Wrestling with Glorfindel II: Three Makes a Crowd

Gargoyles, by Adam Baker

The photo above is entitled Gargoyles and is by Adam Baker. It is used in accordance with his Creative Commons license.

I’m pleased to report that the rewrite of The Night Girl passed the 40,000 word mark this past weekend. The first draft is complete up to the fifth chapter (roughly halfway), with things planned out and partially written out in the later chapters.

The reader my agent hired to look over The Night Girl gave me some excellent advice surrounding the nature of the world I was building. Here’s an excerpt from her report:

In terms of the rest of the story, the author needs to put a little more thought into the concept of goblins and humans sharing the same environment, and into the characteristics of the goblins and other creatures. He is building a world here, but we can’t see all of it yet. The author needs to think carefully about the goblins and their goals and aspirations, for want of a better phrase. How exactly do they fit into the human world? They aren’t quite discriminated against if humans don’t know they exist. Because their situation is central to the plot of the book, the reader must really understand their feelings, their differences from humans, and so on. And who are the goblins resting in suspended animation in the floor below Earthenhouse’s office? If he needs to make a lot of money to keep them, we need to see the reason why. As it is now, they are buried there but we have no sense of how many or who they are.

In the office scenes, the author has done a good job with the combination of office routine and wacky characters, particularly the hyper goblin twins drinking pots of coffee. The various goblins, trolls, and gargoyles could perhaps be condensed into a few memorable characters, though. It would be good if there were more individual descriptions of the goblins.

All this is important if Mr Earthenhouse’s actions at the end of the book are to make sense.

This advice has led to me not only adding as many details as I can about the world Perpetua and Earthenhouse operate in (Toronto the Weird), but it has led me to try and pull some of the horde of goblins and trolls forward into a smaller group of identifiable characters. I’ve been able to do this with the goblins, but something strange happened when I tried to do this to the trolls.

The goblins already had a number of distinctive characters for me to enhance, including the hyperactive Chim and Chim (now given the last name of Stonelaughter), the impish Soril who learns how to use a DVD player and the Shopping Cart Goblin who thus far has stubbornly refused to accept a name. For the trolls, there is only Howard. Part of this is due to the demographics of the world I was instinctively building here; it just felt right that there was one troll for roughly every ten goblins. But as I enhanced Howard’s character by having him appear earlier and take over bit parts that were handled by nameless trolls, I found to my surprise that the trolls practically vanished as a presence in the book.

The practise of consolidating characters is to avoid what Erin and I call “Glorfindel Syndrome”, where minor characters take up bit parts as they realistically would, but start to crowd out opportunities for us to see major characters function and grow. The name is taken from J.R.R. Tolkien’s elfin character of the same name, who rides out from Rivendell to meet the Hobbits and Aragorn, and takes Frodo back to the Elvish kingdom, facing down the Dark Riders along the way. In Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy, Arwen takes Glorfindel’s role, giving her valuable extra screentime. In the 1970s animated version, Legolas steps up to the plate, for roughly the same reason. Glorfindel is, basically, chopped liver.

But it’s worth noting that these are movie adaptations. The director and script writers have only a few hours, if that, in which to tell their tale to the audience; that’s not a lot of time for major characters to grow. J.R.R. Tolkien was writing an epic literary fantasy, and had pages and pages at his disposal. While my length is likely to be limited to around 60,000 words, I do have some extra space. And not only did consolidating the troll roles into Howard alter his character into something I think he wasn’t (it made him more capable than he should have been at the start of the story), the lack of two nameless trolls early in the story basically removed the whole troll ethnic group from the story.

So this became one of the few things that I changed from my original draft that I put back into the rewrite, after the rewrite was written. And it just feels right, even though I’m technically engaging in Glorfindel Syndrome. Sometimes, to get the sense of a crowd, you’ve got to make a crowd. Or… three.

Here, now, is the new scene introducing Howard to Perpetua and the readers.

“Miss Collins?” Earthenhouse’s voice snapped her out of her reverie. She looked up.

Earthenhouse motion to the mountain of stone with knuckles that touched the floor. “This is Howard. He’s a troll.”

“Troll,” drawled Howard, extending his heavy, shovel-like hand to Perpetua. She gingerly clasped a finger.

“He used to work in our security division,” said Earthenhouse. “Unfortunately, he took the word ‘bouncer’ a little too literally.”

“Bounce, bounce,” drawled Howard, his grin revealing ridges of stony teeth.

Perpetua swallowed hard, but smiled as she shook the outstretched finger. “Hello, Howard.”

“Miss Collins,” said Earthenhouse. He handed her a videocassette. “I need you to run today’s training session.”

She frowned at him. “Training session, sir?”

“Normally, I’d do it,” he said, “but I have a phone call with a client that I can’t postpone, so I can’t be in attendance. I… I believe the phrase is, ‘I need you to cover for me’?”

“But sir,” she said, “I’ve never trained anybody before—”

He shrugged. “Just do what I do: pop in the video and stand back.”

Stand back, she thought. Like they’d stampede the screen?

“Okay,” she said, taking the video and turning it over in her hands. The label had faded from long use. “When’s the session?”

“In ten minutes,” said Earthenhouse. He looked back at the waiting area. “I see some of our clients are lining up right now.”

She looked. The usual crowd was still there, but now all had taken up the seats. Stone hands were folded on stone laps, and glassy eyes stared back at her patiently. She raised an eyebrow.

“You know,” she said, “these guys were all here yesterday. And the day before that. I don’t recall any training sessions then.”

“Oh, I only hold them once a month,” said Earthenhouse. “They get pretty repetitive otherwise.”

She shot him a look. He shrugged; his shoulders cracked with the movement. “They seem to enjoy it.”

Perpetua took a deep breath. “Okay.”

Then Earthenhouse beckoned her down. She crouched and he whispered to her. “Get Howard to help you. It will help him feel useful after losing the bouncer contract.”

She looked up at Howard. He saw her staring and grinned. “Bounce?”

She looked back at Earthenhouse and nodded. Taking the video, she stepped to the training room, Howard following behind, crouching to get in through the door. A dozen eyes watched her eagerly and she could hear whispers of “Movie! Movie!”

The video equipment was already set up. Perpetua looked over the buttons, figured out how to turn things on, and slipped the videocassette into the VCR. Behind her, she could hear the goblins filing in. Chim and Chum, she noticed, stayed in the reception area, still chanting “Movie! Movie!” to themselves. One of the goblins closed the door on them discreetly.

She straightened up. “Get the lights, Howard,” she said.

Howard reached up and pulled down a halogen lamp, light socket and all, and held it out to her.

Perpetua stared at the offering. “Put the lights down, Howard,” she said at last.

The troll set down the shattered assembly. Above her, the wires trailing from the ceiling flashed and sparked.

I’ll get the lights,” said Perpetua, and used the eraser end of a pencil to flip the switch. The room darkened, and the sparks stopped.

“Oooooooh!” said Howard and the goblins in unison.

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