November 26, 2012

This book doesn't quite live up to its billing

A Sustainable Presbyterian Future: What's Working and WhyA Sustainable Presbyterian Future: What's Working and Why by Louis Weeks

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Disappointing. This book is loaded with anecdotes, which I suppose are meant to inspire one to try similar activities in one's own congregation. The writing is academic and a bit stiff in places. Each chapter closes with a set of study questions, but this book provides few answers. I borrowed it from our presbytery library, and I'm glad I did. As a leader in my congregation, I felt a duty to read it. But I'm glad I didn't spend money on it. The early chapters on Presbyterian identity and culture and the description of the "new Presbyterian ecology" were helpful, but from there the book kind of coasts.

The subtitle, "What's working and why," is half right. Weeks gives many examples of congregations doing things right, but offers little analysis as to why some programs work and others don't, or why some congregations flourish while others die. There are few "action items," by which I mean key takeaways that a church leader can implement. It's one thing to show a congregation with a successful ministry, and another to explain what another congregation would need to do to replicate those results.

One characteristic of this book struck me as particularly odd. The author notes that the "new Presbyterian ecology" he's studying "employs digital technology and social media more than printed and published literature." Yeah. More than. Direct quote. But this book is not, so far as I could discover, available in any digital format.

UPDATE: This book is now available on Kindle. This is the first title published by Geneva Press I've seen on Kindle. Hopefully there will be many more.

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November 19, 2012

Fiction Q&A: How to style royal and noble titles

Q: When referring to a king or lord, when do you capitalize--if at all--for sire and your majesty and such? For example:
All we can do now is wait and pray that you and your healers can help my sister, your majesty.
I'm so confused. Thanks for your help.

Titles are tricky, because it depends how you're using them.

Generally speaking, the title will be capitalized if it's being used with or in place of the person's name. So in your example, Your Majesty would be capitalized. That's what we call "direct address." But if you and I are talking about the king, "king" isn't capitalized because we're talking about him, not to him.

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November 5, 2012

Fiction Q&A: Representing multiple languages

Q: I have several languages in most of my stories and I have yet to really decide how to denote the switches and whether to italicize when the word is spoken but not translated. When I use only two and switch sparingly, I just note that they said whatever in the new language. But repeatedly mentioning the switch becomes tedious to reader and writer.

Since I use up to four languages at once in a scene where not everyone speaks all the languages (yes, that creates chaos, which was the intent), how do I create the feel of switching languages for the reader, when the POV character does speak them all?

At one point I used single quotes for one language and double quotes for another (the two main languages) but there are not enough quotes types for more languages in order to be consistent. -- Shae

A: For single foreign words, even if they are from an invented language, you only need to use italics the first time you introduce the “untranslated” word. Back in the day, Tolkein italicized lembas, for example, throughout The Lord of the Rings. These days, we would italicize it only on first use, give the reader enough clues to figure out what it means, then leave it in plain type the rest of the book.

Using different fonts or quotemark schemes for different languages isn't advisable. Since it's not an established convention, readers may not know what to make of it.

The best way to signal that different characters are speaking different languages is to use different word choices and syntax for each language. You can see this in Shogun by James Clavell and Kim by Rudyard Kipling. They each had characters using "thee" and "thou" when speaking in Latin or Hindu, respectively. You don't need to use thee and thou if that doesn't work for you; there are other tricks you can use to give languages a different feel.

Syntax is a good way to do this. Think of Yoda's "accent" in Star Wars. Or the note Sherlock Holmes receives in the story "Scandal in Bohemia." The note reads, "This account of you we have from all quarters received," leading Holmes to remark that a Frenchman or Russian would not write a sentence that way, as only a German "is so uncourteous to his verbs."

In the same way Holmes could discern the language of the letter-writer, readers can pick up on the nuances of the different “languages” in a novel if you write each one with a slightly different vocabulary and syntax. Early on in your book, you'll establish which POV characters speak which languages, so by one-third or halfway through, you should be able to stop writing "'Line of dialog,' someone said in his native language," and just tell the story. Readers are smart; they'll get it.