A Translator’s-Eye View of the SCBWI Japan 2022 YA/MG Novel Revision Workshop

By Andrew Wong, Tokyo

Back in May, as the winds brought a change in season, I recalled that SCBWI Japan was holding a MG/YA novel revision workshop over the summer. The initial call for participants was put out in March and included translators. With dates for submission, feedback, and wrap-up provided, participants were given the flexibility to work around their summer schedules. After dwelling on whether to take the plunge right up until late May, I finally did so, with a translation of a book that is a fun family favorite. Having worked on either picture books or excerpts before, a novel was a first for me.

Pushing myself through a full novel from scratch, I experienced among other things the arduous process of keeping the style of the narrative and the voices of the characters consistent—and the enormous discipline required to complete a draft within a set time frame (on spec and after checking the rights, of course!). By the time I had finished translating and thoroughly re-enjoying the story, I was worried that it might read as though I had put the original under a microscope. Unsure whether my rendering would convey the story as well as the original had, clicking that Send button was more frightening than it was liberating at the time.

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Holly Thompson kindly shared her revision process with participants

The next part of the workshop was much more relaxing: reading! Assigned to a four-member critique group, I got to read other works in progress, and was reminded to provide, other than synopses, feedback on the positives in each manuscript because “writers in the drafting process get bruised easily!” We were also asked to raise questions to consider when revising.

I was glad when the synopses and feedback from my critique group assured me that my novel translation had gone down well. While there were compliments on the strength of the story and its vivid visualizations, I also received suggestions about parts that left hints of the Japanese original. Recognizing that positive feedback on the story was largely down to the hard work that had already gone into the published title, I was grateful to hear more ideas in the wrap-up session on how to think about shaping the work for English readers, and about how the characters sounded. Having people read our work is one thing, meeting them (even virtually) to actually talk about it is another! To round off the workshop, we shared our plans for revising our manuscripts.

Joining this workshop gave me a new perspective on decisions made in weaving storylines, shaping narrative arcs, and building characters. As creators and storytellers, while aspects of writing and translating naturally overlap, telling the same story well in another language brings about different challenges, some of which I’m sure will be visited by translation-focused events like Translation Days 2022 (just round the corner!).

For a writer’s view of the workshop, check out Alec MacAulay’s post on the SCBWI Japan Blog!

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