Thursday, July 10, 2014


I have this completely unfounded, untested theory that, had I any real expertise in a foreign language, I would be a better translator than a writer.

Not that translators aren't writers, and that's exactly my point. When I'm writing, my problems don't stem from an inability to whip up unusual description, imagery. That's usually--well, I won't say easy, but it doesn't pose too many difficulties. And I'm perfectly capable of imagining strange situations, scenarios that would make for a compelling story. The trouble is seeing these scenarios through to fruition. I have no idea how to write a complex plot.

Often I see pictures, hear conversations, feel places, flashes of them, and I can write those down. I just can't develop them. Why do you think I write so much flash fiction? It's much easier for me when a plot is no more than a moment or two. People sometimes act as though this is a great talent to have, and sometimes I agree, but other times I think it's a real weakness. Though the internet has created a friendlier environment for flash fiction, it's still not typically the thing people look for when they head to the bookstore--or, I guess, when they head to Amazon. Besides, I want to be able to write longer stories. I want to concoct and organize scenarios as elaborate and unexpected as the authors I admire, but I don't know whether I have that ability.

That's why I believe I could potentially be good at translation. I'm a thoughtful enough reader to understand and appreciate plot, to understand different connotations of language, and so on. And I know that most translations can't be word-for-word literal--nor do I think they should be. I suspect I could take someone else's text, let them work out the pesky plot for me, and then employ the writing skills that I do have to translate the original author's work into English either while closely maintaining the spirit of their story, or while altering the spirit of their story to make a new point, depending on the situation.

Of course, not all translations have to be from one language to another. You could translate a text phonetically, or translate poetry into prose, or vice-versa, or translate movies into poems, or any number of other projects. I'd like to be able to translate from other languages, though, because I adore how other languages phrase things. For instance, in French, the term for "earthquake" is "tremblement de terre." Trembling of the earth. How lovely is that? And then there are all the single foreign words that mean something which would take many words to convey in English. It would be fun to translate words like those.

Again, I have no tangible evidence that I would be able to translate well. I guess we'll find out in a year or two when I have to start my to-be-determined translation project, a requirement for my MFA program. In the meantime, I suppose I could use Duolingo to get my French back into shape. I could also stop feeling sorry for myself and get over my plot-writing hangups. That's always an option.

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