The Immortal project was initially conceived in a tiny college dorm room, when Jacob remembered that he had a hard copy of the story in a binder. From there we began with the idea that we would be able to perform textual analysis of the story to determine whether or not it was a troll, and perform some form of authorship attribution on the text - to determine who Tara Gillespie, the story's inscrutable author, was.
Pretty soon we realized that a) This story is obviously a troll and b) The Internet is too vast of an ocean to possibly pinpoint the identity of a fanfiction's author. Our goal transitioned into, how does Ms. Gillespie provoke so much response in her readers - what made the story so infamous? Our markup became that which targeted elements of style as well as elements of plot and character relations, as things we considered to be importantly startling about the text.
The core, basic element in our text is the <sp> element, which describes a spelling mistake and has an attribute for its intended value. The <sp> can contain no other element. For any reader of the story, spelling mistakes are a huge part of what make the story so laughable. But there are many other lexical and plot devices that contribute equally to the mood of the story. In the process of working, we developed tags for grammar mistakes, omitted content (including any kind of word or punctuation), excess content (to be removed), and rearrangement of text (for logical purposes).
The reasons for the lexical mark-up are relatively self-explanatory. But our other tags may not be. We marked up characters, dialogue, and sex, all for purposes of detecting the occurrences of characters in relation to the plot, relationships between characters, and what other contributions they made to the story as a whole. A significant factor in Gillespie's success at provoking reader response is the interactions between her characters, and their existence as characters in the original Harry Potter story, or other stories. For example, Tom Satan Bombadil has his origins in The Lord of The Rings series, and Morty McFly originates from the Back to The Future movies. These characters are themselves external references, but we also developed a tag for external references to look at what kinds of popular culture Gillespie was trying to draw upon.
One of the most important factors in our observations is that at the time My Immortal was written, fans could write reviews of the story that were publicly posted on the website. Since Gillespie includes author's notes at the beginning of every chapter, and almost always mentions the act of reviewing, we can infer that her writing will react in sympathy to the reactions of her viewers. Following is a list of some of the observations we've had as a result of markup using specific elements and their attributes.
Spelling mistakes are by far the most common and abused elements of the story. Although occasionally Tara exploits poor grammar within the story, for the most part her sentences are well formed and relatively complex in structure. This contrast between Tara's grammatical talent and lexical disability makes the reader aware that the author is capable of writing well, but unwilling to do so. This is a key element in any troll, but pulled off very well in this story. Along the same derivation of thought we can look at Tara's use of words we labeled "malapropers": a word used in place of one that would fit logically in the same position in the text, and that very similarly resembles it. These are often homophones (which we made a separate tag for), but not necessarily. The most provoking uses of malapropers are when the author will use what some may call a "big word," some rare part of the English vocabulary rarely encountered except for in rich prose, and use it in place of a common word. The reader is immediately surprised by the complexity of the word used, especially if it approaches making sense in the given context, and then perturbed by the irony that the author has a wealth of knowledge about the English language and chooses not to employ it, except for in a facetious manner. The following is a good example of this type of creative word choice:
"I have to tell you the fucking perdition."
Here, perdition, meaning eternal damnation of the soul, fits well into the gothic, vampiric, suicidal and other tropes of the story, but is not actually intended to be said in its context. The sentence was spoken dialogue by Professor Trevolry, who was instead telling a prediction, not a perdition. A few lines later, this becomes even more (or perhaps less) clear, as Trevolry looks into a crucible (crystal) ball to make said >prediction.
"She started to look into a black crucible ball."
While the ball could be described as crucible, the reader can smell the fishy appearance of these sorts of words. One interesting observation that was quickly made by viewing the chart representing spelling mistakes 'By Chapter,' is that malapropers, after having little to no usage, suddenly appear in the text about halfway through, at chapter 26. We can gauge that Tara might have responded to interaction with her fans writing reviews on the story. Fans, having a tendency to comment on the most outrageous, likely would have commented on the instigating nature of her earlier uses of malapropers, and inspired her to actively use them as a form of spelling mistake.
Simple quantitative information we were able to generate using digital tools provides shocking evidence of the author's efforts at inciting an emotional response from her readers. In total, there were approximaly 5,200 spelling mistakes in My Immortal, accompanied by nearly 700 grammar mistakes (and more, when accounting for our insertion of punctuation which were not tagged as grammatical errors). An impressive number of these occurred in chapters 41 and 42, easily the longest chapters in the story, something also readily observable in the 'By Chapter' graph.
Using our graphs in combination allows for some new insight on Gillespie's trolling methodologies and could possibly clear up confusion about certain outliers. Anomilies in chapter-by-chapter spelling count can be dissected in the 'By Sentence' graph upon selection of the respective chapter. Also, seeing the most commonly used mistake in a given chapter (the tallest bar in the 'By Chapter' graph), the occurrence of this mistake can be followed in the sentence-by-sentence graph more closely.
The <remove>, <redact>, and <omitted> tags are all used for editorial purposes; to make the revised version of the story less nonsensical and more grammatically correct, we devised these methods of rearranging words, removing extra content, and inserting clearly missing elements of the text. Much of what we ended up removing were extra words jutting into the logic of a sentence, and the most commonly inserted items were commas and quotation marks, due to the frequent absence of organizational punctuation.
There are 35 unique characters in "My Immortal," but the balance between the prevalence of characters is highly skewed. Of the 5,580 total mentions of characters – either as passing references, character dialogues, pronouns, or what have you – 2,021 of those are by/of Ebony alone; Draco Malfoy comes in second with 792 occurrences. This startling difference between the two most prevalent features of any kind in the story is made more significant when noted that Ebony appears in all 44 chapters of the story, but Draco appears in 41 out of the 44. Although the story is told in first person, which should be taken into account when comparing these two figures, the sheer imbalance of the characters throughout the story is still inexcusable.
Furthermore, there are 761 instances of dialogue in the story, with approximately 300 of those spoken by Ebony. Draco Malfoy, the second most vocal character, follows with 78 instances. As for length of quotes, only 489 of the 761 instances of dialogue in the story are longer than one word. No character speaks more than Ebony, and in reading the story, it is easily apparent without actual consideration. But due to the prevalence of... Ebony, for lack of a better portrayal... and due to the nature of first-person stories in general, most of the story itself takes places outside the extraneous dialogue of the story.
Tara uses references extensively throughout the story, with almost 1000 references made in total and over 100 unique references, excluding those characters like Tom Satan Bombadil and Marty McFly. Including these two, the count rises beyond 1000. Obviously, Tara's use of references in the story is significant.
Many of these references relate to the gothic, satanic and other tropes mentioned earlier in regard to malapropers. These tropes have been something very commonly mocked on the internet, even since the time of this story's creation - if one thinks of the stigma associated with the vampiristic Twilight series, they can get a picture of what is being mocked here. By exaggerating an obsession with figures in goth, punk, satanistic, and other communities in the real world, Tara instills anger in members of them, and humor in those who mock them. For example, the reference Gerard Way, lead singer of My Chemical Romance, is a favorite of the main character Ebony, and already appears in the first chapter.
"I'm not related to Gerard Way, but I wish I was because he's a major fucking hottie."
Other references simply relate back to the original story of Harry Potter, but obliterate any contextual basis of referencing them. Objects like horcruxes, the time turner, various potions and spells, and plenty of settings taken from the story are all stripped of their contextual value and transformed into 'goffikally' endowed, Gillespian entitities.
Despite the seeming prevalence of sex and kissing throughout the story, there are (relative to the story as a whole) few actual instances of sex or kissing. When there are, the tags <sex> and <kiss> respectively are used, to denote the action. The placement of these elements is rather fluid, as the act of kissing or of sex has the capability of being contained in a single sentence, or over the course of multiple paragraphs. In part because of the portrayed nature of Tara's bisexuals, and also because of her nigh-erotica usage of sexual acts to further plot points, sex and kissing can occur between any two or more characters. The three most frequent couplings to occur (or be mentioned), however, would be Ebony/Draco, Draco/Vampire, and Ebony/Vampire. This actual love triangle becomes the sole focus of the plot for a decent portion of the story as a whole.
The use of <sex> and <kiss> has the ability to explicitly denote interactions and relations (because those two are not the same thing in this story) between two (again, or more) characters. But because it requires the actual act of sex or kissing to be taking place, it has a limitation that it cannot be used to denote mentions of the act of sex or kissing – it does not have the ability to be used when Ebony refers to "losing [her] virility to Draco." To remedy (not fully, but at least capture these mentions), a reference for "havingSex" was created, and used any time something sexual is mentioned. "havingSex" is used 37 times in the story, as opposed to the 11 instances of explicit <sex>. <kiss>ing occurs 23 times. But in the way the story is written, these numbers seem significantly below the expected.
Articles of clothing are extensively described in this story, which we've tracked with <attire>. These come in a small number of colors and include a large number of band t-shirts. Chapters include on average around 6 articles of clothing, and one chapter has an outstanding 35 mentions of attire. Typically a character's entire outfit will be described, but these outfits generally have little coordination and would be quite the sight to see.
Anyway when I got better I went upstairs and put on a black leather minidress that was all ripped on the ends with lace on it. There was some corset stuff on the front. Then I put on black fishnets and black high-heeled boots with pictures of Billie Joe Armstrong on them. I put my hair all out around me so I looked like Samara from the Ring (if u don't know who she iz ur a prep so fuk off!) and I put on blood-red lipstick, black eyeliner and black lip gloss.
Here Tara combines unlikely elements black leather and lace and includes references to Billie Joe Armstrong and Samara to bombard the reader's imagination. Tara frequently references outfits having corset stuff, although she never describes what exactly this entails. Clothes are frequently made of unlikely materials, for instance once Enoby is mentioned wearing a leather bra, and there are a few instances of fishnets made of leather. Throughout the story, there are a total of 249 articles of clothing, 112 of which are Ebony's. Yet some of the most entertaining images are of the other characters.
She was weaving a ripped gothic black dress with ripped stuff all over it and a lace-up top thing and black pointy boots. So were Crab and Goyle.
By implying that Crab and Goyle are wearing dresses, Tara trolls the reader quite effectively.
The combination of the elements discussed above create the unique character of this story which makes it so inflammatory. The beginning chapters are relatively benign, consisting of less than 10 percent errors. As the story progresses, however, the errors become more prevalent and make up a more significant portion of each chapter. Chapter 38, for example, is 45% errors. Yet, when these are corrected, the story remains a troll. The extensive use of references, the ridiculous sexual and romantic relations, and the bizarre character names remain to antagonize the reader. It is thus the content itself, compounded by the poor spelling and grammar, which create such a response in readers from all backgrounds.
Supporting our previous assertion that Tara adjusts her writing style in response to reviews received, we can see there is a fairly steady increase in the number of references used in each chapter, one chapter containing as many as 79 references spread over only 81 sentences. Such a high concentration of content which is irrelevant to the world of Harry Potter is remarkable. Part of what makes fanfiction appealing is its expansion of a particular fandom's (such as Harry Potter's) universe beyond the base work. So by largely ignoring this in favor of real world bands like My Chemical Romance and Good Charlotte serves as a slap in the face to readers. Tara exploits this to the fullest with her extensive use of external referencing in "My Immortal."