Improbably Effective Pantomime

As I mentioned more than a week ago I’d be taking a week off.  Or at least I alluded to to it.  Or maybe that was in my head.  Regardless, it’s my reality to make up and yours to shrug your shoulders at and accept. This welcome me back post won’t be of the creative bent nor of the housekeeping ilk either.  Hopefully it’s observational.

This past week I spent two hours each morning delivering technical training to a mixed group of Europeans:  Germans, Czechs, French, and a Fin or Swede–what do I know.  Nearly every aspect of the training challenged me in new ways.  I’d like to focus a few words on two of the ones I was unable to control.  The first one I anticipated.

I don’t have an ear for European accents.  Commonly the students needed to repeat my name before I recognized the sounds as a request.  In my defense, neither ‘doog’ or ‘doogles’ are my names, but you’d have thought them close enough.  Tied with these unfamiliar sounds, they typically pronounced my name faster than I normally hear it.  An effect like you might produce when entering into a longer word and that first syllable gets abbreviated in the rush.  So that was fun.

I don’t know if the next thing was cultural or class specific.  It certainly was pronounced.  They never ask questions.  My favorite teaching technique–or trick–is to ask a question and follow it with an uncomfortable amount of silence.  A student will snap and give you an answer just to fill the silence.  It’s a little easier to pull off in person since a phone call already puts a person in a tuned out state, but I’ve normally heard it work on a call too.  Not these guys.  No desire to fill the silence just to make it go away.

As an instructor these two behaviors–accents and silence resistance–cause me a number of problems.  As a writer they pique my curiosity.

Commonly in fantasy you will run across new and made-up cultures.  Those cultures then run across newer and made-upper cultures.  If there is a language challenge it’s typically overcome with a Common Tongue, a convenient bilingual, or improbably effective pantomime.  But what if those meeting worked more like they really do.  A Spanish speaking elf runs into an English speaking gnome.  The elf knows exactly where the treasure is the gnome seeks–could avoid the dragon and lead him right to the gold and the story would be over.  Instead the two meet on the road communicate enough to share a roasted rabbit for dinner and then due to their language differences go their separate ways.  (I can’t tell you how often I’ve shared a rabbit with a Spanish speaker on my way to getting my gold.)

Differences between cultures will lead some to be curious and others defensive.  I think at some point being either one of those becomes tiring.  Eventually you have to expend more effort than the reward is worth.  A fewer charaters will push through that barrier and accend to the next level, but most won’t.  I think you could build a great deal of tension in a plot using language differences.

I’ll not spend the time to drag us through my thoughts on not answering questions since it’s time to make some money, but suffice to say I had similar wonderings.  There always seems to be a ’roundtable’ meeting in epic fantasy.  What if the tension wasn’t political but merely practical: “What the hell did he just say?”

(Day 269 was hardcopy I wrote yesterday I won’t transcribe here.)

Day 270