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Getting the Madness Out Of Your Method

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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
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?

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