Computational Methods in the Humanities
25. September 2011
The term "trolling" in regard to the internet (as opposed to fishing) refers to the act of intentionally provoking emotions in people by baiting the text with rude, inappropriate, or otherwise outrageous suggestions. A famous example of a troll is "My Immortal", a fan-fiction loosely based on the popular Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.
Written by a girl who identifies herself as Tara Gillespie, "My Immortal" is a 44-chapter story focusing on the main character "Enoby [sic] Dark'ness Dementia Raven Way" who is a Satanic goffik [sic] vampire attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where all of the Harry Potter characters have been moved to Slytherin house, given new names (such as "Vampire" and "B'loody Mary Smith") with the sole exception of Draco Malfoy, who is left relatively unaltered, and are Satanic bisexuals who sing in goffik [sic] bands, slit their wrists (but don't proceed to die) and go about their Hogwarts daily lives in an everyday manner, hating "Hilary f–Duff" and the only Gryffindor student, a "prep" girl named Britney. The text itself is littered with errors of all shapes and sizes, from spelling and grammar to mistakes so heinous it's difficult to determine how anyone could have produced them. Tara claims that her friend Raven is helping her edit the story in various author's notes at the beginning of many of the chapters, "brw fangz 2 ma frend raven 4 hleping me!" For a time, Raven appears to be doing this relatively well with respect to spelling and basic grammar, however as the story progresses she appears to be making less and less of an effort. Tara and Raven's friendship experiences some rocky moments which Tara reflects in her storyline- when she is mad at Raven, Raven's character within the story suffers.
"What makes 'My Immortal' a troll?" What are the characteristics of the story that differentiate "My Immortal" from other fan-fiction which is, while non-canon with the Harry Potter franchise, nonetheless more well received than 'My Immortal'? By analyzing every error in grammar, spelling, word choice, and noting references to non-Potter content and major differences between "Immortal" and Potter, we believe we can determine the traits that set this story apart from other fanfiction set in the Potter universe, and what criteria and rules can be used to make a story a troll, in a Gillespian manner.
The first approach to be taken is the full markup of the story; all spelling mistakes should be noted, as well as the proper word to be used in place of them. Grammar mistakes are identified, as well as omitted content, and characters are tracked and interactions are monitored, among a grand array of other aspects. Once the document has been marked up, we believe we will be able to determine the techniques employed by Tara Gillespie in writing the troll fiction. These rules will then be able to serve as a set of guidelines for writing stories that follow the style of "My Immortal." Our ultimate goal then is to display these guidelines as a final product, but also to show how they are employed in "My Immortal" by providing the text in the final project, alongside our lengthy list of guideline rules, and a translated copy of the story if all of the trolling content were not present. The split pane view would show the working document and the perfectly corrected document side-by-side, and would match up as one pane is scrolled, so that the overall content is side by side at all times. The guidelines are applied to the working document; by enabling or disabling a certain rule, all instances of that given rule's usage in the working document would either be rendered or corrected, so that the story could be dynamically fixed or corrupted depending on which trolling guidelines are set as visible, to display the individual effectiveness of one rule over another, or which rules are the most effective. In a sense, this would provide a source-based grammar for the writing of such stories, derived from and demonstrating examples of the individual usages.
In order to accomplish this, we plan to complete our first, rough markup of the full texts by the end of October. Throughout November, we will be creating the user interface and performing a second sweep of markup to fine tune any problems that arise. By December we should be ironing out problems and putting on the final touches.