31 March 2010

Lost in Translation

So, a couple of weeks ago I went down to Buford, this area with a ton of stores, restaurants, and the biggest mall in the state of Georgia. My friends and I were on the way to our favorite restaurant and saw this dude dancing on the sidewalk. At least, we think it was a guy. It was someone in a mascot suit.

Dressed in red and blue, the costume was easy to spot on the street corner. The poor guy (it was cold, so maybe he was just trying to warm up) did everything he could to attract attention.

There was only one problem--none of us had any clue what store he represented.

I scanned the marquee in the parking lot, trying to figure out which venue he "belonged" to. But none of them seemed to make sense. We drove by the dancing mascot curious, but not enough to make us stop and figure out the mystery.

This is definitely a branding issue, but it goes deeper than that--all the way to identity. In this case there was a disconnect between the mascot and his store. And his advertisement wasn't very effective (at least for those of us in the vehicle), because he couldn't compell us to stop and postpone our feast at the garden of olives (ha!). He knew who he was, obviously, but it was lost in translation.

Sometimes I feel that happens with me too. Do you ever feel that way? I know sometimes someone will say something to me, citing a certain part of my personality and demeanor, and I'm completely surprised. Not offended, just surprised. Because I'm so far inside my own head that I don't notice how others see me. It always surprises me when someone tells me their perception of me and it's 180 degrees from what I would say about me.

I have my own sense of identity. I know who I am. But it makes me laugh when it gets "lost in translation". Then we have to look for the link between the two.

Unless of course, you're a dancing mascot with no correlation. Then you just drive on by.

This goes even beyond our identities as writers. What about the identities of our characters, especially the primary ones? Do we see them differently than our readers will? Or even other characters in the novel? What kind of craziness does this create for you, if any? For me it usually means I need to sit down and chisel away, see what's left, and then add what's needed. Very time consuming. But it usually gives me a better perspective of the character when it's all over.

See y'all Friday!


  1. Great observation! (And mascot story) Poor guy (or girl) doing all that work for nothing. :)

    Sometimes it's surprising how readers/crit partners take my characters--although it's not a bad thing. Sometimes they see things in them I didn't. LOL
    Also, I know when I create a character who is a pain in the butt or maybe "dark" but I can't always see if I've taken it too far.
    I have an inkling, but I'm always curious to see how much I can push it before my crit partners tell me I made the character unlikable. LOL

  2. Wow, this is a really good point, both about ourselves and our characters. I've def. had that disconnect before.
    You're giving me something to chew on this morning. lOl

  3. Great point! I've wondered how my characters will be viewed by others. I haven't really let anyone read enough of my story to get a sense of "who" they are. I guess I should, huh? ;)

  4. What a great check for us to do--see how others perceive our characters. Lately I feel a bit like blue mascot guy, not b/c I don't know who I am but b/c it is taking me awhile to get back to that.
    ~ Wendy

  5. Very interesting analogy, Kristen! I think that's why it's essential to have that objective view when it comes to our stories. Because our stories can be like the mascot dancing around--we're completely in love with them and think we're "all that." But when we get that outside opinion, we learn what we're missing.

  6. Even personally, am I giving mixed messages about who I am or can people not tell who I am representing??? :O)


  7. My beta readers saw my mc completely different than I intended. A huge hunk of my rewrites was fixing that problem. You make an excellent point here. It's important to have outside opinions on your characters.

  8. This is one of the sensitive areas for me both as a person and writer. I've found that most perceptions are way off base, so it's up to me to paint an accurate picture- through my actions and words.

  9. I live near Buford!! One of my best friends is from Cumming!

    Sorry. It's just cool to see you mention it. :)

  10. I'm sure I'd be suprised at times if people told me who they think I am. And yes, I sometimes struggle with the characters too. I see them as one way, but its much harder to get that across on paper.

  11. Hi Kristen -

    Awhile back, someone read my book and viewed a hero, who saved the day, as a bad guy. Huh? Something definitely got lost in the translation, and I re-wrote the scene.

    Susan :)

  12. What a great story. So much of communication of any kind is understanding the perceptions of all sides concerned.

  13. SUCH an important concept that I have "grown" in the past two books. That is where crit partners really can help, because they yank off the rose-colored (or smeared) glasses and really SEE the character.

    Blessings, friend.

  14. Oh, wow. What a great thing to point out, Kristen! I often wonder if others will see my characters as I do and what I can do to make them stronger. Great post! :-)

  15. I think this is a great analogy. My writers profile should clearly depict who I am without confusing my potential readers. My characters have more leeway although I need to responsibly translate how I want them viewed, lest people fill in the gaps.

  16. Excellent observation! I've noticed that sometimes too - people trying to draw attention to themselves and supposedly for a cause, but what cause? It's not made clear what their identity or their purpose is, something that is important for writers to delineate. Great post!

  17. It seems like you need to keep jotting down more and more things. Like, what they'd have for breakfast, or what kind of movie they like, or what parts of their bodies they hate. It's all about the layers of character and story.