Twitter Fiction

Creativity comes in all different shapes and sizes, and it constantly adapts to fit in with the societal playground that it finds itself in.  Music has evolved to fulfill highly targeted niches, writing has become shorter and shorter to fit the average lifestyle, art is becoming more and more abstract as we stretch the possibilities of what can and can't be, and the list goes on and on...

The greatest creatives, the ones whose work will stand the test of time, had the ability to tune in so carefully to the undertones of their particular era and produce pieces that resonated very strongly with the ambience of the time.  Thus, connecting most deeply with their audience and writing themselves into the 'yearbooks' of those eras and places - only to be drawn out again in the often ill-advised practice of nostalgia.

Now one of the most crucial cogs in that creative wheel was the medium through which those artists spread their message.  Whether it was the canvas, the piano or the cave wall - the medium and format of the message was vitally important for it to spread.  While not as important as the message itself, the distribution format said a lot about the calibre, reach and tone, as well as facilitating mass-scale viral infection - as technology and the mapping of our social graphs has accelerated.

In this vein, I read about an interesting experiment performed by a famous author by the name of Jennifer Egan.  Back in 2012 she was looking for a way to use Twitter to form a new outlet for her creativity, a new way to express herself.  The 140-character limit definitely puts quite a premium on the words you choose - so this challenge really attracted her.  Twitter, by it's nature, cuts out all the unnecssary fluff, just leaving the real crux of it!  (Although judging by many accounts I follow, I may be mistaken on this...)

After much thought, she decided to take action on her plan by putting together the experiment.  Putting her head down, she pulled out storyboard sheets - which are usually used by directors and videographers to map out their filming plans.  However, instead of sketching pictures in the blocks, she would fill them with words.  140 characters in each square.

Under the constraints of these blocks, slowly she started to write a short story, but one told in extremely short bursts - getting rid of the flowery adjectives and exaggerated descriptions.  The story was called 'Black Box'.  On completion, she went to 'The New Yorker' magazine and pitched them the idea - to publish the short story on Twitter.  One tweet at a time.

Naturally there must have been significant pushback on the idea, because this was definitely turning the traditional novel publishing roadmap on its head.  However, to their credit, after much persuasion, they decided to go along with it and set up the @NYerFiction account where the story was going to be 'broadcast' for one hour every week on Twitter.  A tweet would be sent every minute and the story would be told on that account over a couple of weeks.

I find it a fascinating piece of creativity - tune in, Twitter fiction.

Mixing the magic of a short story, the serialisation of TV shows, as well as the instant feedback loop of Twitter - would definitely produce an interesting result.  And so it did!  Readers found the experience full of suspense - because for the first time ever, the speed with which you read the story was not up to you.  The speed at which you got to the next line was completely out of your control when you 'tuned in' during that hour, and a natural anticipation built up.  I really wish I had been aware of it at the time because I think it would be a very interesting experience.

While the experiment wasn't as successful as Egan hoped, and there are still many people strongly against the use of Twitter for creative publishing like this, it is still a fascinating concept to look at.  What other forms of expression are going to be created as our tools evolve?  We have seen the incredible rise of the 6-second-video format with Vine and Instagram.  We have seen the return of animated gifs to the world of memes.  As our technology changes over time, new possibilities for spreading a message or telling a story will spring up and those that understand it first are are able to execute on it, should be able to find a brand new audience with fresh pairs of eyes and ears.

What is to come?

WritingBarry Morisse