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About this blog

I opine about editing VN translations.

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Fred the Barber

I haven't posted anything particularly editorial in a while, nor have I landed a new FuwaReview in a while; I've been busy with one thing or another, and also I just haven't had that much to write about. However, today I finished reading new shiny new Kokoro Connect: Hito Random release, and when I finished, I knew I had to write something up about it.

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I first watched Kokoro Connect way back when I didn't know who to ask for recommendations and was still finding my way around anime. I was mostly just going through things that were highly ranked on AnimeNewsNetwork's overall rankings, that were accessible without pirating, and that sounded interesting. But I didn't pick it up without some trepidation. Back then, I was a little put off by fanservice in general, and the show's description was selling the perverted body-swapping angle really hard, so I was concerned it was just some shallow fanservice show. Still, I decided to take the plunge anyway, thinking there had to be more to it given the show's reception, and boy was I ever glad I did.

Nothing pushes my buttons like Kokoro Connect. The story it tells is as closely tailored to my own preferences as anything I could ever ask for: coherent and interesting characters, immensely human drama, realistic romantic development, clear story beats and plot arcs accumulating to bigger themes, and a little spritz of magic to grease the wheels of the plot. Hell, the anime even got a great dub, featuring the immensely talented Luci Christian as best girl Inaba. It's an all-time favorite for me, something I can happily recommend to anyone.

One of my favorite elements of the show is that each arc feels so complete. In 3-5 episodes, a new twist emerges, a plot unfolds around it, the characters grow in response, and at the end it resolves fully, always in a satisfying way. The one season and the OVA together had four such arcs all together, and while I was immensely satisfied with where it ended after each one, when I finished the last OVA, I still thought to myself, man, I wish there was more of this. What I eventually learned, when I finished the show and went to read about its origins, was that the reason for the tight storytelling was that the show was based on an existing series of light novels, of which the show only covered the first four out of ten (eleven of you count a volume of short stories). There was a whole lot of content out there I hadn't seen yet! Except, it wasn't available in English...

And that brings us to today, when I got to read the first English volume of the English release. And let me tell you guys, it is gooood. The translation is fluid, natural, and well-written. The characters pop right out of the page, and the narration is consistently solid and occasionally beautiful. Props to the localization team on their work here! I do have a couple minor gripes, of course: leaving people's heights in centimeters, which is totally bizarre in an American English translation (sure I can do the calculation, but talk about kicking you out of the immersion. Fortunately this only happened once); and not translating the per-volume titles ("hito random" ain't exactly my idea of a punchy title).

So how did it hold up, revisiting the material again after all these years? It's still awesome! I had to stifle my laughter a few times so I didn't look like a weirdo laughing out loud in the middle of a plane flight. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, I felt tears welling up in my eyes at a couple of particularly touching scenes, and had to fight just as hard to hold them back.

And while there's nothing major that's new here, versus what you'd see in the first five volumes of the anime, there are little bits and pieces that make it worth the time, especially in the narration, something inherently missing from an anime.

So what are you waiting for? There's a criminally neglected property out there finally getting a great English release, and it deserves your attention. Go out and give it a try! https://j-novel.club/v/kokoro-connect-hito-random

Fred the Barber

All right, I know advertisements aren't what you normally find in The Freditorial, but what publication doesn't have an ad spot every now and then? But I want you to know, the reason I'm posting this isn't to shill the game, but simply because, well, because I really liked this game and liked working on it, and I'm proud of the work we did on it!

I think Phantom Trigger did itself a disservice by attaching "Grisaia" to its name. While I have a lot of respect for the original Grisaia trilogy, the Phantom Trigger series is totally its own thing. What's more, you certainly don't need to have read the original Grisaia series to enjoy it. Oh, did that catch your attention? You haven't finished the original Grisaia trilogy yet? Same here, TBH. The games are a serious time investment.

You know what's not a serious time investment? The Phantom Trigger games! Each volume is short and well-paced, with a good balance of character and relationship building and satisfying action sequences, and each ends with a solid conclusion to the chapter. The first volume starts off a bit slow since it has a big cast to introduce, but each subsequent volume dives deep into one featured heroine while growing the cast a little further. By volume 5, you're looking at this big, crazy cast of quirky, lovable girls. Like Tohka. Oh, man, Tohka.

Anyway, give it a try!

Volume 5 is hot off the presses: https://store.steampowered.com/app/871280/Grisaia_Phantom_Trigger_Vol5/

And if you need to catch up on the series, volumes 1-4 are available in a bundle at a pretty nice price: https://store.steampowered.com/bundle/5497/Grisaia_Phantom_Trigger_Vol_14_Bundle/

But if you get 1-4, make sure you play them all and then play 5, too, because I only worked on this latest volume, so when you talk about how funny all the comedy is (and lemme tell you, man, it is freaking hilarious), I'm only going to get to take a smidgen of the credit for it on volume 5!

Fred the Barber

The VN reading community likes to argue over the relative merits of so-called "literal" and "liberal" translation, with most people tending to perceive everyone else as being a hardline supporter of one or the other. While I'm sure everybody who knows my views would classify me as a proponent of liberal translation, I tend to think I'm more a proponent of being accurate to the intent of the original text. This blog post is going to outline a couple of specific uses of language which I believe show some of the weaknesses of attempting "literal translation." This isn't going to be anything like an attempt to provide an exhaustive argument against literal translation, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't at least trying to be a little bit convincing. Still, regardless of your position on that particular argument, you might at least find the examples enlightening. Broadly, I'm going to be talking about figurative language. That's a fancy phrase encompassing a lot of common expressions and classes of expression which exist in every natural human language, as far as I know, and certainly in both Japanese and English. Idioms, similes, metaphors, hyperbole, personification, symbolism: all of these are classes of figurative language.

For starters, let's talk about idioms. The relevant definition of "idiom", per wiktionary, is, "An expression peculiar to or characteristic of a particular language, especially when the meaning is illogical or separate from the meanings of its component words." The argument pretty much writes itself, right? By definition, if you try to literally translate the words in an idiom, you're going to end up with something at best inaccurate, and at worst completely illogical. Just googling "Japanese idioms" and reading what you see is going to find you dozens of examples of cases where you have to either avoid literal translation or end up with a translation that doesn't make sense. For instance, translating 十人十色 as "ten men, ten colors" isn't going to be comprehensible to an English reader, but the venerable English idiom "different strokes for different folks," which is equivalent in meaning if not exactly in tone, is probably going to fit the bill. Idioms offer pretty much a slam dunk argument in favor of liberal translation*. That said, idioms are not that common an occurrence. However, there are also lesser examples: cases where literal translation yields something meaningful and accurate, but still less accurate than a liberal translation could manage.

My personal favorite example of a Japanese expression which is not an idiom, but which still benefits massively from a "liberal" translation, is the combination of the noun 背中 (back) and the adjective 大きい (large, big). These two words are often put together in Japanese when praising men, as a way to say a man has a certain, protoypically masculine, attractive physical characteristic. The phrase also carries a subtextual metaphor of reliability: a big back can bear a lot of weight, presumably. Once you start looking for "big backs", you'll see them popping up in literal JP->EN translations all over the place, from Little Busters! to HoshiMemo. The problem is, there's a common English expression which means exactly the same thing as that Japanese expression: "broad shoulders." Now, no dictionary is going to tell you that you can correctly translate 背中, in isolation, as "shoulders." But what's amazing about this pair of Japanese and English expressions is that they not only have the same denotation, but also the same connotation. Both expressions describe the same physical trait, and they both also imply the same personality trait of reliability: a broad pair of shoulders, also, can be trusted to carry your burden.

The expression "broad shoulders", like its Japanese cousin, sits somewhere between simple non-figurative use of language and an idiom: just knowing the definition of the individual words gets you to the correct meaning of the expression, and even the connotation of implied reliability, when present, is usually obvious. So, by definition, they aren't idioms. But even so, if translated literally in either direction, the original phrase will end up as a pale shadow of what it should be. I don't know about you, but I'd much rather be described as broad-shouldered than as big-backed.

 

*Unless you believe the purpose of a translation is to teach you Japanese idioms, in which case there isn't enough common ground to even have an argument. I personally like to read translated fiction for the same reason I like to read fiction originally written in English: to enjoy a well-crafted story.

Fred the Barber

Parallel structure is a really simple concept that you probably already know in the back of your mind, but that you probably could use a little formalism to better understand. The idea is simple: when you're building a sentence with a list of multiple entries (which may potentially be pretty much any part of the sentence), try to keep the syntactic structure of each entry the same. If you don't do this, in the best case, your sentence will be a little harder to follow, and in the worst case, it will be downright ungrammatical.

Ready for some examples? Here we go!

VN TL Example

I was mostly inspired to write this blog post by a translated script I was looking at a few months ago which had quite a lot of parallel structure problems. Here's a particularly clear example sentence demonstrating the issue, from the translated script:

Quote

She has good grades, great looks and is very popular among all the students.

Makes me want to put my fist through a wall.

The problem is that list of three items: "good grades"; "great looks"; and "is very popular among all the students." One of these things is not like the others. So, what do you do about it? You massage them until they're the same, of course. You could try to rewrite that last one to an "<adjective> <noun>" format like the others, e.g., "<some adjective> popularity", but I'm having trouble making that work. "High popularity?" Basically nonsense. Maybe chuck the word popular and find some equivalent? At any rate, I gave up on this branch because it was too much trouble already and there were better options: for starters, we could just switch to single adjectives down the line:

Quote

She's smart, pretty, and popular.

It's a little terse now, and it doesn't say exactly the same thing, but this sounds quite a lot better because of the improved parallelism. You could also go the other the direction and make them all verbal phrases:

Quote

She gets good grades, looks great, and is popular among the students.

Or even rewrite them each as a full-on independent clause:

Quote

She gets good grades, she has great looks, and she's popular among the students.

I probably wouldn't go with any of these (I actually didn't edit this line; I just left a note for the person who'd already been through it to come back and fix up the parallel structure). To be honest, most of the words here are pretty bland; the character in question is being painted in dull shades of gray. I'd want to splash some color onto it. And, yes, it should really have a serial comma (you'll see I added it to all of my versions), because the serial comma actually is as great as it's hyped up to be.

That said, neither making things more interesting (while of course keeping in mind that the goal is to better match the intent and flavor of the original) nor waxing eloquent on the value of the serial comma is my concern with this blog post. At the moment, the goal is just to avoid wanting to put my fist through a wall, and if we fix all these parallel structure problems, I might just make it through the day with my hands and walls intact.

Published News Article (if by "published" you mean "posted to some site on the internet") Example

Here's a great, more interesting example. This one I just happened to stumble across mere minutes after I'd settled on writing this blog entry earlier today as I was, out of idle curiosity, poking around for more info about that zoo penguin with a Kemono Friends waifu:

Quote

For a nation that has grown accustomed (and sometimes celebrated) an individual's obsession with their favorite waifus and husbandos, the pairing was too incredible to ignore.

My fist is twitching.

As with any writing problem, there are many ways to rewrite the sentence to fix the problem, but here's probably the least intrusive fix: insert a "to" after the "accustomed" and before the parenthetical. It's easy to convince yourself this is at least an improvement by dropping that whole additional verbal phrase inside the parentheses and reading the resulting sentence out loud to yourself, since the result is a straightforward, obviously grammatical sentence. As the sentence was originally written, if you drop the parenthetical, the result is equally obviously ungrammatical. So, here's the simple fix:

Quote

For a nation that has grown accustomed to (and sometimes celebrated) an individual's obsession with their favorite waifus and husbandos, the pairing was too incredible to ignore.

This is passable, in my opinion (assuming the audience for said news article is a bunch of weebs who will understand "waifus and husbandos"), but it's still a pretty extreme example of odd sentence structure, and if you so desire, you can go quite a bit further to fix this up for better readability, by either breaking up that list entirely or by further enhancing the parallelism. This example is particularly interesting, and the mistake here particularly understandable, because the structure of that compound verbal phrase is so complex. My initial analysis was that "to grow accustomed to" was a transitive phrasal verb, but I don't think that's quite correct, because "accustomed to XXXX" is probably best classified as an adjective, which is consistent with this usage of "to grow" being best classified as a linking verb, rather than a transitive verb. By that, I mean that "to grow a fruit tree", the transitive version of "to grow," is quite different from "to grow bored", the linking version of "to grow," of which this is an example. Meanwhile, "to celebrate" is a simple transitive verb. So in this sentence, they've actually managed to build a compound verb phrase out of: a linking verb, linking the subject to a phrasal adjective which takes an object (itself a pretty long, complex noun phrase); and the simple transitive verb "to celebrate," which is taking the same really long noun phrase for an object. Bottom line, it's still a pretty gnarly sentence because of the remaining lack of parallelism between the verb phrases.

Want to fix it more? Knock yourself out (but I think my walls are safe from me now, so please don't knock them out). Once you get parallel structure ingrained in your brain, it gets pretty easy to spot problems and to fix them. In fact, you might even start spotting correct usage of parallelism and appreciating it.

Fred the Barber

I recently came to the sobering realization that I've been editing translations of visual novels for about a year now. I've edited some 40,000 translated lines across large chunks of four works, and in the process I've learned a whole lot. Mostly what I've learned is about the mechanics of how to write well, and correspondingly that's mostly what I've written about on this blog, but today I'm tackling a slightly different subject: how to arrange the time you spend editing.

This advice is principally targeted to people working on longer projects. If you're working on something shorter than say 4,000 lines, things change a little bit because it's much more feasible to easily keep the whole thing in your head with just a couple of readings, whereas with longer works, you're going to have to plan for it to be a marathon. Even so, most of this advice still applies to shorter works, but the key difference is that it's much more feasible to knock out an entire short work in a month or so, then let the script rest for a month or so, and then go back and give it all another fairly quick once-over in a week or two, and then call it done. With a longer work, you'll end up working on sections at a time and need to go back and work on random sections periodically over a period of many months.

So, that explanation done, here are the various techniques which work for me. It's worth mentioning that most of these are applicable not just to editing, but also to translation:

Read It First

If at all possible, you should read the whole piece once before you start working on it. If you can't read the original language and you're following closely behind the translator, then you don't have much of an option here of course, but if it's possible for you to read it, do it. Reading first will both save you time and result in a higher-quality product. The benefit of reading first is more easily recognizing broad themes and motifs as soon as you first work on them, and similarly, recognizing smaller-scale things like running gags which need to be set up correctly early on. The earlier you can start handling these things correctly, the less work will be required to go back and fix them up afterwards, and the less likely you are to simply miss something while going back to fix them up.

Push Your Changes Frequently

Every day's chunk of work should be pushed to a central server for your team (Google Sheets, Git, SVN, whatever). Your team members need to be able to see what you're doing, and hopefully will be reading what you check in and offering critique; no one person has all the answers. Don't sit on local changes and fuss at them until they're perfect. Do a day's work and push it.

Always Check Your Whole Set Of Changes Over Before Pushing

This is the most important piece of advice I have here, so pay attention.

Every time when I sit down to edit new lines, I generally work through about 100-200 lines of translated text, almost always with the game playing so that I can get all the added context (including voice over, but also scripting: scene changes aren't always obvious from your script editor, and sometimes they completely change the interpretation of a line). Once I'm done with that first editing pass with the game, I save my changes locally, and then I go read through all of my edited lines again in order (no game this time, and usually not even looking at the translation). During this second pass, I'm mostly looking for copy editing issues, like typos and grammar errors. I find a lot of them. Like, a whole lot. I'm a very good copy editor, but I've come to grips with the fact that when I'm line editing, I make a ton of mistakes. I rarely do any line editing again during this second pass (hopefully there's not much need to... although I usually do often find one or two lines I want to tweak), but I usually fix a solid 3-4 typos during this second pass, among the 100-200 lines I edited. Given that this second pass is pretty quick to do when the scene is still fresh in your mind, I consider this time very well-spent. My edited scripts still need QC (editing your own work is hard), but a great deal less than they would otherwise.

Keep Tweaking

After I've gone through that two-pass edit step, I usually won't look at a scene again for at least a month, often longer. However, I'll frequently hit natural stopping points when working through fresh sections of a script (e.g., maybe I finish a whole route, or I simply catch up with the translator on the route I'm working on). When that happens, I will go back and re-edit something I've already done. When I re-edit, usually I find things are fine, but I always find at least a few lines per scene I want to change. This second line edit takes much less time than the initial line edit, but still usually ends up with a fair number of changes. The rule for checking over these changes before pushing applies here, too: whenever you line edit, after you're done, save it all locally and read through the whole diff of changes for the day, mostly looking for copy editing mistakes: you'll find some, nearly every time.

The reason to do this is mostly that your perspective on the game will be evolving as you build more of a rapport with it: characters will become better established in your mind, and you'll want to make them consistent. Maybe your preferences around phrasing certain things will change. Because larger VN translation projects typically span a year (or multiple...), there's a lot of time for you to change your mind about things. You don't want the work to end up inconsistent, so the best remedy for this is to be constantly rereading chunks of it and tweaking them, massaging them until they're more internally consistent. These re-edits are always much faster than the initial edit, and doing them bears a lot of fruit in terms of quality.

In short:
10 Line edit
20 Copy edit
30 SLEEP 1 MONTH
40 GOTO 10

Work Slowly But Steadily: Avoid Burnout

VNs are long, and the time you can commit on any given day is always going to be a tiny fraction of what it will take to finish the work. If you tell yourself, "This weekend I'm going to sit down and work on this for six hours," you're only going to grow to dislike it before too long (it will feel like too much of a burden) and you're going to start slipping on those promises to yourself very quickly. The only way large projects get done on anything approaching a reasonable timeline is through a constant accumulation of bite-sized pieces of work. Plan to work on the project for 45 minutes a day, six or seven days a week, and you will be much less likely to get burned out and walk away from the project. Maybe every now and then you'll get motivated and work longer, getting more than the usual done on a given day, and that is all well and good, but such exceptional days will turn out to be a drop in the bucket compared to the constant steady progress from doing a regular, fixed amount of work every day.

In Summary

Working on a VN translation is a lot of difficult work, so treat it with respect. The above is what's worked for me to keep me going at this steadily for a year, constantly getting work done and constantly improving. What works for you? Got any tips to share?

Fred the Barber

While the principal job of a good VN editor is line editing (making sure that a line reads well and that a script flows), copy editing is vital as well, and copy editing should follow a style which is consistent both internally and with other comparable texts. That said, most VN editors (myself included) are way too lazy to sit and read the MLA, Chicago, or AP style guide cover to cover and actually internalize it, let alone to extrapolate from them what, if any, changes need to be considered for styling a VN, which, being a different medium, may require different stylistic choices than the media covered by traditional style guides.

As is abundantly obvious if you read older officially-localized VNs, VN style has grown somewhat organically over the past decade and, if you compare against works published in only the last year, you'll find that the predominant style has become fairly consistent across the major localization companies. However, fan translations often miss the mark and make many styling mistakes and deviations from this standard, resulting in irritatingly inconsistent texts.

To help solve that, I put together this brief VN style guide a couple months ago and shared it around a number of people, and I've subsequently refined it a bit in preparation for posting it publicly today.

This is not a full prose style guide by any means, but it covers every interesting and potentially divisive topic I've seen come up in styling VNs; it is, I believe, pretty complete, especially given how concise it is. I've tried to avoid topics of grammar and of style that are not generally deviated from in VNs. Basically, I only tried to tackle areas where people actually have issues. This style guide, I believe, more or less represents the state of the art in officially localized VNs. I haven't read a recent official localization which I noticed to be following different rules than the ones I lay out here.

All that said, take this with a grain of salt: I'm not a professional, and I haven't actually read any official MLA/Chicago/AP style guide cover to cover, though I have dabbled in each of them. At the end of the day, this is more a summary of what I've empirically discovered than anything else. But when you're a fan translation editor, you've got to start somewhere; this is a better option than any other that I know of.

https://github.com/FredTheBarber/EditingPublic/blob/master/style guide.md

Feedback is most welcome, whether to offer corrections or to ask questions for areas which I have not covered.

Edit: By popular demand, I've made a markdown version of the document so it doesn't display like shit on github. The link has been updated accordingly.

Edit2: who will edit for the editors?

Fred the Barber

I'm just going to jump right in and give you the answer: imagine you're telling someone a story about something that happened to you a month ago. It's that easy. Ingrain that mindset into your brain, and you, too, can write in past tense without sounding like a madman.

Before I launch into an example, I do want to point out that there's nothing inherently wrong or right with writing in either the present tense or the past tense. Some things come off better in one or the other, and both are common choices in VN localizations. I have a personal slight preference for past tense, even though it's a little harder to write in, even once you know the trick, but either is fine.

That said, I firmly believe that a localization should make a conscious choice for the tense in which the flow of narration proceeds and should then stick to it. All too often, even in professional localizations, there will clearly be an intended tense for the events in the flow of narration, but then the tense will slip back and forth between that choice and the alternative. This reads really unnaturally, and it frankly bugs the crap out of me, keeping me from being able to fully enjoy what I'm reading. It's one thing to intentionally switch, for instance by consciously employing the historic present (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_present), but it's another thing entirely to just be sloppily jumping back and forth because you don't know what you're doing.

So, here, let me make up a story and write it the way I would tell it to you out loud if you were sitting next to me, and then let me write it the way it would hypothetically have been written in some of the localizations I've read recently. After that, I'll break down the pieces and explain why and how I'm doing things differently, and even a little bit of why things that may look questionable are okay, in this example.

Quote

Last month I went to an amusement park with my girlfriend. The night before, I hadn't been able to sleep, so when we got there I was dead on my feet, but we still managed to have a great time. They've got great thrill rides there, so we had a blast hopping from roller coaster to roller coaster, and we even did some of the cheesy rides like the merry-go-round and laughed our heads off about it. By that night, we were completely exhausted; we both tumbled into bed and fell right asleep.

Now, here's the way you'd see this sort of thing written in a couple of the localizations I've read recently:

Quote

Last month I went to an amusement park with my girlfriend. Last night, I couldn't sleep, so when we got there I was dead on my feet, but we still managed to have a great time. They've got great thrill rides there, so we had a blast hopping from roller coaster to roller coaster, and we even did some of the cheesy rides like the merry-go-round and laughed our heads off about it. Tonight, we're completely exhausted; we both tumbled into bed and fell right asleep.

"The night before" vs. "Last night" and "By that night" vs. "Tonight."

This is, honestly, the big one, and the way I snuck in a present tense verb into the very last sentence after "tonight" is a clear sign of the problem (and is exactly how it would have been written in some of the things I've looked at recently, mixed-tense sentence and all). You cannot say "last night" to describe something that happened a month and one day ago; people don't do that. When you write "last night," that "last night" is relative to the person narrating the story, and you're narrating something that happened in the past, so that means "last night" should be, in all likelihood, in the future, relative to the story you're telling. The result is nonsense. The same thing happens with "tonight." The word is relative to the present you, not relative to the past you, and no gymnastics with the verb are going to prevent that interpretation. Trying to write these words into the flow of events in the past tense makes you sound like a madman.

There are a lot of other words with the same behavior, to some degree or other: "now," (probably the very worst), "here," "this," "these," and so on. Picture yourself sitting across from someone, telling a story, and try to use those words in the story, and you'll realize they simply don't work correctly. Take "here" for example: "here" is where you are. If you're sitting in the office, telling your coworker about your amusement park trip a month ago, and you drop the word "here", they're going to naturally expect you mean the office, and when you're trying to use that word to refer to the amusement park, they're going to get horribly confused. Those words all have to refer to something around you at present, not something that was around you a month ago at the time of the story. You have to swap them out for words like "then," "there," "that," and "those." Basically, you need words with an appropriate sense of distance to them. I see this kind of line all the time in VN translations:

Quote

It was now lunchtime.

Every time I see it, it makes me want to cry. I suspect there are a couple reasons why so many VN localizations fall into the trap of using words like this as part of past tense narration:

  1. They write individual isolated narration lines, often surrounded by long stretches of dialogue. Of course, dialogue isn't rewritten into the past tense, like the narration, but delivered naturally as the character delivered them, so you simply end up seeing lots of dialogue for a while, and you start to get some cognitive dissonance pushing you towards present tense.
  2. VN narration is always surrounded by images and voice acting, which lends everything a sense of immediacy. This gives an even stronger push towards the feel that everything is happening "now," unconsciously biasing the writer towards present tense.

However, you'll never find this kind of word usage in the past tense in a professionally-published novel, where those two conditions don't apply. You could use those two reasons as an argument for why VNs should be written in present: maybe, arguably, it's just easier on the brain. I personally don't really think so, but ultimately, you can choose what tense you want. If you want to write present tense, go for it. If you want to write past tense, though, you need to overcome all of that and start using the right words.

"Hadn't been able to sleep" vs. "couldn't sleep."

This one kind of sucks because it's more verbose in the past perfect, but this is a necessary consequence you have to accept when the flow of events narrated is in the past tense. How should you describe events which happened prior to the flow of narration? Grammatically speaking, what happened before the past? That's the past perfect tense. "I went to the store, but before that I had gone to the bank to make a withdrawal so I could buy groceries." If you don't put the past perfect tense on events which already happened relative to the past, the order isn't as obvious. Yes, you absolutely can say "I went to the store, but before that I went to the back to make a withdrawal," but when you do this it's more like a mental rewind. You start playing the narration forward with the first clause, but then you say, but wait, before we can do that, I need to actually rewind the narration and tell you about this bank trip. In this example it's fine, but imagine you're telling a long complicated story (like, say, narrating a VN), and at some point you need to refer back to an event that was already narrated, maybe something days in the past relative to the flow of narration. You can't do a mental rewind in that circumstance. You can do a flashback, but usually such thoughts aren't a full-on flashback, which itself is basically that mental rewind that resets the flow of events; these are much more often simply the narrator reflecting on something happening in the past relative to the current flow of events. You need to put that recollected past event relative to your past narration into the past perfect tense.

What's that present-tense clause doing there?

"They've got great thrill rides there" is a particularly interesting clause, being in the present tense, so I want to talk about it for a moment. This is basically an aside (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aside), and as such it's bound by different rules. It's a statement directly addressed at you, the reader, rather than a part of the narration of the story. In the case of an aside, it's perfectly reasonable to make an observation about the present state of things. That said, in VN writing, I try to avoid this entirely. Of necessity, an aside is breaking the fourth wall. This is fine if you're doing it for a good reason (maybe you're Deadpool and you just love breaking the fourth wall), but not so fine when it's not stylistically important, and it's just making a simple observation. In this circumstance, it would be a needless disruption, in a VN. That said, it does feel perfectly natural when I'm just informally telling a story. IMO, this is one point where the process of telling a story and the process of writing VN narration diverge. The trick isn't completely foolproof; it's just a hell of a lot better than writing without any guidance at all, wandering aimlessly between tenses.

Fred the Barber

Ambiguity is a fascinating element of language, one an editor both struggles with and celebrates regularly. On the celebration side of things, ambiguity is an essential tool in the setup of a lot of short jokes, for one. As an example, an ambiguous statement leads to a misunderstanding, and in a VN said misunderstanding usually leads to an accidental love confession, resulting in the unfortunate victim stammering outrageously while blushing like a sunset. How cute. Ambiguity can also be a powerful tool in foreshadowing, since it allows a single statement to be interpreted in two ways, of which one can be applicable to the immediate present, thus making it a perfectly reasonable line to have in the present, and the other only meaningful when considering future events, usually causing the reader to look back and say, "Ahh-hah, now I see what it really meant." Ambiguity is also absolutely essential in writing clever blog post titles. But on the struggling side, ambiguity is often an enemy getting in the way of your reader enjoying your text.

As you read, your brain furiously analyzes words as they come in, building up and tearing down many possible syntactical structures for the sentence and many possible semantic interpretations of the various words and phrases, before eventually trimming this all down to a single interpretation of the sentence, typically over the course of a tiny fraction of a second. However, there are many stumbling blocks which can lengthen this process or thwart it entirely, notably including actual errors (misspellings, dropped words, incorrect grammar, etc.,), which is probably the chief reason why such errors are so frowned-upon in typical writing. Slowing down the reader's understanding, or preventing it entirely, is generally not the author's goal, assuming said author is not James Joyce.

Setting aside actual errors, ambiguity is one of the main impediments to a reader's understanding. Since one of a VN editor's chief goals is to ensure a script flows well for a reader, eliminating unintentional ambiguity is an important sub-goal. Even outside of intentional usage like in the cases mentioned in the first paragraph, ambiguity in English is still incredibly common, with small ambiguities cropping up constantly while reading essentially any text. Let's take a look at an example of a super-small ambiguity which slows down the reader just a tiny bit, a sentence containing my least favorite word:

Quote

I told you that I gave you the unburnt piece of toast, right?

Looks fine, right? As a whole the sentence is totally unambiguous. But while you're reading it, you're going to run into "that", and "that"'s a problem. "That" is an incredibly flexible word in the English language: it's a pronoun, a determiner, an adverb, and a relative pronoun. It's actually even more flexible in British English, where it can act as a subordinating conjunction, and even though most VN translations are written in American English, the lines there are pretty fuzzy, and it wouldn't be surprising or confusing to see a sentence like "He asked that she go" in a VN.

Now, in the sentence above, "that" is being used as a relative pronoun, but the prefix of this sentence, "I told you that" is also a perfectly well-formed English sentence in which it's instead being used as a pronoun, and if your brain follows such an interpretation immediately as you read the sentence, it'll take it a few extra milliseconds for your brain to unwedge itself, reorganize into treating "that" as a relative pronoun, and continue on forming the correct interpretation.

All right, doesn't sound like a big deal, does it? You're right. This particular, single instance isn't. But they add up, and you can do better, so you might as well. To put it in super technical jargon I didn't know until I was writing up this post, English has a so-called "zero relative pronoun" which can be used in place of relative pronouns like "that" which are introducing restrictive relative clauses. To give an example, since the previous jargon is so technical as to be basically useless, instead of the above sentence, you can just drop "that" and write:

Quote

I told you I gave you the unburnt piece of toast, right?

Now, look, I'm not saying this makes a huge difference, but doesn't this version feel a tiny bit better when you read it? Eliminating usage of overly-flexible words like "that" is a good way to reduce some ambiguity, but keep in mind this is a single example of a specific case. It just happened to be the one which prompted this blog post. However, I assure you, if you start reading your work with a careful eye out for the clarity of each line, you'll find tons of small, unintentional ambiguities popping out at you which you want to correct. Training yourself to look for them and to clean them up is one part of helping your text flow better.

I guess that's that. I hope you got something out of that, and I ask that, if you have questions, comments, or problems regarding this or "that", you leave a note below to that effect.

Fred the Barber

I want to preface this by saying that I enjoyed Highway Blossoms. But if I want to see better stuff out there in English language Visual Novels, whether OELVN or in translation, people are going to have to start criticizing the problems they have, and I didn't see criticism of the problems I found in Highway Blossoms. So, so that the creators (be they OELVN writers or translators) can learn and benefit from criticism and hopefully come back with something stronger next time around, and so that potential readers know what they're getting into, here's my critique of some of the flaws I found in Highway Blossoms's writing.

I'm really just talking about the writing here. I'll start by talking about macro-scale problems: issues I had with themes and how they were handled, and problems that should have been solved in developmental editing. I'm, frankly, not very good at seeing these kinds of problems: I'm better at seeing small-scale (line-by-line) problems. I'll talk about those second.

For what it's worth, I think the macro-scale issues are not that bad, but the micro-scale issues are pretty bad. If your reaction to the broader problems I talk about first is "yes, but all games have issues like this, and many/most are much worse about it", let's be clear that I'm totally with you on that one. I just think that this game could be made better by addressing some of them, so I want to talk about them a little bit. Let's start there.

 

Themes - Americana and music

"Americana" is a big overarching theme for this game, but in spite of that, the VN includes a lot of Japanese-isms. Why is an earthy late-teens American girl fretting about "indirect kisses" (scare quotes courtesy of the original text) like a typical Japanese schoolgirl eroge heroine? Why are both of the heroines flashing peace signs in a photograph, again for all the world like Japanese schoolgirls? In one scene that I blocked out of my mind until I found it in my screenshots, some late-teenage American guy is bowing repeatedly. Highway Blossoms wants to be about the rural American south-west, but these weeaboisms, in part, compromise that goal. Examples:

Spoiler

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The topic of music was treated very oddly. It was almost constantly there, hanging over the conversation and the action, but it somehow never made its way into being a focus. One character liked to talk about music, and it seemed to hold a deep meaning for her as a personal connection to her grandfather, but the others just kind of nodded or frowned along when the topic came up - they understood and accepted the importance, but there was no real discourse about it, just constant name-dropping. Music as a theme featured prominently in both minor scenes and key scenes, but somehow never felt particularly important to the narrative. When I was done reading, I still didn't really feel that Marina and Amber had connected over music, and I still didn't have a good handle on what music meant to Amber. By way of contrast, I read VA-11 Hall-A about a week after I read Highway Blossoms. In the space of three drinks with Kira Miki, I learned more about the significance of music to that character than I did throughout all of Highway Blossoms's music mentions.

 

An unnecessary scene

Lastly on macro-scale problems, I did feel that there was at least one whole scene that should have been cut from Highway Blossoms: the Jumbo scene. The actions of the main characters in this scene actually subverted their characterization: I don't view Amber as the sort of person to commit petty vandalism against an individual, nor Marina the sort of person to laugh prettily about it afterwards, even if the victim was a redneck who wouldn't stop hitting on both of them. This scene was, I guess, meant to be comic relief? But it didn't succeed, at least for me. It just introduced a flat side character who served no purpose but to be the butt of a bad joke. Cut it.

 

Telling rather than showing

At a micro scale, which admittedly is something I'm more picky about, the writing has a few big problems. First, it tends to tell rather than show, a fair amount of the time. Examples:

Spoiler

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The telling/showing issues are at their worst when the narration adopts what I can only call a first-person omniscient point of view, where the narrating character somehow reads the mind of the other main character and narrates all of her emotions directly. The first time I saw this, it was just a straight-up description of complex emotions and motivations; this does not make for an interesting or compelling read. In contrast, the very next line was a solid example of showing: it described actions in a way that vibrantly communicated the underlying emotions. The potential for solid work is here, but it's headed off by missteps like the above examples.

 

Purple prose

Second, verbosity and purple prose are a serious problem. Examples:

Spoiler

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That earlier one about "reflecting a deep sense of genuine empathy and love" also is an example of this issue.

Most of these are not describing crucial events, and even the ones that are need better handling. For the second screenshot, for instance, all that needs to be communicated is "we drank a lot of beer" (not necessarily in those words; just that idea). Instead, it's been turned into a mess of mixed metaphors and unnecessarily complex verbiage. Unfortunately, this is par for the course - every well-executed line is balanced by one full of dead weight. Important lines fade into the background because descriptors are bloating the unimportant lines as well. Economy is an essential element to good writing, and it's sorely lacking in Highway Blossoms.

 

Awkward prose

Finally, there's a lot of simply unnatural phrasing and odd language choice, some of it even apparently intentional. Examples:

Spoiler

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This is the one I think must be intentional... which doesn't make it a good idea. Avoid awkward alliteration, always.

See also "The lonely island is lit only..." up above.

 

In closing.

When the writing avoids all of these issues, or when (as happened to me in one noteworthy scene) the music and CG combine to carry the reader pell-mell through a scene, so that you skim the text rather than actually reading it, the VN has some great moments. Unfortunately, a whole lot of the time, it does fall victim to one or more of the above issues and becomes a lot less of a joy to read.

Now, look, I know that all sounds pretty bad; it probably sounds like I hated this game. I didn't. I think the art was generally gorgeous, especially the background art and some of the CGs. I rather liked the soundtrack, and I thought it fit the setting well. On that topic, I love the setting — different is good! I am always up for VNs outside of high schools and outside of Japan. But the bulk of the experience in a visual novel, for me at least, is the novel part. It's the script, the writing. The writing in Highway Blossoms, especially when looked at line-by-line, comes up short.

Fred the Barber

My blog posts so far have mostly been about how to edit. That holds true for most every other VN editing blog I've ever seen as well. But I'm a really big believer in approaching any significant task from a "Why, What, How" perspective. So now, let's try to answer those first two questions.

Even "What Is Editing" would be starting in too far (it made for a better title, so sue me). Let's start with this: why do translation projects, or even original fiction projects like novels, have editors?

 

The goal of editing is to help the author achieve their goals.

An author brings a whole lot of goals to the table: a story, characters with personalities and motivations, a setting, overarching motifs, style, ... probably a lot of other stuff I forgot. Anyway, you get the idea; there's a lot there which they're just trying to get out on paper (or bits, or whatever) and then into your brain.

An editor doesn't bring any of that stuff. An editor instead strives to understand all of these things the author wants to communicate, finds the points where they can be better achieved, and refines the text to better achieve the author's goals. Although there's obviously some overlap, there are quite different skill sets involved in the raw writing and the editing, and thus the two roles are often fulfilled by two people.

How about for a translated VN, rather than for, say, writing a novel? The story is roughly the same, actually. Although the translator has essentially the same goals as the editor in this case, the skill sets required are quite different, and thus differentiating the two roles is not uncommon and frequently beneficial to the project, for the same reasons as it is with original writing and editing.

I'll also add that an original writer is usually considered "too close" to the original text to make a good editor. Even a writer who is also a great editor will benefit from having someone else edit their manuscript. I haven't heard the same thing said of translators, though, so that might not be relevant to this special case. But the skill set differentiation point still stands in the case of translation.

Assuming you're satisfied with that explanation for Why, let's move on to What.

Professional manuscript editing typically distinguishes four kinds of editing: developmental editing, line editing, copy editing, and proofreading. Those are ordered based on both the scope of changes they make, and also the chronological order in which you should do them: developmental editing is very macroscopic and happens first, while proofreading is very microscopic and happens last. Let's drill into each:

 

Developmental Editing

Developmental editing is, first, the act of identifying all of those authorial goals I mentioned, and second the act of cutting, rearranging, and adding large chunks (think: add this whole new scene, cut that whole character) in order to advance the author's goals.

Obviously, that second half isn't applicable to VN translation. You're not going to cut whole scenes or change how characters behave. Those decisions have already long since been made by the original writers, hopefully with the help of an editor of their own ;).

But the first half is essential, and is quite a bit harder in VN translation, since you generally can't actually talk to the writer. Read it all, understand the authorial goals, and build a strong, consistent interpretation of the plot, the characters, the motifs, the setting, the tone, everything you can think of. If you don't form an interpretation while translating/editing, you're liable to thwart the author's goals as part of your translation, and as a result accidentally obscure or entirely lose key points of the original intent. Of course, you'll occasionally make mistakes in your interpretation, resulting in mistakes in translation. But if you don't even form an interpretation, the result will actually be worse: you'll still make mistakes in the translation, and the resulting translation will certainly be internally inconsistent, but you won't notice those internal inconsistencies because you have no guiding interpretation. If you form a consistent interpretation and let it guide your translation, when the text goes against your interpretation, the resulting inconsistency means you'll notice it, correct your interpretation, and then go back and modify your translation to fit the corrected interpretation.

 

Line Editing

Line editing is about assessing and fixing the flow of a scene and the flow of a line. It's about logic, language, word choice, rhythm, the mechanics of a sentence, and the sound of human speech. It is not concerned with grammatical errors, punctuation, and spelling, but more with higher-level ideas like tone, emotion, and atmosphere. A line editor worries whether a sentence ought to be punchy or loquacious, not whether it has all the commas in all the right places.

"Logic" probably seemed a bit out of place there, so let me give an example for that one in particular, since it's essential. For example, unless you're editing the VN equivalent of a Beckett play (and if you are, please point me to that VN, because I'm interested), one dialog line should generally be a logical response to the previous one. A canny line editor will ensure the logical flow from event to event, line to line, and even scene to scene, ensuring consistency of the narration.

This is also where all that authorial intent mentioned above comes into play: an editor in this capacity should also be ensuring consistency of a line with those overarching goals. A good line editor will help ensure that characterization is consistent, for instance, or that a motif is not buried inappropriately. An editor, in their avatar as the keeper of consistency, is crucial to achieving those authorial goals.

The prose side of line editing is also key simply because stilted speech, unnatural utterances, redundant repetition, awkward alliteration, and their ilk all kick you out of the immersion. Your brain wants to keep reading something when it flows well. And nothing hits softer than shitty prose.

Line editing is the meat of VN editing. It's what most existing VN editing blogs are about, not coincidentally. If you're an editor for a VN, line editing is what you should be thinking about constantly.

In addition to recommending other VN editing blogs, notably Darbury's blog (mostly about line editing, though all the punctuation ones are more about copy editing) and Moogy's now-ancient blog post (basically all about line editing), I'll also suggest you go read up on line editing in a general setting. A quick search for "what is line editing" will lead you to mountains of useful links. As a random example, this is one such useful link, and it's hilarious, well-written, and edifying: http://www.thereviewreview.net/publishing-tips/short-course-line-editing. There is a veritable sea of such articles on the internet. Read them.

 

Copy Editing

Copy editing is about the nuts and bolts of grammar, punctuation, and spelling. It's not the same as proofreading, but it's getting close. The copy editor typically should select and enforce an appropriate style manual (AP, Chicago, MLA, take your pick). The copy editor is the person who gets mad when you write "I baked 7 blackbirds into that pie." instead of "I baked seven blackbirds into that pie.", and who calmly, patiently replaces all your misused hyphens in the middle of sentences with em-dashes.

You're unlikely to have a dedicated copy editor on a VN project; if you've got the "editor" role, you're probably it. I think this is along the lines of what most people think of already when they hear "editing" anyway, but really the line editing is the most important to the enjoyment of the text. Still, the picky people among us can get awfully uppity if you start putting in stuff like ellipses with four dots and inconsistent use of the Oxford comma (sidebar for the attentive: I'm for it, as you've already noticed). Copy editing is a particularly thankless job, since it's not like you can do an exceptional job of copy editing and really salvage a bad manuscript, but poor copy editing can certainly hurt an otherwise-good manuscript. So it's worth investing the time in doing it carefully.

One important recommendation for copy editing: take notes and build up a style document and glossary for your VN as you go. Are honorifics being used? What about name order? If you're going to romanize some words, is your romanization consistent? Do you 1) always write "senpai", 2) always write "sempai", or 3) mix and match? I don't care if it's 1 or 2, but it better not be 3. Write conventions like this in a shared document and make sure everybody knows about the conventions and the document.

 

Proofreading

Proofreading is the final stage of this pipeline. The role includes checking for grammatical errors, spelling errors, punctuation errors, typos, and perhaps some more exotic things like incorrect English dialect. It's straightforward and mechanical. Like copy editing, it is essentially thankless. It is, nonetheless, important. While you're making big sweeping edits doing all the stuff above, you're going to create tons of errors at this level. They need to be fixed. Make sure you have someone (preferably not the "editor", because they're too close to the text) do a proofreading sweep. You can lump it into QC if you like, but make sure that whoever is assigned to do this is looking at it carefully. Check. Every. Single. Word. There are errors in there, I guarantee you, and they're embarrassing. Getting the number of errors down to near-zero before you release your translation is going to make both you and your audience happier.

 

 

In Summary

There's not one editor; there are four. In an ideal world, with original fiction, you'd actually have someone separate filling each role. For a translation you don't need a developmental editor, leaving you needing three editors. In the non-ideal world you live in, you've probably got at least two of those roles to yourself. Push for someone else to handle proofreading, at least (call it "QC" if you have to), and make sure said person has the necessary ability and attention to detail. If you're the "editor", then you're almost certainly doing both line editing and copy editing. When that happens, make sure you keep a balance amongst all the things you need to do: for instance, spend 10% of your effort trying to understand what the author is trying to achieve, 88% of your effort on line editing (it's the meat, after all), and 2% on copy editing the little details like punctuation, romanization, etc.

 

And If You Can Only Remember One Thing

Focus on line editing.

Fred the Barber

Sometimes, something lands on your plate that makes no sense. If you're lucky, it may be a single line that makes no sense as it is written, but you can figure it out and fix it from context. If you're unlucky, it might be a whole passage that doesn't fit together quite right, or something that just doesn't hang together to present a consistent plot. As the editor, it's your responsibility to turn that line or passage into something that makes sense. Sometimes you can manage it yourself with enough brainpower. Sometimes you should ask the original translator, another editor, another translator, or a TLC to help, if you simply cannot hit on an obviously-correct, logical interpretation. Ultimately, though, you are responsible for seeing it through. You have to land that joke. Nobody else is going to do it for you.

I present to you the following independent, unimportant passage from the raw To Heart 2 translation. This is one of the night scenes, which are mostly short throwaway gags featuring the protagonist, at home alone, being silly. Full context for this scene: the protagonist can't sleep and has picked a 'difficult book' off his shelf to try to put himself to sleep.

Quote

Right, tonight I'm going to tackle a book on the theory of relativity.
This should be a complete knockout for my brain and put me to sleep.
...Just saying it won't make me believe that, but whatever.
What what...?
'Most people will likely have heard of the theory of relativity.'
'However there are likely a lot of people that aren't aware this is where the theory of warping time space is derived.'
'This theory of relativity is where experimental results confirm that no matter where you observe light from, its speed is always the same.'
'The unusual phenomenon that whether you are approaching light, or moving away from it, the speed stays the same has various scientists proposing possible mechanisms for, but is ultimately left incompletely unexplained.'
'This theory of relativity is accepting that no matter who observes light, the speed appears the same.'
'If we allow ourselves to accept that what is outside our normal perception is possible, then it's only natural our perception is warped.'
'So when thinking in terms of the theory of relativity, that's what is meant by warping time space.'
...Phew.
The explanation was indeed simple, so what was the problem?

cosmic-quasar.jpg
Wat

What all needs to be done here:

  • The joke doesn't make sense (at least, it doesn't to me; you might be smarter than I am and able to get it immediately).
  • There's some Engrish to be cleaned up (That "What what...?" line, especially, which sounds like it's straight from an old hip-hop song, not the utterance of a donkan harem protagonist about to read a book on special relativity), and there's ample opportunity to make the phrasing more natural.
  • Once the nature of the joke is understood, it turns out its timing can probably be improved as well.

It actually took me a couple of rewrites before I finally grasped the nature of the joke, and then I was able to both clean up the language and land it properly. It's frankly still not all that funny, but hey, a not-that-funny joke is still better than nonsense.

Quote

I think tonight I'll take on the reigning champ. Tonight, it's me vs. the theory of relativity.
This should be a first-round KO. I'll be asleep in minutes.
Actually I'm not convinced of that at all, but whatever.
Ok, let's see what we've got here...
'While the Theory of Relativity is a common topic for popular discussion, many people don't realize how this theory explains the warping of spacetime.'
'The Theory of Relativity grew out of experimental results showing that the speed of light is the same to all observers.'
'In contrast to, for instance, a ball flying through the air, which will speed up or slow down relative to you as you move away from it or towards it respectively,'
'light particles have the same speed even to an observer that is approaching or moving away from them. This observation initially puzzled physicists.'
'The Theory of Relativity simply formally states that observation as a law of physics: regardless of the motion of an observer who is observing a particular beam of light, its speed appears the same.'
'If we accept this theory, which is outside our normal everyday perception, it's only natural that our perspective will be altered substantially.'
'This is why scientists say the Theory of Relativity causes spacetime to be warped.'
Hmm.
Actually, that made a lot of sense. Why did I think this would be difficult?

Okay, much more readable, and I think you can actually understand the joke when reading it (you can, right? please tell me you can.). Aside from making it understandable:

  • I deferred the idiotic non sequitur to the last line of the text-within-the-text, since it's the setup for the punchline on the last line and I wanted to get them closer together, since any time between these two is time people will spend being confused.
  • Being a geek, I also decided to add a little more to the special relativity explanation to try to make it more clear, mostly so that it didn't look like the idiocy was endemic to the text, but rather was isolated to that final statement.
  • For that last part, I ended up shuffling some text around, but it's not voiced text so this is really no big deal. You'll probably want to shuffle around whole lines, rarely, so be prepared to do that, for reasons like this one.
  • Lastly, and most importantly, I tried to make the whole book-inside-the-VN passage flow as though it were a single logical explanation (you know; like a scientific-minded book normally would deliver). This is crucial for making the non sequitur at the end more jarring, and thus making the joke work (to the extent that it does).

That last one is really the key, and it's applicable to more than just jokes or short passages like this. It's easy to get hung up on fixing individual lines and then miss the big picture. Lines are connected to make scenes. Scenes are connected to make the VN. Each level of that chain needs to fit together to make sense, and as the editor, you're on the line for that.

As I'm writing this blog post, I realize there's at least one error in the "final" text I delivered up above: inconsistent capitalization of Theory of Relativity. Possibly more problems as well that I'm not seeing, and certainly there's room for improvement. Well, hopefully QA caught that grammar problem.

I wasn't delighted with the result, but nonetheless, this was a good time to move on. This joke isn't going to be winning Olympic gold with such a shaky landing, but at least it does land instead of flying off on its own somewhere, leaving us behind and horribly confused. That's good enough for this filler scene. Everything can always be made better, and you can spend an eternity making something a little bit better all the time, but then nobody will ever actually see your work. You need to realize when to step back from something and say "It's good enough; ship it."

Bottom line, if you're playing To Heart 2 and you get to a scene where the protagonist is picking a book to put him to sleep, take the science trivia book instead. That joke was funnier to begin with.

Fred the Barber

Last time I talked about trade-offs in editing and high-level motifs; macro-scale stuff. This time, I want to talk about a micro-scale topic: how to make an individual line better. As before, I'll be demonstrating this with examples drawn from recent editing experience. Before writing this post, I went around looking for other people talking about similar things, and I found this reference: http://kristensguide.com/Writing/powerful_sentences.asp. Frankly, it's great; probably better than what I have, especially in terms of breadth of topics. Give it a read and get your editing learning on. For this post, I'm going to deep dive into one single topic mentioned there, though, for which I've been saving up examples: putting the first and last words of your sentence to good use.

The first and last words of a sentence are powerful. They're memorable. Forgetting the middle of a sentence is natural, so put a word at the end of a sentence when you really, really want that one word to be remembered.

Okay, so what did you get from that last paragraph. I hope it was "first", "powerful", "memorable", "forgetting", and "remembered", because that's the point of this blog post.

Anyway, let's look at some examples from my recent edits to Majo Koi Nikki, some to the prologue patch we're about to release, and some later. I'll point out other things that I changed as well and why, but this one point is going to be the running theme.

 

Original:
  Looking in the mirror, she pondered for a second and answered with a shy smile on her face.

Potential problems:
- "on her face" is extraneous
- that extraneous phrase is squatting on valuable real estate at the end of the sentence.

Mine:
  Looking in the mirror, she pondered for a second, and then she answered with a shy smile.

Changes:
- drop "on her face" (for both reasons above - it's less verbose, and now I get "smile" as the last word in the sentence, which is great)
- the comma after "she ponders for a second" is intended to give the reader that same mental pause as "she" has, to better set up the last part
- "then she" somehow pushes you out of that mental pause and into the most important part: that shy smile, lingering at the end of the sentence.

 

Original:
  Tokeizaka-san irritatedly flips through the book, but her hand stops suddenly.

Potential problems:
- With the benefit of spell-check, "irritatedly" => irritably
- "suddenly" is often overused

I actually really like the original; if you left it alone, aside from the spell-check correction, I wouldn't fault you for it. The verbs are great, "irritably" is a good use of a modifier, and the sentence communicates multiple events very concisely. But there's always room for improvement.

Mine:
  Irritated, Tokeizaka-san flips through the book, until her hand suddenly stops.

Changes:
- Drop "suddenly." "Stops" is strong enough to carry that feeling of suddenness on its own, so "suddenly" is only making things weaker. I've also noticed a tendency for raw JP translations to overuse "suddenly", which makes me especially biased to remove it. It's the typical problem of overuse: if everything is happening suddenly, it might as well all be happening normally.
- Move those good words, "irritably" and "stops" to the memorable points of the sentence. "Stops" we got for free, "irritably" requires a small bit of juggling. Unfortunately, Tokeizaka-san's family name is a bit unwieldy at best; better to bury it in the middle of the sentence and let the nice, emotive words take pride of place.
- Swapping "but" for "until" made for a clearer plot to the sentence, I thought.

 

Original:
- The colorful beauty article are displayed neatly.

Potential problems:
- Engrish
- Passive voice
- Not flashy enough

Mine:
- Iridescent beauty products dot the shelves, arranged with flawless precision.


On that last potential problem: normally my style is pretty spare. My typical goal is to drop adjectives and adverbs, and make verbs and nouns stronger to carry the weight of description, without going overboard on vocabulary. More often than not, I'm trying to make long sentences shorter and punchier.

I didn't do that here.

For context on why, it would help for you to hear the ridiculously high-brow BGM accompanying this scene and see the gorgeous background art. So, here:

Background:

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BGM:

 

Equally important for context, you need to know about the surrounding narration: basically, the narrator is currently marveling at just how amazing this beauty parlor is.

One of the benefits of generally being spare with your adjectives and adverbs is that they then work a lot better when you actually do pull them out. A good mental model is that you have a budget: don't spend your nice words if you don't need to. Only pull them out when you're going for the razzle dazzle. The analogy breaks down fast, but basically, if you're constantly using flowery language and overdecorating the ordinary scenes, nobody's going to be impressed when something extraordinary happens, just like the overuse of "suddenly" I mentioned earlier. Since this actually is an extraordinary moment for our narrator, I'm spending a few nice words now.

And again, I want to call attention to the first and last words of the sentence. Those are strong places in a sentence (or, especially in the case of a VN, a line). Previously there were pretty weak words there ("The colorful" and "neatly"); now we've got "iridescent" and "precision". Good words in good places.

 

One last thing to mention. I wrote each of these up in the middle of editing, and then later edited that up into a blog post. I made changes to the edited line itself in the process of writing all this stuff up, which made it better. In fact, I even noticed a problem while writing up this blog post and further refined the line. You'll never know what it was (probably). The point being, simply spending time reflecting on an edit, and especially writing down your observations and motivations for certain choices, will help you do better work. You don't have to be this thorough all the time (I certainly am not), but every time you do an exercise like that, you'll learn from it, and then you can write up your own blog post and teach me something.

 

Fred the Barber

Since the translated prologue script for Majo Koi Nikki is more or less finalized, I decided to kill two birds with one stone. So here I am, kicking off the editing blog I've been meaning to work on for a while, and also trying to build some hype for our TL project, where we are planning to release a patch for the official free trial version of the game soon, as a signal of how things are going towards our final patch for the full game.

Like many things in life, translating occasionally means making trade-offs. With a large text, some detail and nuance isn't going to come through, regardless of how good at it you are. As a translator, TLC, or editor, one prime responsibility you have is to identify as many of those nuances and references as you can. But even if you're quite successful on that mark, you'll still occasionally be faced with a set of translation options that precludes maintaining everything; even among the nuances you found, something must be lost in translation. What should you do? Simple: evaluate your options and choose the best trade-off available. This is a story about a trade-off.

rose-petals-on-floor.jpg

The first sentence of the VNDB summary of Majo Koi Nikki (courtesy of these fine fellows) is: "Alice lives alone in an old barber shop in the shopping district of the rose-colored town." Rose-colored town? Now, don't get me wrong, there's a whole lot of pink in this game, especially in the UI, but the city itself isn't anything you could call rose-colored, unless you were talking about plant stems. See the below night-time aerial shot of the town for reference to how not pink it is, as well as just how pink the UI is. So where did that oddly specific phrase come from?

Well, it turns out there's this Japanese phrase, バラ色, appearing all over the original script. It'd be pronounced "barairo", and literally translated, it of course means rose-colored. It most commonly appears modifying a word for town/block/neighborhood (that's their "rose-colored town"), and then with that it also appears modifying a shopping district (finally giving the "shopping district of the rose-colored town" in the VNDB summary). It also modifies a train station; obviously the train station located in that neighborhood. The first translator to come across this phrase, recognizing it as a neighborhood name, just romanized it: "Barairo District", "Barairo Station", "Barairo shopping district". The last phrase has a minor issue (you might wonder, is it a subset of Barairo District, or just a different name for the same whole place? it's the former), but there is a bigger problem here.

First off, having multiple translators on the project gave us an interesting view: the phrase got translations as varied as "rose town" and "the pink district". And that spurred us towards consciously thinking: isn't some obsession with pinkness, flowers, or roses kind of an important thing in this game?

2016-07-03_zps9p4zphpi.png
Definitely more green than rose-colored. Alas, this map view and its cute chibi sprites aren't part of the free trial.

I'm writing this blog, of course, because the answer was yes. Rose-colored stuff are an obvious and important motif. And better yet, pretty much every time the writer wanted to put that motif to use, this exact adjective, "barairo", is the word used in the original JP text to signal it. One late-breaking character in the prologue actually has "Barairo" in his full title, and his nickname is a portmanteau of his title: "Baragon". If that's not enough, meanwhile, the adjective "barairo" is the crux of what I view as probably the most important line in the whole prologue (which I'm not going to say any more about; gotta save the goodies for later, after all).

To a Japanese speaker, all these things will layer over each other with no problem; it's the same word, after all. But we're not going to literally change that character's name even if it sounded remotely natural to call this guy "Rose-coloredgon" (or, God forbid, "Rogon"; sounds like a hygiene product), and we can't start using "barairo" in English as an adjective to say something is rose-colored; something's got to give.

So here's the trade-off we made. First of all, the "Barairo District" gets an English-translated proper name: Rose Village. Sounds nice and quaint, though we technically lost the color from the literal translation. The whole English phrase "rose-colored" starts sounding cumbersome when you try to put it in a proper name, hence, Rose Village. Doesn't it sound like a great place to go get a haircut? "Rose Village Station" and "the Rose Village shopping district" fall out of this naming pretty naturally and sound fine.

For the cases where the phrase was simply used as an adjective, rather than a proper name, we're consistently using the adjective "rosy", to get maximum resonance with all the roses we just strewed around the text.

Now what about that guy with "Barairo" in his full title? Similarly, it got turned into "Rose"; his title sounds pretty good that way. I'm not telling you what it is. And his nickname? Still Baragon. Which is no longer a portmanteau. That's what we lost. That's the nature of a trade-off. It's unfortunate, but all things considered, it's a small sacrifice for the greater good.

And what did we get in trade? Why, only all those lovely roses that the English readers will now see and connect together in their minds, consciously or unconsciously, and which should resonate strongly with the pink UI and pink CGs you'll come across while reading this lovely VN.

The patch for the free trial of Majo Koi Nikki isn't out yet, but it's on its way. If you're the romantic type, maybe think of it as a bouquet of roses, from us to you. Enjoy!

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