Twitter Fiction

There have already been several different attempts to bring fiction writing to Twitter. A couple come to mind:

  • 140novel: An attempt by Leo Laporte and the hosts of the Buzz Out Loud podcast to collaboratively write a work of fiction 140 characters at a time, apparently without knowing where the story was going beforehand. Obviously it only lasted two months and 36 tweets, but it was an interesting idea.
  • twitterfiction: Tiny works of fiction in each tweet. There’s no central story here, each tweet is separate from the others. User submissions are accepted. This one only lasted about two weeks and 35 tweets.

I have a new idea which I think is far more realistic and also a lot more interesting than these. One of the key elements of Twitter that the two ideas above don’t take into account is the real-time nature of Twitter. We’re all familiar with stories told in real-time or near real-time like the TV show 24. Why not try this on Twitter? Of course the core of the story would be text, but Twitter easily supports pictures, taken on cellphones for instance, that can be published instantly. Video could be done in a similar way if desired. 

You could take it a step further and have a multi-character story where each character gives a first-person account of the story in real time, all simultaneously. The chance for a complex, intense narrative is really amazing here. Perhaps some of the characters would be on Twitter (with photos and video where appropriate) and others off Twitter and only referred to by those we’re reading, and we’d be left to piece together the full narrative J. J. Abrams-style.

The story would be an event, live, happening right then and there on Twitter, just like the debates or other nationwide happenings. The author could just say, “My next story will begin on November 3rd at 7pm. I will announce the initial characters you must follow on November 3rd at 3pm. This story will take two hours.” If desired, the characters could then reveal more Twitter characters in their tweets as the story progressed, and your cast of characters could grow. As I’ve already hinted, I think this format would work best for fairly short stories and happenings. It seems to me that anything over a few hours long approaches a breaking point and forces the reader to break their immersion during the story. I wouldn’t want to watch a story in real-time over six months unless it was specially-written and appropriate to that kind of timeframe.

Another aspect of Twitter that could be brought into this particular fiction medium is that of the ARG, or alternate reality game. I’m not aware of anyone using Twitter for an ARG, but it seems so obvious that I would guess it has already happened multiple times. If the writer chose to incorporate ARG elements, the Twitter characters could actually respond to readers as the story happened, interacting with them, calling them on the phone or receiving phone calls from them, and encouraging people with whom they were communicating to also relay messages to the rest of the community, thus pulling chosen Twitter users into the fiction and making them part of the story. I suppose at some point in the story readers wouldn’t be able to tell which participants were normal Twitter users and which were planted actors and actresses playing fictional characters. But that’s part of the ARG idea. It enhances the story and makes it far more real, and thus more fun.

Clearly, even a fairly simple story with no ARG elements that was an hour or two long would require a talented writer and a small team of people to pull off, especially if it incorporated multimedia and more than one character. No one said great art is easy. Making history isn’t easy either.

8 Comments

  1. Dylan
    Posted October 3, 2008 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    Dude this is a great idea! It might take some work to hash out details but as soon as I read your post I had all these ideas flying around in my mind. It would be nice if someone could host a web site for each story that is being created so that you could easily catch up on things you miss and follow complex threads (which I find hard to do with just the Twitter interface). But anyway I think you are on to something here. Putting Anathem on your ipod get you thinking about this? :-))

  2. Posted October 3, 2008 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

    +1. I don’t think that a long plot arc with more occasional tweets is out of the question. Each tweet would be like an episode. People could follow their favorite characters. There could also be Geo-tagging, delicious links, blogs, IRL events or clues that fans can find, and such. I think we need a tool for creating and running such fiction.

  3. Posted October 4, 2008 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    If you want a long story, @publicdomain is tweet-publishing Moby Dick.

    I like your idea. Let me know when it launches.

  4. Posted October 4, 2008 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    As you can imagine, I love these sorts of ideas. Though I have to admit, I had to let this one percolate awhile before I started to like it.

    I think one of the biggest obstacles for me is the mechanics of how the story is told and what characters can say. Are you just twittering a story? Or are you using Twitter as the medium? Is it supposed to be true-to-life Tweets? In which case a grandfather character would be kind of ridiculous (unless it was in the character’s nature to try out new techie things for people a quarter their age). How do you communicate things that would be unnatural in a tweet?

    I know you’d have to get into it to figure it out, but these are the kinds of questions I’d struggle with.

  5. Aaron Kardell
    Posted October 13, 2008 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Not sure if you follow TechCrunch, but someone had a similar idea they posted about today:

    http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/10/13/can-twitter-authors-capture-the-magic-of-lonelygirl15/

  6. Posted December 14, 2008 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    I was searching to see if anyone had this idea. I think you are right about everything except the time frame. I think the story should unfold in real time, but over a period of weeks or months – gather an audience who are constantly checking their twitter pages for new updates. Tweets would be written as if the characters were actually writing them in real time. A lot would have to go unsaid, or maybe gaps could be filled in on a blog. If anyone is interested in actually doing this, as a writer, I would love to give it a try. Seems like it would work out best as a collaboration, with each writer twittering one or more different characters.

  7. Posted January 13, 2009 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Great post–i’m attempting what i believe may be the first shot at a long work of literary fiction on twitter. i’m calling it a real-time novel because i’m not working from a preexisting manuscript but typing the sentences as they come, usually a short batch or chapter (5-10 tweets) at a time. it’s been a great exercise so far and seems to be gaining energy. not sure about a long plot arc . . .but who really cares? most writers are still writing the same style Flaubert perfected centuries ago. time for the “realistic” novel to change.

    would love followers and feedback (who doesn’t):

    http://twitter.com/dahveed_miller

  8. Posted January 13, 2009 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Very cool, David! Good luck! I’ll be reading.

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  1. By Blog: Josh Lewis » War of the Worlds 2.0 on October 6, 2008 at 12:26 am

    […] Blog: Josh Lewis Keep your eyes on that horizon. Skip to content About Josh « Twitter Fiction […]

  2. […] Josh Lewis reports on an apparently now complete collaborative novel, 140novel, composed of Twitter tweets, as well as twitterfiction in which each tweet is (or was — no tweets in more than a year) a self-contained work of fiction. […]