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Trolls & the NYT Bestsellers

What do trolls and the New York Times bestseller list have in common?

More than you might think.

It is often stated that bullies act out of a lack of self-esteem. But it is postulated that the opposite is also true: early humans that were good at convincing others of their superiority were perched at the top of the social hierarchy and demeaned others to keep their lofty position. Their followers aped their behavior and adopted their opinions.

Malicious internet trolls tend to be narcissistic, perhaps sociopathic. They need to lash out at other people to make themselves feel better. They usually rely on the cloak of anonymity, but not always. Superstars can be just as guilty.

They know that participants tend to conform to the rules and mindset of the bullies. 
A highly dysfunctional troll can start an attack with stealth with no fear of real reprisal, unless they accidentally target a master hacker who is capable of coming after them with a return cyber-attack. They do this certain that they will gain followers.

If you know such a hacker, I'd like his/her number.

The problem is, people who would never consider themselves bullies, who would never intentionally hurt others, can be drawn into the fray. They may agree with the troll's position, not necessarily the way it was expressed. The troll could be a friend (virtual or real), a relative, or a coworker, but acquaintance is not necessary to gain support. People jump in for myriad reasons.

The opposite of the troll is the cooing elf. Positive posters are motivated by the same phenomena. When the top “elf” loves something, others rush in with praise in their desire to be part of the “in” group. Elves also adopt the opinions and behaviors of their leader.

That is how books that are inherently flawed and barely readable can rise to the top of the NYT bestseller list.

When an elf is attacked by a troll, the battle becomes a free-for-all, dragging in totally innocent bystanders. You end up with a gallows mentality. A faction of the population enjoys a good show, particularly a gruesome one. It is why crowds gather to cheer on combatants when a fight breaks out.

                            But the positive review elves don’t cause any harm, right?

On the contrary, rewarding bad behavior or false praise can be just as toxic as trolling. If friends, family, or total strangers who have never read the book jump in with five-star ratings, it skews public opinion. 

Is there a solution to this problem? 

Not entirely, but there are steps we can take.

It would be nearly impossible to eliminate the cloak of anonymity offered by a virtual world, but attempts are being made to discourage trolls. An administrator can take down any post they consider inappropriate, but how do they decide which posts are “appropriate?” It’s a thin line between abuse and freedom of opinion. You can report abusive messages or direct threats from a troll. The administrators can block the accounts, but that doesn’t keep the troll from assuming a new identity.

If the situation gets stressful, quickest and easiest way to cope is to unplug and refuse to engage. Bullies get bored when they no longer get a rise out of you. You may be tempted to delete your social media accounts. However, authors are encouraged to have a social media presence to market their work, so removing your online presence isn't the best option. Either way, you'll have a hard time getting the troll war erased on review sites. You may need to take a break for a while, until you no longer feel the need to throttle someone.

As for society as a whole, we could aim for higher standards of online behavior:

We can teach our kids (or students) to think for themselves and to consider very carefully before they post anything online.
Stop laughing.

We can teach them to never post a review until they can display a sufficient grasp of the language.
Please, for the love of literacy.

We can encourage civil discourse in all public arenas: the internet, television, radio, the printed press, congress.
I see your smirk.

We can encourage journalistic and reviewer integrity.

I can hear you howling.

We can stop "trading" or writing reviews for books we've never read or refuse to pay for fake reviews and social media "likes." You may mean well, but you are enabling and harming the integrity of the process.

Don't bother sending hate mail.

Short of rewiring human nature, there is no simple solution. We can only change one person's character at a time: our own.


Interjections are exclamations or parenthetical words that add color to your dialogue or internal dialogue. They are set off from the rest of the sentence with a comma or set of commas. They can be followed by an exclamation point. However, if the sentence is doing its job, you shouldn't need it.

Interjections express a gamut of emotions: surprise, doubt, fear, anger, hate, happiness, joy, glee, disgust, or sarcasm. They insult, incite, and ignite.

Here are a few examples (minus profanity, which is another topic).

All right
Far out
As if
Yeh, right
Dig it
Fair enough
Dang it
For real?
No way
Screw it
Lord have mercy
Big whoop

My YA series Mythikas Island was set in pre-written-history Greece. Not being able to reach for any of the usual curse words, insults, etc. felt like wearing a straight jacket. I ended up typing *insert insult/curse here* and developing a list of options later.

Here are a few tips when revising:

1.  As you go through your rough draft, it is okay to insert placeholders and fill them in later. You may want to put some thought into the types of insults and interjections you characters will use.

2. It is important that the interjections fit the time and place in a historical novel. Look up the first time your word or phrase was used. Nitpickers love to point out errors.

3. When you write fantasy or science fiction, developing unique interjections helps your story world come alive.

4. Avoid overuse. Strings of expletives or exclamation points are annoying. As you read through your rough draft, highlight the interjections. If you have too many packed together, space them out.

5. You can make them character specific. People living in the same place and time with little exposure to the outside world tend to use the same vocabulary. However, each character can have their favorites or quirks.

6. If you have a diverse cast, each can have their own set of interjections, perhaps in different langauges. Avoid stereotypes. 

7. Avoid clichés . You can twist existing interjections in new ways. 

8. Interjections change as time passes. There is no way to avoid dating your book with them.

9. You can't cut them all. Your story would be lackluster without a few strategically placed verbal punches.

10. They can be used for comic relief. Sometimes after a tense moment, you need a little levity.

If you invent unique injterjections, they may become part of our language or at least the language of your fans. They may even be added to the dictionary. You could be the author of a new catchphrase.

For more information on revision, pick up a copy of:

Revising Rhetorical Devices

Rhetorical devices are rich, fragrant, heady flavors. In cooking, a talented chef knows the right amount to add and what dishes a spice complements.

Writing rhetorical devices takes the same deft hand. As with compound or cumulative sentences, the rhetorical devices should be placed with precision and intention. They should be used at a moment requiring poignancy, pathos, joy, fear, tension or horror. The bulk of your construction should be simple and compound sentences. If not, your devices become so overwhelming, you reader chokes on them.

As you read through each chapter, underline rhetorical devices you have already inserted.

1) Is it in the right place for emphasis or placed there accidentally?  Make sure the rhetorical devices make the most impact. Take out the ones that distract at the wrong moment.

2) Highlight or circle the stress points of your chapter or scene. What does the moment call for? Which rhetorical device would best service that moment? 

3) Is it strong? Can it be strengthened?

4) Is the device overused or cliché abuse? 

5) Is it formatted correctly?

6) Does the rhetorical device add to the meaning of the moment? They should contain surprises, depth, twists, and punches.

You many never remember the titles of the devices, but keeping this list and consciously excavating your manuscript for them or sprinkling them in will lift you to master class writer.

Spicing Up Your Prose Part 6 of 6

Over the past few weeks, we have explored an exotic array of language spices starting with A. This week, we complete the collection with Z.

Simile compares two different things that are similar to each other using like and as. They often border on cliché. A hidden simile does not use like or as.

Jane curled up on the couch like a satisfied cat licking her lips.

Jane curled up on the couch, a satisfied cat licking her lips. (hidden)

Symploce uses anaphora and epistrophe in the same sentence or paragraph. It should appear once or twice in a manuscript for maximum impact and emotion.

Dick should have walked away. He should have put the diary down. He should never have read the shocking words. Jane had charmed him, confused him, and consumed him.

Synecdoche uses part of something to refer to the whole, a whole thing to refer to a part, a specific thing to refer to a generality, or a generality to refer to a specific thing. It is referring to a car as wheels, workers as hands, eyewear as glasses, and bandages as Band-Aids.

When it came to books, Jane preferred paper over plastic.

Tricolon repeats phrases, clauses, or sentences three times. If the phrases, clauses, or sentences increase in length with each repetition, it is called a tricolon crescendo.

It was a dark, dark, dark moment for them both.

The book was old, old and faded, old enough to be dangerous.

Zeugma ends a sentence with a last word or clause that doesn't fit in with the proposition. It offers a twist. It should end a paragraph for maximum effect.

Jane left with her book, her suitcase, and her pride.

Jane needed him and wanted him and wished him dead.

Next week, we will talk about how to use them and revise for them.

For the complete list of spices and other revision layers, pick up a copy of: