Thursday, 15 March 2012

Characters using sign language in dialogue

Caron Garrod asked a very interesting question.

One of my characters is deaf, and I am not sure how to set out when she is speaking in sign language. At the moment, I am putting these conversations into a completely different font (Bradley Hand 16) and not using speech marks. Is this right?

I don’t think there is a set rule about how to show someone speaking in sign language, but I would suggest using normal speech punctuation and adding narrative such as: her fingers flying in her anxiety to get her point across. I’m sure you can come up with better wording, but hope you understand what I mean. This isn’t needed every time she speaks, just occasionally to jog the memory of the reader that she is using sign language.

Anything which reminds someone it’s just a story and stops them from losing themselves in the book should be avoided. The important thing is that your readers realise the character is deaf without being taken out of the story because you’re using a different font. If the characterisation is done well, your readers won’t forget.

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  1. Interesting post, Lo, as usual. In one of my novels, I had the character struck "mute by visitation of God" (legal term) early on and communicating via mobile phone screen.

    But I didn't change the dialogue format and simply kept reminding the reader of his "flying fingers" and the frustrating slow speed of written communication.

  2. It's essential the reader doesn't 'see' the author at work and I always think any change in font for a character shouts out 'author pulling strings'. Be interesting to see if other writers agree or disagree.

  3. With ebooks, fonts might get changed, so there's also that concern.
    Good reply with the suggestion about mentioning hands.

  4. Thanks for commenting. You're right about the e-book concern.