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SimplyScripts Screenwriting Discussion Board    Screenwriting Discussion    Screenwriting Class  ›  Handling Alien language Moderators: George Willson
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  Author    Handling Alien language  (currently 275 views)
Matthew Taylor
Posted: November 6th, 2019, 7:42am Report to Moderator
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Writers of SS - I once again ask you to share your great wisdom with me

My "lost in space" sci-fi series sees 8 Aliens thrust together against their will. One of the first big problems they have, communication - they all speak different languages.

Now. I want the characters to talk, (they will attempt to talk to each other, even if they quickly discover no one has a clue what they are saying). But unsure of how to handle it.

I don't want the audience to know what they are saying either (apart from the human who speaks English) so there will be no subtitles.

My immediate thought is to just write out the dialogue in English (with some kind of note that it's alien, not subtitled). The reason being it will help me with writing the story and it would be useful for directors/actors to know what a character is saying, even if the audience will never know.
The characters eventually find a way to communicate (most of them anyway) so dialogue can commence as normal later on.

Writing it out in English seems a better way to go than making up some jibberish language and typing that.

Thoughts?

P.S if you can think of any scripts that deal with alien languages in a similar way, please let me know so I can have a read.


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StevenClark
Posted: November 6th, 2019, 8:02am Report to Moderator
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Remember that you’re writing for the reader first - if you give us the dialogue in advance then it’ll take away from the impact of your reveal, especially if the English translation of their alien speak has no bearing on the story. There are many ways to convey the frustration of the situation without spelling it out in dialogue.


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Matthew Taylor
Posted: November 6th, 2019, 8:33am Report to Moderator
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Quoted from StevenClark
Remember that you�re writing for the reader first - if you give us the dialogue in advance then it�ll take away from the impact of your reveal, especially if the English translation of their alien speak has no bearing on the story. There are many ways to convey the frustration of the situation without spelling it out in dialogue.


Thanks for the input - the dialogue won't convey any important information, and the action will show the frustration of the scene.

I guess I want dialogue in there to break up the action sequences as well, but thought some gobbledygook would annoy people.


Quoted Text
Cassius and Barak both get to thier feet.

Barak has the pistol, aims it at Cassius's head.

                      Barak
                (Alien language)
             Who are you! Who are you!

                    Cassius
               I don't understand! Please,
               put the gun down

Barak's hand trembles. Cassius takes a step towards him--

--BANG


Or.....


Quoted Text
Cassius and Barak both get to thier feet.

Barak has the pistol, aims it at Cassius's head.

                      Barak
                Fho shun goridder!
                Fho shun goridder!

                    Cassius
               I don't understand! Please,
               put the gun down

Barak's hand trembles. Cassius takes a step towards him--

--BANG


Or....


Quoted Text
Cassius and Barak both get to thier feet.

Barak has the pistol. He yells in an alien language as
he points it at Cassius's head.

                    Cassius
               I don't understand! Please,
               put the gun down

Barak's hand trembles. Cassius takes a step towards him--

--BANG



There are quite a few instances of trying to commuincate with each other. Don't get me wrong, there are obviously no full blown conversations, mostly just blurted out frustrations or failed attempts at reasoning.


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Lon
Posted: November 6th, 2019, 8:44am Report to Moderator
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If you're wanting it to be intentionally vague at first, don't write it as dialogue all. Instead, just indicate it in the action/narrative.

ZIB-ZORB, an insectoid alien, speaks in a series of rapid-fire clicks and ticks, while MEEP-MORP, an anthropomorphic sponge with a simian head, speaks a language comprised primarily of slurps and grunts.  Only JOE, a human translator, can understand what either are saying.

Zib-Zorb rants.

JOE
Now Zib-Zorb, that's not nice.

Meep-Morp responds tersely.

JOE
And you're another!


Eh, you get the idea.
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StevenClark
Posted: November 6th, 2019, 8:45am Report to Moderator
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I like the middle one. It conveys exactly what you’re going for - and the alien language actually seems to get the point across as to what he’s saying. And yeah, you can break it up with action to help further emphasize what he’s saying, even if it is alien gibberish, which doesn’t look half bad, imo.


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StevenClark
Posted: November 6th, 2019, 8:46am Report to Moderator
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Quoted from Lon
If you're wanting it to be intentionally vague at first, don't write it as dialogue all. Instead, just indicate it in the action/narrative.

ZIB-ZORB, an insectoid alien, speaks in a series of rapid-fire clicks and ticks, while MEEP-MORP, an anthropomorphic sponge with a simian head, speaks a language comprised primarily of slurps and grunts.  Only JOE, a human translator, can understand what either are saying.

Zib-Zorb rants.

JOE
Now Zib-Zorb, that's not nice.

Meep-Morp responds tersely.

JOE
And you're another!


Eh, you get the idea.


This works as well. A combo of both?


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Matthew Taylor
Posted: November 6th, 2019, 8:53am Report to Moderator
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Great! Thank you both! English translation is out - Combo of through action/narrative with the occasional alien dialogue thrown in when appropriate  

Luckily it doesn't go on for too long in the pilot lol



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MarkItZero
Posted: November 6th, 2019, 10:16am Report to Moderator
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Think you got some good advice there. If you still want to see pro script variations, here's a few that come to mind that might have alien talking in one form or another...

Galaxy Quest, District 9, Men In Black Series, Thor: Ragnarok, The Fifth Element.


That rug really tied the room together.
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eldave1
Posted: November 6th, 2019, 11:29am Report to Moderator
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A lot of good advice here for this special problem.

Note: I would seriously consider not trying to have as many as eight species speaking different languages as it is hard for me to envision even  with the perfect version how this will not be incredibly confusing.

In terms of the solution - as you can see there are several - If it were me, I'd just write it first something akin to:

VULCAN
Vulcan vulcan vulcan.

MARTIAN
Martian martian martian

etc. i.e., don't waste a lot of the time on the solution until you are done with the story. Then after you write the story see which of the above best fits in terms of reading clarity.


My Scripts can all be seen here:

http://dlambertson.wix.com/scripts
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Matthew Taylor
Posted: November 6th, 2019, 11:56am Report to Moderator
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Quoted from MarkItZero
Think you got some good advice there. If you still want to see pro script variations, here's a few that come to mind that might have alien talking in one form or another...

Galaxy Quest, District 9, Men In Black Series, Thor: Ragnarok, The Fifth Element.


Galaxy quest!! love that movie

Thanks for the list, will pour through them and see what I can find.


Quoted from eldave1
A lot of good advice here for this special problem.

Note: I would seriously consider not trying to have as many as eight species speaking different languages as it is hard for me to envision even  with the perfect version how this will not be incredibly confusing.

In terms of the solution - as you can see there are several - If it were me, I'd just write it first something akin to:

VULCAN
Vulcan vulcan vulcan.

MARTIAN
Martian martian martian

etc. i.e., don't waste a lot of the time on the solution until you are done with the story. Then after you write the story see which of the above best fits in terms of reading clarity.


Thanks, Dave. It's not as bad as I am making it out to be... the immediate situation is frantic and so, they are just trying to survive (no room for talking) - then the situation forces them to break off into small groups. We then follow each small group... so hopefully not too convoluted and confusing lol

Thanks for the tip.



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eldave1
Posted: November 6th, 2019, 11:57am Report to Moderator
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Quoted from Matthew Taylor


Galaxy quest!! love that movie

Thanks for the list, will pour through them and see what I can find.



Thanks, Dave. It's not as bad as I am making it out to be... the immediate situation is frantic and so, they are just trying to survive (no room for talking) - then the situation forces them to break off into small groups. We then follow each small group... so hopefully not too convoluted and confusing lol

Thanks for the tip.



My pleasure - interested to see how iti comes out


My Scripts can all be seen here:

http://dlambertson.wix.com/scripts
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Lon
Posted: November 7th, 2019, 10:14am Report to Moderator
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Quoted from eldave1
...don't waste a lot of the time on the solution until you are done with the story.


This is great writing advice in general.  Lots of writers get to a point where they're not sure how to write a certain scene or moment or detail, so they stop writing altogether as they struggle to address it.  All that does is kill your moment and stymie your progress.  There's nothing wrong with plugging in a place-holder and coming back to it later.  My first drafts almost always contain a varying number of "ADD DESCRIPTION LATER"s, "BLAH BLAH BLAH" s, etc.

Remember that your first draft is all about getting what's in your head on paper, tout suite.  There's a reason it's often called the "vomit draft."  You're jus throwing all your ideas onto the page.  If you hit a snag, skip over it and keep writing. You'll fix it in the revisions.
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eldave1
Posted: November 7th, 2019, 10:58am Report to Moderator
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Quoted from Lon


This is great writing advice in general.  Lots of writers get to a point where they're not sure how to write a certain scene or moment or detail, so they stop writing altogether as they struggle to address it.  All that does is kill your moment and stymie your progress.  There's nothing wrong with plugging in a place-holder and coming back to it later.  My first drafts almost always contain a varying number of "ADD DESCRIPTION LATER"s, "BLAH BLAH BLAH" s, etc.

Remember that your first draft is all about getting what's in your head on paper, tout suite.  There's a reason it's often called the "vomit draft."  You're jus throwing all your ideas onto the page.  If you hit a snag, skip over it and keep writing. You'll fix it in the revisions.


For me that is certainly true - use to stare at the page for an hour trying to be perfect - now I just change the FONT to red and type what first comes to mind and come back to it later


My Scripts can all be seen here:

http://dlambertson.wix.com/scripts
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ReneC
Posted: November 7th, 2019, 4:20pm Report to Moderator
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Enemy Mine is a great example of this, but with just two characters and for a large part of the movie we don't know what the alien is saying.

I'd forego writing the dialogue and just do actor direction.

           ALIEN
(yells a gutteral threat)

           HUMAN
All right, I get it! Don't touch your eggs!


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FrankM
Posted: November 7th, 2019, 9:54pm Report to Moderator
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There's been some great advice here so far, and just about any of these options would work if a script is consistent with it.

A harder problem would be making unitelligible "English" because the POV character is an alien.


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