I woke up this morning thinking about the problem of trolls.
Then I accidentally stumbled into news and visuals from the west before my morning tea. My soul is rent by the fires sweeping through the west. Be safe, friends. I am holding hope and love in my heart for you.
On to the problem of trolls, which is: “Not all trolls…” And also, “Not all pixies…” I think I’ve finally figured out what my brain as been trying to tell me when it voices illogical concerns. “What if the dragon anti-defamation association gets upset by what you write?” That’s right, not content to worry about real people’s reactions to my writing, I also veer into worrying about fictional characters becoming upset with me.
But I think I’ve figured out my discomfort and it’s right there with “not all trolls…”
Last night I brainstormed for a short story I need to write for a class. This one will have trolls and pixies. I fell asleep trying to figure out the damage trolls would do to Memphis and why they’re so problematic. (“They’re big and scary. They smell bad. They don’t know how to eat a bagel carefully. The toss their Gu wrappers right in the street. The smell of barbecue drives them mad. Etc.)
I woke up this morning with aggrieved trolls in my brain. “Not all trolls…” the conversation began. I was horrified. Had I offended trolls?
Then my brain cleared of sleep and I realized that chances are there are no trolls and if there were they could go deal with all the other writers and all the D&D GMs who maligned them before I did.
But my fictional trollish visitors did force me to confront a point I’ve been dancing around for a few years. Once characters are defined by species characteristics or racial characteristics or religious characteristics, they cease being interesting, vibrant characters as individuals. They become dull weapons, targets, or victims. They become easy to hate because we don’t need to reckon with their potential humanity. We can leave our empathy behind.
I suspect that this is part of the appeal of trolls or byakhee or the Borg. Kill them before they kill you. Many good books are built on this concept. Harry Dresden doesn’t bother to worry that Red Court vampires might have some good members in them. Because there aren’t any good Red Court vampires. So the question is not, “should I kill this vampire?” it’s “how should I kill this vampire?”
I have no problem with that as a reader. I enjoy reading those books and will read every book Jim Butcher deigns to write. Jim Butcher is masterful at making villains into individuals. But through it all he opines that the difference between humans and monsters is that humans have free will. Monsters cannot be anything but monsters and thus remain instantly killable.
One of my other favorite authors, Lois McMaster Bujold, approaches this differently. From her first book, Barrayer, we are forced to see the enemy as not wholly evil, but redeemable. And as people who have made terrible choices but who can turn away at any point. I like that too as a reader.
As a writer, I think I need to veer away from structuring stories where everyone from a particular background is the same. So my trolls will have to be individuals, even in this short story. Some will be Gu packet litterers. Some not. Some will eat all the barbecue, some will save some for others. That’s what I need to feel comfortable with myself as I write.
What will remain the same throughout this story is that none of them will look good in a sparkling Elvis costume. The horror! The horror!
Be well, friends. And if you are in the path of the fires, please keep yourself and your family safe.