Monday, May 17, 2010

BLOGFEST: Let's Talk Dialogue

Excerpt for my fellow Dallasite Roni Griffin's Let's Talk Dialogue blogfest.

THANK YOU RONI for hosting such a useful blogfest!

There are a TON of bloggers on this blogfest, so to anyone who actually reads my junkie entry, THANK YOU! I'll try to read your crappy excerpt, too, and then neither one of us will feel so bad, eh.

I am mixing foreign languages. What I know about the language I'm writing -- Quechua of Bolivia -- they say almost every sentence ends with a modifier, such as I know for a fact or I suppose. I figure it's similar to the way Canadians might use Don't you know or Southerners would use If I recall.

In any case, it's challenging! Any help is much appreciated.

This is an early draft, and it's even a bit confusing to me the writer. Either that, or the beer's doing its job, eh.

Context: Bolivian street market. Two Americans discussing with a Bolivian husband & wife at their booth. POV is the Bolivian wife.

The Gladiator's Son by Eric Trant

By mid-afternoon the tourists had combed through most of her chocolates and taken up two of her husband's Fedora hats, including the one he had removed from his head. They seeped out from the hotel across the street, their faces so pale and their eyes so blue that the woman squinted in the glare of their reflections.

"You take Euro?" they asked.

She nodded. "Si. I take Euro."

The woman knew enough German to haggle, she knew her numbers, and her husband could speak a bit of English for the British and Americans who stopped by, laughing, drunk by lunchtime. Evita's husband helped with the French, though there were fewer and fewer of them as the years passed.

A tall woman with a short man stopped and smiled at the woman and her husband. "Allin sukha," the woman said in Quechua. Good afternoon.

The woman smiled back at them, as did her husband. "Allin sukha."

The tall woman with her short man edged up to the booth and the tall woman ran her fingers across the llama vests laid beside the remaining chocolates.

Both hatted with Fedoras, she in a traditional blue-green summer dress and a llama vest and many necklaces about her thin breasts, the man in jeans and a sweatshirt that looked like a university shirt, though the woman could not read it. She knew the shape of Texas, though, behind the letters, with a powerful bull standing atop the state.

"They look Runa," the woman said to her husband.

Her husband smiled and nodded and pulled one of the Fedoras off his staff and placed it on her head, and then another on his own.

Her husband waved to Evita to come out from behind the booth, and dragging his wife around the table he wrapped his arm around her waist and stood next to the white couple and motioned with his hands for Evita to take a picture of them.

The tall woman understood and together they stood in the street while Evita studied the camera and then took two careful pictures before handing it back to the tall woman.

"You have nice, mmm, chocolates?" the tall woman asked. She tried it in Quechua, using the Spanish word for chocolate.

"Si. You like to try?" The four of them standing in front of the booth, the woman broke off a piece of her chocolate and handed it to the tall woman.

"You are Runa, chufircha?" She licked her finger to clean the chocolate.

"Si. We are from the mountains. My husband and I have lived here many lifetimes. Always we return to the dirt and regrow from between the rocks, chufirmi. You are American, chufircha?"

"Si. Students. I study ethnology. That means I study native peoples. I went to Guatemala last year. We just got back from Chile."

"Si, si. You like the chocolate, chufircha?"

Her husband spoke to the short white man, his eyes slitted and gleaming. "She is a healer, my wife, chufirmi."

The woman nodded when the tall woman squinted her green eyes at her. "Si," she said to the Americans. "My sisters do not have the gift. Their wombs lie within their bellies, while mine lies within Pachamamma." The woman knelt and patted the dirt beneath her feet. "My womb lies here, chufirmi."

"Would you show us?"

"Si, si." The woman stood and slapped her hands against her dress, the same neon blue as the American woman's dress, but with deep red patches about the neck and shoulders. "I will bless you with a safe trip."

"How much?"

"You buy chocolates. You like, chufircha?"

"Very much."

"Then you buy chocolates."


- Eric


Tara said...

No, it's not the beer. (Though it could be that my brain goes mushy past 9). I'm confused a bit, too.

I think it's mostly because it's so out of context. I spent too much time wondering what they were doing there, and who was talking. All of that would come together if I had the full scene (and a little background).

Part of it was pov, I'm not entirely sure whose we're in - or maybe it jumped, inadvertently, in spots.

The dialogue itself I found well done (but get rid of the tags). It flowed, sounded real not forced :)

I do accents/foreign languages in my WiP, so I know it's hard - and time consuming - to get it right. I think you did good with that, too.

Andrew Rosenberg said...

I just want the chocolate, Comanche.

Charity Bradford said...

I don't drink, but I'm sleep deprived so my thoughts might not count. :)

I did think the dialogue sounded natural, but agree with Tara that you can drop the translation in the text.

I want to know if this is true--

"Si. We are from the mountains. My husband and I have lived here many lifetimes. Always we return to the dirt and regrow from between the rocks, chufirmi."

This character has that mystical vibe that makes me curious.

Eric W. Trant said...

Tara: Thanks. I removed the tags and it does translate better. I didn't want to add too much context because I only wanted to focus on the dialogue and not bog down people with background reads. Right or wrong, that was the idea.

Andrew: Oh, yeah, thanks for the critique. I appreciate the concise and useful literary input. :| You may indulge in the chocolate. When they do their street demo later, you may also imbibe in the beer they use as a toast.

Charity: Thanks for the input on dropping the translations. Done. And it does read a bit better. The story has a mystical undertone for sure, as do many of my stories. I like realistic fantasy, if that makes sense, something that is almost believable.

Kinda like that show Ghost Hunters.

- Eric

Anonymous said...

Well, I thought it was quite interesting, and I think I would have found it even more interesting if it had been set within a bit more context. But, as it was, I liked it, and would love to read more.

TL said...

I get why you did it this way, no worries. I just didn't want to say, ew this is confusing so it sucks. It doesn't - I know how great it would be if I knew the background before reading it ;)

I don't think you necessarily need to remove the translations, just slip them in easier.
An example of the way I do mine (which may not work here with the shallow pov):

"Jestes w porzadku?" But Klara didn't look okay. She knelt to left of the door...

So the reader gets the gist of the question without a blinking arrow saying: this is what she said. Does that make sense?

Eric W. Trant said...

Propinquity: I added more context for clarity. It's a little bit more read than I wanted to post, but it sure clears up the setting.

Tara: Background added. This whole topic on handling foreign languages is its own blog post! Maybe we should post something on that later this week, huh.

- Eric

Unknown said...

Hi Eric~ I enjoyed your scene. Working with foreign dialog is tricky but you handled it well here. I love stories set in other countries. Interactions between people with cultural and language barriers make a story that much more interesting, to read and to write!

Anonymous said...

I love the interaction between the people in the different languages. It was a little confusing, but I think that's just because it's a snippet. Nice job, over all!

Christine Danek said...

I liked this scene. I was a little confused at first but as I read it seemed to flow better. I think the dialogue is natural. You have left me wanting to know more and wanting chocolate.
Nice job!

Abby Annis said...

Good dialogue and the narrative flowed better there towards the end, but like others have said, it was a bit confusing at first. Though that's probably just because it's a snippet.

The part about living many lifetimes caught my interest and would keep me reading. And of course, now I have to find some chocolate. ;)

Raquel Byrnes said...

I like the internal thougth details...the knowing the shape of Texas, squinting from the glare of them...replacing their hats as the tourists walk up...lends authenticity.

I wasn't confused, liked the dialogue, and thought it was well done.

I agree with Andrew...where's the chocolate?

Raquel Byrnes said...

Sick and twisted? Why thank you, I do try my best. =)

I've written a series of 3 novels in the action thriller genre, and 2 in the romantic suspense.

Blocking out my third in the romantic series...takes place in the bayou -- hence, the alligator tail meal.

Kressa Volnick is bad guy from Kosovo...Albanian mafia so pretty sure no one would give him a hard time about his name.

And some finished books floating around out there?

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I really liked the descriptive touches that pulled me in, such as the way she first sizes up the American couple and the way she and her husband put on their flourish for the tourists. There was an undercurrent of magic and mystery that intrigued me. But I was confused at first and that may be as simple as not identifying the POV character by name. Calling her the woman and the other the tall woman and then saying their husbands made me keep trying to sort out who was who. Really enjoyed this, though.

dolorah said...

I stopped by last night but got distracted by my kid before I could comment. And then you changed it some.

Interesting dialogue; seems way hard to use another language. I use a little Spanish in my novel - one of the MC's works with illegals and is involved in the drug trade - but I haven't yet tried to hold a complete conversation. I know enough Spanish words to confuse myself.

I still felt a little dropped in this scene, but maybe because I recognize the people from the last blog fest. The dialogue tags help keep people straight in my mind, especially with the language differences.

Can't wait for the beer toast; though I'll stick to the wine vendors, thanks.

I haven't been able to respond to comments on my own entry yet - lunch time is way to short - but I wanted to thank you for your critique. The scene was a bit rough; I had to tweak it a little so I didn't have to add a lot of scene set up.

I'll get around to comments and reading tonight. Thanks for sharing this bit of culture. It was very intriguing.


Eric W. Trant said...

Nicole: This is certainly a challenge, working in a foreign country with foreign languages. It's my first attempt, so I'm learning a lot. This was a timely blogfest for me.

Shallee: I agree it was confusing. Lots of folks saying that. I need to touch it up, maybe give my woman a name.

Christine: Glad I confused you, too. I'm not sure if the backstory would've helped or not.

Raquel: As usual, you kicked my butt in this blogfest. Glad you liked the details, though. It's the details that add authenticity, you are correct. Just a few, specific things can make a story pop to life.

Tricia: The magic and mystery is a theme in the book, so hopefully I can maintain that flow.

Based on everyone's input, I think I need to name my woman! Or at least make this scene more clear. As stated, this is an early draft that will probably be completely re-written, part of my current WIP. Thank you all for the comments, and please keep em coming!

- Eric

Amalia Dillin said...

I agree about naming the woman-- I also think you'd do well to name her husband. You've got two couples here, and "her husband" could describe either man involved. The dialogue itself, I don't see as at all problematic-- the identification of the speakers and the people involved in the transaction on the other hand is where things get dicey. If it's written from the Bolivian woman's PoV, there isn't any real reason why she can't refer to her husband by his name in her head, you know? For me, there were just too many pronouns to make anything all that clear.

The Bolivian woman is definitely an interesting character!

Tara said...

Hey Eric. Just getting back around here. So many entries, this time!

Much less confusing. And I really enjoyed it. It flows better, and the dialogue (while fine before) now reads less choppy with the tags.

Actually, I was goin to say something about the "tall woman" tag last night, but figured you'd had enough of my mouth, er, fingers. However, with this clean-up, I think tall woman works fine since I can feel the pov better and see she is just a passerby of the booth to the pov character.

Great editing job :)

Roni Loren said...

I would never have the guts to tackle another language, I barely have a hold on English sometimes, lol. But I enjoyed the excerpt and you definitely have me curious as to what powers the woman has.

Thanks so much for participating and for commenting on my excerpt as well! :)

Just Another Sarah said...

I only just read it now, so I don't know what it was like before. But it reminds me of a story I wrote--it's also set in a different culture. It's interesting to me to see how other writers tackle that detail, to see what does and doesn't work. I think that it is handled very well, here, and I'm happy you shared this excerpt!

C R Ward said...

Mmmm, chocolate . . .

I find it hard to write accents/foreign words in dialogue, but you pulled it off very well. I like how the woman couldn't be distracted from trying to make a sale.

And as a Canadian, I'd like to point out we're more apt to end our sentences with "eh" than "Don't you know" :-)

Eric W. Trant said...

Amalia: Maybe I'm taking too much advice, but I named the characters. I'm not sure it doesn't muck with my groove, though, if you know what I mean. I'll have to try it both ways and see which way presents itself. I didn't want her to have a name. It's like naming God. Once you put a name to someone, they're just like everybody else.

Tara: Thanks for re-reading. I'm still editing, and I'll probably re-write the whole thing. This is my opening, so it needs to be clean.

Roni: Thanks for the blogfest! Timely for me, since I am trying to tackle some dialogue problems.

Sarah: Writing in a different culture is not only challenging, but you have to be careful. If it does get published, you need to ensure you were sensitive to that culture.

Else the PC police are liable to come get you. It is only okay to ridicule Southerners. Everyone else is off-limits. Don't forget that. ;)

CR: I figured a Canadian would call me out on that! I use the eh tag myself. I picked it up from a Canadian I used to work with. He wore a maple leaf lapel button, and God help you if you had on a jacket and it was only 50deg F outside...

- Eric

Tina Lynn said...

Admittedly, I got lost, too, but the mystical stuff definitely drew me in. I don't think I'll ever tackle another language. Nice entry. Flowed very well.

Sarah Ahiers said...

i've come late to the party a bit but i really enjoyed this piece. I thought, visually, it was quite good. I could picture the stand, the characters. I also thought the dialogue flowed well. Also i'm a sucker for magical realism that this hints at.
Good job!