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Calliea
12-08-2012, 04:19 PM
Few days ago I've had quite an interesting discussion with my friend where we argued a little about whether one should or should not ever attempt writing novels in a language different than their native.

For example, an American who lives and works in Minnesota, but is fluent with German would like to write a book set in Germany and in German then send it to German agents/publishers.

Do you think that would work? Or are you one of those that believe that it's always a bad choice?

Why so? I'm very curious about what a writing community might have to say about this and which one of us (my friend or I) were closer to general opinion ^^

Kerosene
12-08-2012, 04:34 PM
Unless you're as fluent in the other language as with your first, try to stick with your first language and publish in that.
It just creates a mountain of problems.

ConnieBDowell
12-08-2012, 07:30 PM
You would have to be very skilled in your second language for it to work out well, but it can be done. Just look at Nabokov, for example. I've also heard that creative writing in a second language is a great way to become a more fluent writer in that language. While my Spanish is nowhere near good enough to publish in that language, I have enjoyed writing in Spanish. Even if you aren't at a level of fluency for professional writing. Writing in a second language has some benefits.

jjdebenedictis
12-08-2012, 07:30 PM
A lot of people don't have sufficient grasp of their first language to write a publishable book.

If you want to write a book in your second language, and have it published, then you need a sufficient grasp of that second language to write a publishable book in it.

There's nothing stopping you from writing a book in your second language, of course, but whether it's going to be worth your time depends on what you intend for the book once you're finished.

Are you writing it just for fun? Just for practice? With the intention of trying to get it published? In that last case, you need to worry about your proficiency with your second language. In the first two, you don't.

neilfriske
12-08-2012, 07:44 PM
You'd have to be a genius in your second langugage.

Calliea
12-08-2012, 07:49 PM
The friend with whom I was discussing this actually has a Master degree in the second language. He works professionally as a translator from that language, but he said he wouldn't want to translate TO it. Which I find odd, because after completing a course like that he was taught more advanced things than the average native speakers are aware of (they are nowhere near the knowledge that comes naturally, he had to study the language all the way from its origins, its various iterations, changes and most in-depth quirks).

And yet he said that even people with such an education should never attempt to write (for publishing, of course, nobody can be against writing for fun) in the second language and he would never do so himself.

What about the fact that many books published today are actually pretty simple language-wise? Of course there are those that are simply masterpieces of the literary craft, but majority of what I've read were actually nowhere near such a thing. Of course they didn't resemble a school-exercise, but they didn't differ at all in the language from the FAQs on these forums or lengthy posts in general topics around here. Heck, I'd say people expressing their opinions around here use more complex vocabulary and structures than the most advanced sentences I've seen in such books.

And yet they were all a fine read and the language didn't bother me at all.

Bushrat
12-08-2012, 08:05 PM
If you're as fluent as in your mother tongue, why not? Worst thing that can happen is you fail.
Seems to me that most people express themselves somewhat differently in their second language, probably because the vocabulary and grammar are acquired in a different way.

English is my second language and I've made my living here in Canada as a freelance writer for the past five years, writing in English. I'm trying to find out now if I'm good enough to get an agent for my manuscript. If not, I'll just have to work harder at getting better :)

I've also written books in German, my mother tongue, geared at the market over there, and have a literary agent in Germany. So ideally, I'd love to publish books in both languages geared at the different markets (why not dream big lol).

Calliea
12-08-2012, 08:13 PM
I remember sometimes when I read a book in a foreign language that I more or less understood, there was this funny impression of... floating.

The story began with a ship, or a boat, that swayed on the sea, and while that was just a short description followed by action and filled with people running and shouting and hitting each other faces (I think, can't remember precisely :D), in my head, I was still swaying on the waves and all that commotion to me was hidden behind a mist, the sounds dull and muffled in my imagination.

I think it was because the language was foreign to me, regardless of being understandable and the emotions just didn't quite make it through to the proper part of brain, stuck where the mere understanding took place.

Did anyone had a similar experience? I wonder if it's connected to what Bushrat said.

If after reading that boat story I sat and tried to write in that foreign language it would end in some kind of spectacular failure. Where my angry hero, to a native reader, would be a floating pasta on the calm sea waves.

Moose
12-08-2012, 08:24 PM
I don't see anything wrong with it. Some people are very fluent in their second language because they use both on a regular basis. It's not uncommon for people to speak one language at home while using another language out in the world. If a person has learned both languages from a young age it shouldn't be an issue.

Siri Kirpal
12-08-2012, 10:46 PM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Joseph Conrad, Vikram Seth, Nabokov, the guy who wrote Things Fall Apart (can't remember how his name is spelled), Salmon Rushdie (I'm guessing, because he was born and raised in India), etc, etc, etc.

Yes, I think it's just fine, as long as the person really does know that second or third or fourth language.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

Midian
12-08-2012, 11:00 PM
If you're fluent, I see no problem with it. But I think the only way to do it successfully is to also read books in the language you want to write. If you're fluent enough (in both formal AND casual/conversational forms of that language), writing in that language is no different than writing in your mother language. Reading is a HUGE part of learning how to write.

If you plan to write in your second language, start reading books in your second language. In any language, you must be able to connect to the readers by using language in ways they can relate to. If you can't do that, then read more books.

Midian
12-08-2012, 11:12 PM
A lot of people don't have sufficient grasp of their first language to write a publishable book.


I disagree. Sure it helps, but if you can put a compelling sentence together, you can write a publishable book (*publishable in the sense that a publisher might pick it up and want to print it. And in doing so, the book usually gets edited.) No, it's not helpful if your story is riddled with errors but there's help for that. Understanding grammar is not the same thing as being able to write. MOST PEOPLE don't know grammar rules very well. And many grammar rules aren't hard and fast rules in fiction. Fiction uses fragments, turns nouns into verbs, and uses bad grammar for voice all the time.

What a lot of people don't have is a developed ability to write in their first language.

It's two entirely different skills. Just like being an editor doesn't make a person a good writer, neither does being a good writer make a good editor. I know very few people that have a grasp on English. Many of them are writers. We aren't taught grammar very well in the US. Most Germans don't understand German grammar any better than Americans understand English grammar. People still write stories, and most aren't grammarians and linguists.

Phaeal
12-08-2012, 11:59 PM
I've come across a number of people on AW who write English as a second language, but I would never have guessed it from their postings. Definitely can be done.

With others, I can immediately tell English is their second language -- fractured idiom and those pesky prepositions will betray them.

I used to write dramatic monologues a la Robert Browning, in German. But I had a professor to fix them for me. ;)

Midian
12-09-2012, 12:53 AM
I used to write dramatic monologues a la Robert Browning, in German. But I had a professor to fix them for me. ;)

Yeah. This was basically what I was getting at, only you were more succinct. :D Technical problems can be fixed.

Parametric
12-09-2012, 01:03 AM
My crit partner is a native German speaker with an amazing grasp of English. I could easily see her publishing her English-language fiction.

Aurelee
12-09-2012, 01:17 AM
English is my third language. My native language is Russian, I finished school in Afrikaans and I am now studying at an English university. I am more comfortable with English than the other two and the novels that I work on are also written in English. Though I am not as fluent as a native speaker would be, I still manage to write - if the writing is any good is a completely different story and hopefully I find the courage to share some of it here so you can judge.

It's a lot of editing work (sometimes to find a better word for a description or rephrasing a sentence), but it is very possible. I would say that it takes a bit of extra work and as always practice (with your head in a dictionary - at times).

calieber
12-09-2012, 02:56 AM
I don't think it's advisable to write in a language you don't use constantly or in which you don't consider yourself fluent (though I have no doubt people have done so successfully). But if you are fluent in and constantly use a different language from the one you spoke growing up, go for it.

Ton Lew Lepsnaci
12-09-2012, 03:07 AM
^^^ What calieber said. Your example (an American living in the US writing in German) is not a typical one. How about an American living and working in Germany for a long period of time? German would still be his/her second language. If this person's job includes writing, chances are they will reach a level that allows them to write a novel in their second language, perhaps exploiting their unique knowledge of their first language, sayings that might translate into fresh ideas etc.

Calliea
12-09-2012, 03:32 AM
^^^ What calieber said. Your example (an American living in the US writing in German) is not a typical one. How about an American living and working in Germany for a long period of time? German would still be his/her second language. If this person's job includes writing, chances are they will reach a level that allows them to write a novel in their second language, perhaps exploiting their unique knowledge of their first language, sayings that might translate into fresh ideas etc.

Hm, the whole root of my debate with my friend was taking a person who does not live in the country of the language they want to use.

Taking that American-to-German example, an American person living and working in America, dealing with German only during hobby time, online, reading in German and learning it from culture goods, but not being surrounded by it everyday. And having never lived in Germany before.

Ton Lew Lepsnaci
12-09-2012, 03:33 AM
I respect your friend's decision not to write in his second language. French was my second language and I would not have attempted to write a novel in it even though I have been immersed in the culture and studied in France. I don't agree with your friend's blanket statement that one should never write in a second language.

Ton Lew Lepsnaci
12-09-2012, 03:36 AM
Hm, the whole root of my debate with my friend was taking a person who does not live in the country of the language they want to use.

Taking that American-to-German example, an American person living and working in America, dealing with German only during hobby time, online, reading in German and learning it from culture goods, but not being surrounded by it everyday. And having never lived in Germany before.

Ok, that's a different scenario than merely someone writing in their second language. I don't think your poll reflects this accurately. Anyway, I bet there would be people who could pull it off even under those conditions. But your friend might be closer to the mark in that case (if he refrains from speaking in absolutes and switches to likelihoods).

Calliea
12-09-2012, 03:38 AM
I might've been more specific in the poll, but it's still just a help for a discussion. The posts are way more interesting and I thought I was specific enough in my OP :)

Can I still modify the poll or has that ship sailed like it would on many other forums?

Bushrat
12-09-2012, 03:41 AM
Hm, the whole root of my debate with my friend was taking a person who does not live in the country of the language they want to use.

Taking that American-to-German example, an American person living and working in America, dealing with German only during hobby time, online, reading in German and learning it from culture goods, but not being surrounded by it everyday. And having never lived in Germany before.

That might be tricky; I think chances are the person might sound a little "off". Being able to talk with people and hear a language used by native speakers in different contexts is pretty important to sounding genuine, I think.

But still - why not try it? Worst case it doesn't work out and the person gets to paper their wall with multilingual rejections :D

Ton Lew Lepsnaci
12-09-2012, 03:56 AM
I don't see why you couldn't post a second poll, pinning down your question. Best ask a mod directly. Perhaps in another thread?

Calliea
12-09-2012, 04:10 AM
That might be tricky; I think chances are the person might sound a little "off". Being able to talk with people and hear a language used by native speakers in different contexts is pretty important to sounding genuine, I think.

But still - why not try it? Worst case it doesn't work out and the person gets to paper their wall with multilingual rejections :D

Haha I imagined that wall! When I start getting rejections for my query, I should totally do that. Even if I'll cry on the inside, all the world will see will be a rejection Terminator. Unbreakable.

@ Ton Lew

I don't think it's a cause worth bothering the mods with :) Like I said: posts tell me what I need to know so I read the discussion and just glance at the poll.

Anna L.
12-09-2012, 09:44 AM
I'm not a native English speaker. It hasn't stopped me from getting small press contracts and a lot of full requests from agents. I doubt any of them can tell.

It takes several years to get fluent enough, but if anyone wants to make the effort, it's entirely possible.

Faide
12-09-2012, 08:34 PM
It's not stopped me. Okay, so I make some mistakes, and sometimes I really have to stop and think about what I want to say, and other times I make mistakes without even realising they are mistakes, but I believe people understand what I'm trying to say, more or less, so it's all good :D

But to answer your question, I suppose it could work if the American did his/her research on Germany, or better still, went to Germany for some time.