Thursday, May 26, 2016

Writing Outside Your Culture: Language Issues, Part I

When writing Desert Jewels, I needed to use Japanese names and a few Japanese words to make it authentic. As I mentioned last month, I pronounce words in my head as I read, and I assume many others do, too. I’ve always been lousy at foreign languages, but I did my best to learn basic Japanese pronunciation using Internet and print/CD resources.

My middle-grade readers are unlikely to do that, so I tried to choose names that made it as easy as possible for them to hear the words correctly in their heads. I don’t expect total accuracy, however. Some of the tongue and mouth actions that form the sounds are unfamiliar to most English-speakers, and even the various sources I’ve listened to pronounce the same words differently, much like the use of English across the U.S. (Do you say tomayto or tomahto?) But I wanted to get as close as I could.

I have the biggest difficulty when two vowels are next to each other. Unlike English, in Japanese you get only one vowel to a syllable. That means contiguous vowels are in different syllables and are pronounced separately. At least that’s the theory. Americans have a tendency to run syllables together, and many of the Japanese speakers I listened to did the same thing. It’s even more complicated when the vowels aren’t pronounced as most American readers expect. My natural inclination is to pronounce the name “Keiko” as Kee-koh, when it is really more like Keh-ee-koh.

Although I went out of my way to choose names without two adjacent vowels, I couldn’t avoid words like “Issei” and “Nisei,” which run rampant throughout my manuscript. They were common terms for Japanese Americans and highlighted a distinction that was extremely important at the time. “Issei” were the first generation in America, and U.S. law denied these immigrants the right to become citizens. “Nisei” were the second generation, and they were citizens by virtue of being born here. If I wanted to create an authentic experience, I had to use those words.

I tried incorporating the meanings of Japanese words into the flow of the story, but I also put a glossary at the end of the book. And that’s where the dilemma came in. When I added pronunciation to the glossary, should I have used the technical Japanese phonics, the formal American pronunciation key, or an informal one close to the actual sound?

Take “Nisei.” My language research indicated that the formal Japanese pronunciation should be broken down to something like nee-seh-ee for the three syllables ni-se-i. Online dictionaries all use nē’sā (the formal American pronunciation key indicating that it is pronounced as two syllables with a long e and a long a) or the less formal nee-sey. When I hear it, I hear nee-say. So what did I do?

Given the nature of my audience, I chose nee-say.

What would you have done?


The Japanese characters at the top of this post spell “Nisei” according to Wikipedia.


Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal was a Kirkus’ Indie Books of the Month Selection for April 2014. The second edition of Kathryn’s first book, In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion, was released on September 30, 2015. You can learn more about Kathryn at

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Techniques of the Selling Writer

By Kelly Bridgewater

Like last month, when I discussed why I enjoy reading Scene and Structure by Jack M. Bickham, this month I will be discussing Dwight V. Swain’s book Techniquesof the Selling Writer. This book is in the same format. Pretty dense to sit down and read in one sitting. It is not conversationalist like Stephen Kings’ and Steven James’, but I still find it really important to improve my writing. 

From Amazon

One of my favorite sections in the book is entitled “Plain Facts about Feeling”. I really enjoyed reading this chapter. There is a lot to study. He explains motivations and reactions, then shows examples. Then jumps into a different way to look at it. Then he jumps into Sequence and Sequel. Shows examples. It is inspiring. My favorite quote in this section is “For a story is really never about something. Always it concerns, instead, someone’s reactions to what happens: his feelings, his emotions, his impulses, his dreams, his ambitions, his clashing drives, and inner conflicts. The external serves only to bring them into focus” (42). I don’t know about you but I never thought of looking at a story like that. I always thought the plot and what was happening externally is important, but it is more important to watch the character’s interaction with the tension.

Swain also talks about a number of different areas that writers need help on. There is the “Beginning, Middle, and End”, “The People in Your Story”, and “Preparation, Planning, and Production.” Luckily, you don’t have to read Swain’s book straight from front to back. You can pick and choose what you want to read. If you don’t really want to sit down in a comfy chair and read for hours, you can pick up the book and read a chapter once a week or whatever makes you comfortable. It took me about a month to finish the book. Not that it wasn’t interesting, but I needed to read and digest what I had read to see how I could use it in my next book.

Share something from this book if you have read it. What is your favorite part of a writing book? Let’s share some tips together.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

6 Fun Ways to Keep Your Storytelling Juices Going on Vacation

Like many Americans, writers often take some summer days or weekends away from their usual routines to spend time with family or friends, enjoy the warmer weather, and recharge their personal batteries. Minds and bodies can rest not only from their tasks at home, but also the hard work of crafting plots that intrigue, choosing words that compel, wrangling proposals into a proper format, following submission guidelines, and meeting deadlines.

A novelist’s mind, however, is seldom completely at rest. And who wants to have to jump-start storytelling juices after a vacation if you can keep them going on vacation?

Here are some creative activities you can adopt with a willing spouse, child, or teen—or in your own mind as everyone else dozes off in their passenger seats or splashes in the water as you relax behind sunglasses with a tall, cold drink in your hand. 

1.       Imagine a stranger’s story. See that woman way over there in the red scarf, reading a paperback on an isolated bench? She has a book bag next to her with words on the side in a language you don’t recognize. What might be her story? Is she an immigrant? Is she an interpreter at the UN? Is she on a mission impossible and in danger? Is she an angel? Give her a story, starting with some exciting action! 

 2.       Spin an intriguing tale about a souvenir. What’s this? A magic lamp with a genie inside, ready to grant three wishes? An heirloom pendant, stolen from a royal palace a hundred years ago? A portal to Narnia or Middle Earth or Mitford or Hogwarts, giving you the opportunity to become one of the characters there? The symbol of a broken promise?

3.       Take your trip in another time period or location. Maybe you aren’t in a plane on your way to Disney World with your kids, who, thankfully, are entertaining themselves. Maybe you’re in a covered wagon on your way west in 1868 or in a space shuttle traveling to another galaxy in 2497. Maybe you’re in a malfunctioning time machine or you just stepped into an amazing parallel universe.   

4.       Embrace what you can’t help but overhear. Not that you’re deliberately eavesdropping, but that dad and son aren’t exactly lowering their voices as they have a slightly heated discussion in the lobby of your hotel. Give them a story. What’s led to their conflict? What will be the result? Or what about those two middle-aged women at the train station talking about the boy they both liked when they were sixteen? How did they overcome that rivalry and maintain their relationship?

 5.       Pretend you’re someone else. You’re not the mother of the napping little rascals behind you in the van at the moment. You’re an Amish woman who’s falling in love, or a man who has just met a long-lost sibling, or an adopted teen who’s looking for his or her birth parents, or an alien who’s just arrived on Earth. (Oh, okay. Go ahead. If you’re not driving, you can take a nap too.) 

6.       Create a round-robin story. Someone can start with “It was a dark and stormy night” around the campfire. Then let the fun begin with the next person's contribution. The crazier the story, the better kids will like it, and parents can throw in a plot twist whenever they want. Everything you’ve ever learned about structure and POV can fly away in favor of creativity and laughter and making memories.

Go for it! And if you have other ideas, share them in the comments below.

Jean Kavich Bloom is a freelance editor and writer (Bloom in Words Editorial Services). Her personal blog is Bloom in Words too, where she sometimes posts articles about the writing life. She is also one of many contributors to a new blog for women, The Glorious Table. Her published books are Bible Promises for God's Precious Princess and Bible Promises for God's Treasured Boy. She and her husband, Cal, have three children and five grandchildren.

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