Korean SF Translations, and Our Current Workflow

So, my wife and I have been working on a couple of translations lately.  I mentioned, back in September, having finished up one of them. We just put the almost-final touches on the second one. (We sent off three questions to the original author of the second one we finished drafting, but otherwise, the translation’s pretty much done and just needs some proofreading before it’s sent off.)

The two stories are:

  • 레디메이드 보살 by Sunghwan Park (English title: “The Prefab Bodhisattva.” 1 This is a story I’ve mentioned here before, as one of the tales adapted to the screen in The Doomsday Book omnibus film back in 2012. It’s a story about what happens when a robot apparently attains Buddhist enlightenment.
  • 우리가 추방된 세계 by Chang-Gyu Kim (English title: “Our Banished World” is what we’re going with at the moment.) It’s a story in a near-future(-ish) setting clearly inspired by the Sewol Ferry incident, and concerns a teenaged girl and her friends, puzzling through the mystery of her parents’ weird behaviour regarding a mysterious third party. There’s a definite The Catcher in the Rye vibe in parts of it, with a lot of teen criticism of adult foibles and hypocrisy, but also a big-cavas SFnal premise and some cool, subtle worldbuilding.

These stories are slated to appear in a collection of Korean SF in translation being published by Kaya Press, currently expected to come out in early 2018. It’s a funny thing: we’d actually started work on the former of the two stories before the TOC was fixed for that anthology: we’d planned to send out “The Prefab Bodhisattva” to magazines, but since they wanted it for the anthology, we just agreed to that instead. Kind of a nice coincidence.

As for what’s next: well, work is slow, because we have so much on our plates, but we’ve got a couple of other stories lined up to work on, which aren’t spoken for by any publisher yet—we’re just working on them because we like them, and would like to make those stories available to readers outside Korea. But I’ll keep the titles under my hat until we’ve finished translating them and they’re ready to start submitting to various magazines out there.

I thought, though, it might be interesting to talk about workflow, and how we manage it. Basically, here’s our process.

Step 1: The basic Korean-to-English translation. This happens in a basic word processor document, a few paragraphs at a time, and none of the Korean text is removed. So it’s a few Korean paragraphs, then the English translation, and then a few more Korean paragraphs. Mostly, I’m not involved in this stage: my wife does it independently.

Step 2: I get the document,  and copy the contents to a Scrivener file. Then I begin cutting the Korean text, pasting it into comments appended to each chunk of the English translation.  (You can see that in the image below, which is also the Feature Image for this post.

Screen Shot 2016-10-18 at 11.20.37 AM

Step 3: I work my way through the text, basically rewriting it (occasionally consulting with my wife, and more often by cross-checking with the Korean original) and clarifying as much as I can. While I’m at it, I try polish the prose.

Step 4: We get together and work our way through the text, clarifying anything I didn’t understand in the original, fine-tuning expressions, and making sure the translation matches the original. We also collaborate on researching anything that is too baffling for either of us to do on our own. (For example, it was at this stage that we figured out the source of the epigram at the beginning of “The Prefab Bodhisattva.”)

It’s also at this stage that we compile any questions we need to submit to the author. These can range between anything from, “‘Phobos Temple’ is a weird name for a Buddhist Temple. What gives?” to, “It’s not clear whether your protagonist’s emphasis in this sentence is her duty, the role she must play, or the people to whom she feels she must execute this duty. To make the sentence natural in English, we need to choose one. Does this sound about right?” (Luckily, because we’re working on SF, all the original authors are still alive, so we can do this.)

This is also where we talk about what to do about maintaining faithful translation when we hit a roadbump, like, say, when there’s an obvious POV violation that will be horribly distracting in English translation, but which the author apparently got away with in Korean. There’s a decision-making process there, though it’s one in which we sometimes choose to involve the author.

(During this stage, we each have an open copy of the file, but only one copy—typically mine—gets updated and the other is just a reading copy for collaboration, which gets trashed after we’re done working out way through the file.)

Step 5: Reread, clarify anything that wasn’t clear, and proofread. Send it to the author for feedback or approval, if we’re doing that.

Step 6: Implement any fixes that might be necessary, and send it out… and pick the next thing to work on.

That’s how we go about doing it. I’m not 100% crazy about using Scrivener—it’s great for solo writing, but I find it less than impressive for collaboration work, in the current version at least—but I don’t know of a better collaborative writing tool that allows for any better control of workflow than Google Docs. (And I like working in Google Docs even less than I like working in two separate Scrivener files.)

In fact, I’m casting about for a better collaborative writing solution, if anyone can suggest one. (I need something not just for translations, but also for a project I’m working on with another friend!)

  1. I was tempted by the phrase, “The Bespoke Bodhisattva,” because  that’d be a hell of a title, but the meaning of “readymade” as used in Korean is much closer to the English “prefab,” so we went with that.

4 thoughts on “Korean SF Translations, and Our Current Workflow

    1. No worries, glad it was interesting. It’s weird there’s not a really obvious go-to solution for collaborative writing, I have to say. I’m assuming there is some great software, somewhere, but it’s not like Scrivener, which at least for me was an obvious choice as soon as I started using MacOS.

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