except horror, I do not like horror, even in writing!), it pains me to say the absence of certain attributes force me to lose interest in stories I used to read from cover to cover.

The Absence of Depth

Nothing bothers me more than characters who only execute actions instead of experiencing them. I expect them to react, to have feelings, impulses, and knee-jerk reactions to their struggles. Senses are what makes us feel alive; can this spill over to the narrative of stories? Can I feel with the characters?

Absolutely! Reading is a way to flex the empathy muscle we all have.

The characters’ lives and struggles written on the first degree are insipid. A story is made up of lawyers and life is found in the layers, in the ripple effect the events generate. The woman who cries in public is not necessarily depressed; she might have just received a disheartening news. The man staring at the river from the bridge doesn’t necessarily want to jump. He might just like to look at water because it gives him some measure of peace while he tries to make important decisions. There is always more than the action… there are motives, feelings, goals, and circumstances. Authors! Share some of those with your readers.

The Cookie Cutter Story

Boredom kills they say… and this is exactly what happens with cookie cutter stories. It kills the joy you experience when reading. I refer to the “you-read-one-you-read-them-all” stories. No matter who the author is, you read their stories and you feel like they shared the same template and religiously built their story to fit into the template. Variations in the stories are minimal, the pace is similar, the main points are found in relatively the same spots. From one story to the next one and the other dozen ones, the stories are similar and only the names and locations differ… same type of conflicts, same sequence of actions, same solutions to similar obstacles… in a few words… “same stuff, different pile”.

Too much predictability is a kill-joy, your readers need to be caught off guard, to be surprised.

Overdone and Insignificant: Good Riddance

Authors! Get rid of the following:

  • The fist in the mouth: overly dramatic and fake. Nobody does this in real life! If I wanted a brainless and shallow character, I would watch cartoons. If I read a story, I want someone I can relate to, someone who might struggle but who is essentially human and of age.
  • The helpless heroines and the overly macho Neanderthals: helplessness is not cute and stupid men, too close to reality. Bring complexity to your characters. If I wanted to read a simple story, I would head to the kids’ section at the library.
  • The princess and her prince template: life is not all fluff, it tests our mettle. Characters should reflect life; it makes them real, relatable, and sympathetic even.

Be creative, surprise us, help us grow, write about relatable characters. Reading should leave us a little taller, a bit wiser, and a bit more peaceful.

Professional Biases

Of course, translators develop professional biases. A translator, especially when reading books from indie authors, must usually rebuke the urge of picking up his or her red pen. Here are the culprits:

  • Bad grammar:
    To read “then” instead of “than” or “could of” instead of “could have” just makes the hair on my arms stand. Dear writer, writing is your bread-winning activity, it is your duty to present quality writing (good grammar at the very least) on top of good storytelling skills to your readers. Mastering grammar will help you master your writing skills. Clarity and coherence are more easily achieved, and both will help your readers enjoy your story.
  • Nonsensical sentences:
    “Opening the door, the light went off and he listened to the rumbling thunder.” Exactly, this type of nonsense. A missing word? A distraction? A misused word? I cannot help but frown. There are no logical links to this sentence. This is a blatant example, but if you pay attention to what you read, you will find more. If one wants to make sense out it, it needs rewriting. The light went off as he opened the door; he could still hear the rumbling thunder.
    I suspect the authors who do that believe writing consists of stringing words together. Well, sorry. Writing is more than just stringing words together. Try coherence, try clarity, try evoking feelings in your readers, and try engaging them.
  • Wrong word:
    “He put the key in the door to unlock it” or “The witness evoked the Fifth Amendment” Again, the example is blatant. To unlock a door, you need to insert the key in a key hole, preferably the one of the locking mechanism, and you don’t “evoke” (to call up, to cause to appear, produce, or summon) the Fifth Amendment, you “invoke” (to declare to be binding or in effect) it.

Technically, a good editor will remedy the issues. Translators make excellent beta readers or copy editors, they are sensitive to words, they have a broad vocabulary, and they usually know the meaning of the words they read. If they do not know, they have the habit of looking them up. Either way, accuracy comes with the job, and it spills over to our reading habits.

So yes, translators read, they read carefully, they read with depth, and they read with coherence and accuracy in mind.

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