Historical Fiction Question

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Shiri, Dec 26, 2015.


Japanese Honorifics?

  1. I think you need them.

    1 vote(s)
  2. I don't think you need them.

    2 vote(s)
  3. Other(comment)

    1 vote(s)
  4. I just liek polls. :3

    1 vote(s)
  1. Alright, so I've been plugging away at my novel, but I've run into a reoccurring snag. This story takes place in 1585 Japan. For the life of me, I can't figure out if I should include honorifics. If I don't use them, I feel like I lose some of the verbal nuances between characters, but if I do, it might be too steep for new readers. I've seen it done both ways in published works. I'm just not sure which is the most popular and immersive for the general audience?

    In addition to this, I'm hoping to release this as an e-book, but I'm uncertain of how glossaries or footnotes work with them since I'm more of a paperback person. Are either of these tools easily accessible in the e-book format?
  2. I'm assuming you're writing in English, so if I'm wrong about that then most of the following opinion won't apply.

    I would suggest avoiding throwing Japanese honorifics in there. Using English for almost everything but honorifics is silly and out of place. Imagine writing an English novel set in Mexico and any time someone would say "Mr. Name" you instead write "Señor Name." That's what you would be doing with the honorifics and that's just goofy.

    Instead, I'd say you should just stick to the language you're using for probably everything but names and convey the meaning of those honorifics in English. Use English honorifics where there's a clean equivalent and use adjectives and tone-appropriate descriptors for speech when it's not that easy. You'll lose some of the easy nuance that Japanese honorifics give, the quick way to tell what someone's relationship is with someone else, but you can make up for that with exposition and character building and so on.
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  3. Personally, I think honorifics would be nice to have for people who understand them, because I understand what you mean about losing the verbal nuances and all that. But, like you said, it depends on your readership, and how easy it would be to explain that to them.

    I think it depends on whether or not footnotes and that sort of thing would be easy to have in an e-book format. If you can have footnotes, I say go with the honorifics. If you can't, then I guess sticking to English equivalents will have to do (though I can understand why you might feel like it isn't quite the same). I'm not much of an e-book person myself, though, so I can't really tell you whether or not you'd have footnotes. You'd have to ask someone else for that.
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  4. (Preface: My favorite book in the world is Dune, which completely makes up most of it's titles and honorifics and forces the reader to go to the back-of-the-book index every third page or so.)

    I'd like to throw up a solid "It depends on the type of book you've been writing so far." What audience are you writing for, and what's the content of your book like? You're choosing 16th century Japan, so your book probably has a crapton of historical details and triviality; since your source material already has a lot of things you'll have to explain, you can probably add in honorifics without asking too much of your audience.

    Secondly, as someone who's had experience translating between a language that does have honorifics and a language that doesn't, I'd like to give the opposing viewpoint for Jorick's (valid) points on nuance.

    Honorifics add an extra layer of depth that the english language simply can't convey. For an example that I think runs parallel, "¿Está bien?" and "Estás bien?" both mean "Are you well?" However, está is used extremely formally, and estás would be used with a friend. To someone with knowledge of spanish (and, in your case, for people who have knowledge of Japanese honorifics), this adds a layer of depth you wouldn't normally get. Since you'll be feasibly introducing honorifics somewhere in the book, either in the index or the glossary of the e-book, ain't no reason not to go for extra depth in your book.

    As another example, since I can finally use my useless trivia and it's awesome you're doing this, is through how the english audience believes that JJBA: Vento Aureo is the weakest of a series of a larger manga character-wise, while people who read the Italian, French and Japanese translations all really liked it. It's all 'cause'a the importance of the thing you stated before: verbal nuances. A huge part of the manga was how the characters slowly grew closer and used less and less formal language to address each other, and this interpersonal nuance was lost upon the english audiences. In your novel, honorifics will be able to deepen audience understanding for how characters feel about each other; of course, there's always gonna be people that this sort of depth completely glosses over, but I'd doubt that kinda person would be around more for the story than the characters anyways.
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  5. (Oh gawd how do you start Dune? I keep eyeballing it in stores. They're so big!)

    Yeah, lots of very valid points in this thread to both sides. As of current, I have stuck with keeping things translated to English at least until I make a decision one way or the other. I'm only about 15 pages in so it won't hurt me to go through it again if I need to. It also gives me another excuse for revision.

    I have been re-evaluating what audience I am trying to attract. When I started, I wanted it to reach out to as many people as possible, because first book and all, but the more I work on it the more it seems like its going to be a narrower niche. I am working on a retelling of Masamune Date's life and all of the weird, over the top tales about him. It has been quite an adventure just researching about some of these stories. So I should probably be trying to attract the audience that is already looking for Japanese historical events of this time period. With such an audience, its probably safe to assume they already know the terms or wouldn't mind looking at a glossary for clarification.

    The translations for honorifics were getting particularly painful to deal with the occasions that they sometimes combine with job titles. The direct translation to English would be something like "Blacksmith Hachi". It sounds natural in Japanese, but awkward in English unless I completely change it to "Mr. Hachi" which gets rid of the occupational title altogether.

    Also translating -ue is a pain. Like it denotes a high level of respect for a family member or the family member of someone you're dating(huehue). There's simply no English equivalent. The closest is Mr. and Mrs. but again it completely gets rid of the nuance and suddenly puts them on the same respect level as Mr. Hachi from earlier.

    Gah, honorifics!
  6. (If you're looking for an easy read, look to different shores, cymek. Reading Dune reminds me of when I had a two day layover in Istanbul as a teen more than reading a good book-- literally everything, from the cultures and languages to the animals and ecosystem, are as foreign as it can get. You keep a bookmark at the glossary, and you try to infer what the hell is going on.)

    Hell yeah, Pirate Samurai adventures.

    So hype that his clan gets a charge bonus.