“All I really want is my piece of the rock.”
If this phrase were found on some manuscript a hundred years from now by someone who didn’t know English, he would still likely have the ability to transliterate it — translate, word for word, the phrase into a language that he understands. But for all his efforts, the meaning of the statement would likely be lost on him because he wasn’t the target audience, living in the target’s time period and culture.
After a fair amount of study, he might be able to grasp the general sentiment, that of desiring stability, but it still would lack impact. If he were a child of the 1980’s, he would immediately recognize the phrase (and its application) from the Prudential Insurance commercials. If he were one of those REALLY rare birds who listened to country music in the early 1990’s, he might recognize the exact wording as having come from Doug Stone’s hit, “Addicted To A Dollar”. With all this information, the reader would INSTANTLY recognize the phrase as a lament, a plea for stability in a world that could care less how much chaos he suffered.
If the reader were the target audience. If, on the other hand, he were as I first suggested — a man a hundred years removed from the culture and not speaking the language — the phrase might hold a modicum of meaning, but the sheer IMPACT of the words would be lost, as surely as a dynamite explosion in the middle of a lake barely sees its ripples reach the shoreline.
This is a truth that transcends this narrow illustration, one that we see in various facets of life. Whether we’re talking about scripture or history or what have you, when you translate something you know for redistribution to someone who does NOT know, something is always lost in the translation.
As a writer, this is a reality that I constantly do battle with. However intimately I know my world and my characters, the second I put them down into words, there is something missing. Why? Because there is infinitely MORE about them that is lacking than what is represented, and the more I tell my readers about them, the less real they appear.
The less IMPACT they have.
It makes perfect sense why we lose things in translation. The problem is in how we avoid the problem… though it’s not as big a problem as one would think. It’s just that the solution is pretty exacting.
See, when you write a story, the key thing your aiming for is for the reader to CONNECT with the story — to refrain from “telling” the story but instead allowing the reader to experience it. That way, the reader is PARTY to the story, and is able to “know” the world you’re creating, if not as intimately, at least as profoundly as you do. Of course, as they experience your world, they may well come to know all the details as well as you do, but that’s kinda the icing on the cake. What you’re aiming for is for your world to be as REAL for the reader as it is for you.
As basic a concept as this is in writing, it is… well… often lost in the translation from creative writing to life skills. Many would-be or pseudo-Christians can’t grasp the reality of salvation because they don’t “experience” salvation (its myriad blessings and mortal dangers) so much as “learn” about salvation. Many American students are graduating high school and going out into the world having “learned” about adult life but never having “experienced” it under the careful direction of their parents. A staggering number of Americans (often disparagingly called “low information voters”) have no real concept of American history — not just the “dates” but the fundamental principles of civics and economics — because its importance is being marginalized by Common Core curriculum and its predecessors.
Everywhere you turn, the nuances — the IMPACT — of the old is being lost as it makes the translation to the new. “How” you combat the problem is easy. Just like the reader of a fictional world, the more knowledgeable must allow for the less knowledgeable to EXPERIENCE their subject — not crafting what they think but guiding them in forming their own thoughts.
The REAL problem, though, is not “how” you do this. It’s “who” is responsible for seeing it done, and how skilled they are at doing it, because just like the writer — over-eager to “make” you know his world — we all have the tendency to try and cram old understanding into new minds, as if their mind was our own mind and perfectly fitted for the information we’re giving them.