Janet Sumner Johnson
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translation

When We Know Too Much

Jan

12, 2015 |

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Some of you may know that for my day job, I do translation. French to English. An interesting phenomenon I’ve noticed is that sometimes my brain doesn’t register when there is both French and English on a page I’m supposed to translate. I’ll keep typing away, and a couple paragraphs later realize what I’ve done.

In fact, several year ago I was doing some interpretation for a small group. It’s a pretty tricky fete learning to talk and listen at the same time. Anyway, there I was spouting off the English as the speaker continued in French when suddenly they stopped and looked at me. The people I was interpreting for stopped and looked at me.

“You don’t have to translate the English for me. I already understand.”

My brain hadn’t registered when the speaker switched from French to English! Presumably because I understand both languages, and to my brain it’s all the same. I understand it.

Writing can be like this too. When we write a story, we know everything there is to know. We know who the secret bad guy is. We know what terrible things are going to happen. We know how it will all resolve itself. We know.

Which is why it’s sometimes hard to know what is coming across to our reader. The experience is completely different for someone who doesn’t know. Things that may seem obvious to you, aren’t necessarily obvious to your reader. Or perhaps something you wanted to be sure your reader understood is coming across all too loudly for them.

This is why we need beta readers and critique partners. This is why we can’t do this writing thing alone. Sometimes we just need someone to stop us and tell us, “I already understand.”

Do you use beta readers and critique partners?

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