I wasn't sure if we should include this as part of our commemorative multi-part series, but it was kind of an important part of our translation career, so even though it's not manga and it's kind of painful, here it is.
Kieli novel series
This had been in the works since around the time we got the Nabari assignment, I think, but for some reason I didn't have it listed on my work chronology list until a couple of months later. I think it's because that was when we got the official go-ahead. And it's already making me self-conscious about how I type this post. I already used the phrase "I think" twice in one short paragraph! Aaaaahhhhh!!!
But this is just a blog, so it's okay, right? Right? Right. Yeah.
So anyway, the reason it took a while between talk of the assignment and actual assignment is that we had never translated prose before. That being the case, someone had the idea (probably Yen Press) of giving us a test to see how well we could do it. We translated a few pages of the novel and turned them in for review. A while later, the translation was approved as a draft, and it came with some writing tips to keep in mind going forward. The one that really tripped us up (by which I mean we spent so much time focusing on it that it may have had an adverse effect on our judgment of the rest of the prose) was the admonition to never, ever use the passive voice. We wrote back and said, "Can we use it sometimes? Because sometimes you really have to!" and the response was, "Use your discretion." Still, we were aware that the Japanese language uses the passive voice way, way more than English does, and, that being the case, translators are constantly warned to change passive to active wherever humanly possible.
(The passive voice is when something is done to the subject, as opposed to the subject doing something. Like, "The girl was struck on the head by her assailant," as opposed to, "the assailant struck the girl on the head.")
Even without that little hangup, prose is a lot harder for us to translate than dialogue. I wouldn't go so far as to say that prose is just more difficult in general, because they're two different kinds of writing, and some people have a higher aptitude for prose. We just happen to have a higher aptitude for dialogue--you may have noticed when we report on things that we don't spend a whole lot of time on descriptions. And not only was it more difficult by nature of being descriptive, but there's a lot more text when actions and people and things and places all have to be described verbally, as opposed to just depicted in a single picture. Y'know, a picture is worth a thousand words and all that. So it was very time consuming.
And despite each book having more pages, and every one of those pages being exponentially more time consuming, we didn't have a whole lot more time for each novel than we usually do for manga. We even had to ask for extensions, which might be one of the factors that led to the tragic conclusion of this tale. Furthermore, we still had plenty of manga to work on at the time. To avoid burnout and keep meeting our deadlines, we would work on manga for the normal amount of time (maybe a little less, depending on how things were going), then work on Kieli novels for an hour or so before calling it quits for the day. In retrospect, it might have been wiser to start off with Kieli, because trying to work on the more difficult project after a long day is not only very discouraging, but can lead to lower brain function. ...Maybe that was the problem all along.
I have been thinking since I wrote the last paragraph (yesterday), and I think the reason we spent so little time daily on the project that took the most time (and would therefore take many more days) probably had something to do with our experience working on fanbooks. And since the manga deadlines did keep coming (and more frequently), the best way to maintain balance and avoid exhaustion was to make sure we translated an even amount of text for each project, which of course meant less time on the more text-packed projects.
Anyway, I have practically no train of thought for this entry anymore, it's been so thoroughly derailed. I could go back and reread it, but it's a little painful. Okay, I'll suck it up. *goes back to reread*
Alright, I'm back. So we were working on prose, and it was really hard, and sometimes the idea of stopping work on manga and spending another hour on prose was a very hard pill to swallow. We definitely think we improved as we went, but alas the improvement was not enough. After translating three volumes of the series, we were told that the people in charge were Not Happy with the way it was turning out, and we had one last chance to fix it. At least, I think we had another chance? Athena remembers that being the case, too. We were given a few more tips, and realized that some of those tips weren't adhering as strictly to the first set of tips as we had been trying to do, and that's when it really hit us that by trying so hard to do it the way we'd been told (or thought we'd been told), we'd been ignoring our natural writing instincts, some of which are pretty good, but admittedly all of which were impaired by the fact that we were working in two languages at a time. I think I've talked about what being in "two language mode" can do to your speech/writing patterns.
So we went over our entire translation of volume three again, and we thought we'd done a pretty decent job. We turned it in, and it was a long time before we heard back about it. To save time, we started on volume four, not because we were so sure we'd saved ourselves, but because if we had, we'd definitely want to have a head start. We thought we were doing really well on volume four, but it didn't matter, because we had not, in fact, saved ourselves. In retrospect, we could have at least used the word "sandy" in place of some of the "sand-colored"s. See, one of the biggest complaints about our translation was that we repeated too many words (especially the word "apparently"--I don't know if it was before or after that that I realized that sometimes you really can just take the "apparently" out, because Japanese likes to be way more exact than English, so if you don't know something first hand, you're required to say something to the effect of "apparently" in Japanese, while in English most people are okay with people being confident in their source). So when we revised our translation of volume three, I remember being very frustrated that we could only come up with about two different words for "gareki"--debris and rubble--and that word was repeated approximately one gajillion times. This is why we're pretty sure repetitiveness is more okay in Japanese writing than in English.
So yeah, ultimately, we were taken off the project. It was a good thing for us at the time, because we had so much other work to do, and the stress of working on prose was too much. But on the other hand, it was a severe blow to our confidence, and it came not too long before there was another translator going around saying that translators who use the word "awesome" too frequently can't be very good at what they do, and a few months after that, we took a translation test for another client and were rejected. So by the middle of 2010, we were really feeling like everything was going downhill. It was like in Skip Beat!, when Ren was failing to act the part of whatsisname in Dark Moon, and everyone was telling him he was doing it wrong, but he couldn't for the life of him figure out why or how he could fix it. Thanks to some projects that came along later, we were able to improve what needed improving, as well as discover that a lot of the really harsh criticism came from passionate people with artistic differences, and so wasn't really a reflection of our skill. It took a long time to reach those conclusions.
Yen Press tried to let us know that they didn't hate all our translations...by not firing us off of Higurashi and Nabari. It didn't seem like that great a vote of confidence, but we were glad not to lose the work. And they have given us a new project since then, which we are still super excited about, even though we've been working on it for a while now.
Right, translation difficulty level. Well, I want to say ten, but I'm afraid that might sound like we're making excuses. We don't even think it was really that hard, just that we weren't sure what we were doing. We both think we could do a lot better now, but neither of us is really keen on starting up novel translations. Those things are time-consuming!
Favorite character...Harvey, of course! And Julius, but he didn't get to be cool until way after the novel we were fired off of. (Of course we read the rest of the series anyway. Actually, it was kind of sad. We started volume four to get that head start, and we were having a bit of a hard time with the fact that Harvey was nowhere to be seen. When we finally got over the trauma and were able to read the novels for ourselves, we discovered that the very next scene after we stopped was where Harvey finally showed up.) And Joachim is fun, in a Loki kind of way. And the Corporal, of course. Although, I guess we should say, "And the Corporal, naturally," because we already said "of course." Sigh.
Today I'm thankful for having a lot of fun at work today, finally getting to finish this post, getting to watch the end of Servant x Service (if we'd known we wouldn't have time to update LJ afterward, we may not have done that), Magical Flowers, and Page not spending all day on the laptop keyboard.