Friday, March 11, 2016

Writing in a Foreign Language

Flash Fiction Online is an international publication.

We publish stories from all over the world, by authors of many different nationalities and cultures.

However, we're also an English language publication, which means we publish stories in English.

This creates something of a quandary.  We receive a relatively large number of submissions from non-native English speakers, but publish relatively few of them.


The answer is the language.  A language barrier, really.  Nearly all of our non-native English speakers submit stories rife with grammar and syntax errors.  As an English publication we can't print stories written in a form of English that is largely incomprehensible to readers of the English language.  In addition, I do not have the time or resources to be able to work with authors whose English skills need polishing. Besides, that's not my job.  That is the job of the author, to present as clean and readable a manuscript as possible for me to consider.

Let's turn the tables.

Here in the United States our high school students are required to have a certain amount of foreign language training in order to graduate.  Most Universities also have foreign language requirements for graduation.  While valuable, a few meager semesters of beginning German does not qualify an English-speaking American to write and publish stories or articles written in the German language.

But, just for argument's sake, let's say I wanted to.  Let's say I wanted to use my limited understanding of German to write a story in German.  How would I overcome the obvious deficiencies in my translation?

Google Translate?  No.  Absolutely not.  (If you are not a native English speaker, test it by copying and pasting this article into Google Translate and translate it into your native language.  See?  Don't use Google Translate.  It's a useful tool for certain limited applications, but is not a solution to this problem.)

There is only ONE solution: I would find friends who are native German speakers.  Not only that, but these friends should be competent in the rules of grammar associated with the German language.  I would ask those friends to read over my manuscripts for the specific purpose of helping me with my grammar and syntax, to help me make my story understandable and competent to native German speakers.

How would I find friends who are native German speakers?

I would spend time at multiple online writing forums and workshops, asking around until I found someone willing and able to help.

Then I would be very, very nice to that person for doing me such an enormous favor.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Courier Must Die

Today I committed editorial high treason.

I editing my submission guidelines to read, "I MUCH prefer Times New Roman or a similar font.  Please do not use a Courier font.  I hate them."

I hear the collective gasp of writers and editors everywhere who have learned that Courier, in its many renditions, is the industry standard.  

Tough.  That industry standard needs to go the way of the Dodo Bird.

Why?  Because who actually reads ANYTHING in Courier anymore?  No one except editors entrenched in the tradition of receiving story submissions typed on a typewriter.  Because typewriters didn't come equipped with Times New Roman-like keys.  They came equipped with Courier-like keys.  So editors became accustomed to reading submissions typed on typewriters in Courier font types.  And that became the industry standard because Courier was easier to read than handwritten submissions, which was the industry standard prior to the invention and widespread use of the typewriter.

I imagine there must have been a whole harem of editors, who were entrenched in the old industry standard of handwritten submissions, who actually resisted the change to typewritten manuscripts.  Because every generation thinks they've figured it all out, that their way is the right way, that change is bad.  

But the thing is, those same editors who firmly stuck to the 'handwritten is best' philosophy didn't EVER publish a book or magazine that was handwritten.  Okay, maybe in medieval times.  But thanks to Gutenberg and his movable type, books haven't been published in pen and ink for centuries! 

Which means that people have been accustomed to reading the printed page for centuries.

I, of course, love books.  I like to have them around.  I like to collect them.  

Over the years I've collected a number of old books, some of them more than a hundred years old.   A couple probably old enough that the people who wrote the original manuscripts probably did it with pen and ink and submitted those manuscripts in pen and ink.

Astoundingly, the books I have on my shelf are NOT published in pen and ink.  They're published in a lovely, easy-to-read typeface.  And here's the kicker.  NONE of them are printed in Courier.  Not a one.

So, for at least 100 years we, as a reading public, have not been reading printed material in a Courier-like font.  No.  Actually, the fonts we've been reading on the printed page for the past 100+ years have been much more like Times New Roman.


But we kept typing our manuscripts in Courier, because that's what typewriters used.  Typing them in Courier, printing and reading them in Times-like fonts.  For a very long time.

Behold, the invention of the electronic word processor! 

The first word processors came into use in the 60s.  When I was a kid in the 70s we had a cutting-edge IBM word processor that looked very much like a typewriter.  And it printed everything in a font that looked more like Courier than Times.  Dot matrix.  Remember that?  So we were using a slightly more versatile typewriter.  

Finally in the 80s word processing software advanced to the point that we could actually type on a screen that was NOT green dot matrix, and utilized changeable fonts that we could actually see as we typed.  Hooray!  [Side note: Unfortunately for me as an editor, this means that there are literally thousands of fonts available in the marketplace now.  Unfortunate, because at one point or another I'm likely to see every single one of them in a submission.  *shakes head in frustration*  For an editor, that is NOT progress and a topic for another whole blog post.]  

But that was thirty years ago.  Thirty years.  And we've advanced SO far, SO fast technologically, but have been mired in tradition anyway.   

Today I can choose to type on my word processor in any font I like.  What fonts do I choose?  Depends on the project, for course.  But for writing I use a font that looks very much like the fonts I read, and those fonts are very similar to Times.  Why make myself adjust?  There's no need.  It's much easier on my eyes and my brain to have consistency in the visual rendering of the stories I read.  To me, reading Courier is like reading High German manuscript--which is what Gutenberg used on his printing press, and which was commonly in use in German printed material until about 60 years ago.  Here's an example:

Courier, it's time for you to die.  It's been a good life, and we appreciate all you've done for us.  I'll send flowers.  RIP.