Yes, denizens of the Twitterverse, please tell me what you ate for lunch today. I’m riveted.
Alright, I apologize for the potshot. Even the most hamfisted satirist can muster Twitter snark. However, I also believe even the most tweet-averse can admit that the social network has proven its uses. Mock if you wish the more trite recordings of daily life, but for breaking news and instant reaction, you will find few sources better than the tweetstream.
But this is all grounded in reality. (Or as close to “reality” as you get on social networks.) What happens when Twitter goes fictional?
Now, certain genres have taken to Twitter like fish to water. Parodists proliferated, and the daring and debauchery of the fake celebrities resulted in the necessity of “verified accounts” within two years of the social network’s introduction. Even now, with the real McCoys marked with blue check marks, parody accounts continue to be an art form – if you’re a hockey fan, look no further than Fake Alex Semin for proof.
Poets, too, have willingly plied their trade on Twitter. To poets, more accustomed to set structures than their skittish cousins in prose, the 140-character limit provided just another challenge. This April, NPR celebrated National Poetry Month with a Twitter poetry series.
Fiction, though, has had a harder time finding its place on the social network. But why? We know writers can deal with word economy. Ernest Hemingway once (allegedly) wrote this six word short story: “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.” Short even as a tweet – 107 characters to spare!
The British Science Fiction Association ran a Tweetfiction contest in March asking for sci-fi and fantasy stories written in less than 140 characters. More than 1,200 entries were recorded, including this one by Steven Moffat, lead writer and executive producer of Doctor Who: “The worm became an idea, which hid itself in words, until it could climb, devouring all, through the eye of the reader of this tweet.”
My favorite of the three winners, from @Effulgent_One, reads: “Australia remained upside-down and Greenland was nowhere to be seen, but Lily decided it was close enough to declare the world saved.”
Sure, I’m still unconvinced that Twitter will work as a medium for disseminating longer stories. See the example of Jennifer Egan, who with the New Yorker in May delivered a short story through the magazine’s Twitter account. Over 10 days. In 60 installments per day. I’m sorry, but I just don’t have that kind of attention span. Also, the impermanent nature of the news feed and the fact that tweets run in reverse chronological order makes it hard to keep a flow – or an audience.
Perhaps if a multi-tweet story was written with the medium of Twitter in mind… For example, we don’t try to force mystery novels into the form of epic poems. If writers considered the constraints – and the possibilities – the medium offers, we could get a better result.
But whether you see potential, whether you count these forays into Twitter fiction as successes or failures, Twitter does indisputably have one thing going for it: an audience. You’ll find readers for your story, whether it’s 140-character flash fiction or a serialized tweetstream. Believe me, when your competition is that guy tweeting about his seventh burrito of the week (#Chipotle), your followers will see your efforts as a welcome addition to the news feed.