Twitter is a place for telling stories

Friday, 25 May 2012

In the little bit of spare time I have outside of Twitter I like to write fiction. That’s why when I came to Twitter I volunteered to help work with authors and publishers about how best to use Twitter.

Something I’ve long admired is the flexibility the Twitter platform provides. It can be used for all kinds of storytelling, which is one of the things that makes working with authors on Twitter so fun. For fiction writers, Twitter is a big blank canvas with millions of readers available in an instant. I always get excited when an author begins to really play with Twitter and format. Teju Cole’s “Small Fates” are a great example of this: self-contained 140 character stories of life — and often, how it ends.

So I’m especially excited about Jennifer Egan’s new short story “Black Box”, which the New Yorker fiction department is serializing on Twitter. Yes, Egan is a Pulitzer Prize winner, and that’s pretty awesome. Yes, it’s the New Yorker’s fiction department, and that’s awesome too. But there’s more: this story is so good!

Egan’s rationale for a story in Tweets is very compelling:

Several of my long-standing fictional interests converged in the writing of “Black Box.” One involves fiction that takes the form of lists; stories that appear to be told inadvertently, using a narrator’s notes to him or herself. My working title for this story was “Lessons Learned,” and my hope was to tell a story whose shape would emerge from the lessons the narrator derived from each step in the action, rather than from descriptions of the action itself….I’d also been wondering about how to write fiction whose structure would lend itself to serialization on Twitter. This is not a new idea, of course, but it’s a rich one—because of the intimacy of reaching people through their phones, and because of the odd poetry that can ha ppen in a hundred and forty characters.

I love that: “the odd poetry that can happen in a hundred and forty characters.” Twitter’s character limit isn’t a constraint so much as it’s a creative filter. It brings out the inner editor, makes us fine-tune our language to become more powerful. Even when you use multiple Tweets to tell a story, each individual Tweet contains ts own story.

Egan’s format here, emphasizing the mental list, works incredibly well with Tweets. While writing fiction on Twitter may not be new, this is definitely a big step in an original direction. We can’t wait to see where this story goes next.

Follow @Nyerfiction to see the next installments of “Black Box”, and follow @twitterbooks for updates about the world of writing on Twitter.

Posted by Andrew Fitzgerald, Manager, Editorial Programming (@magicandrew)

*Editor's note: As of November 2017, Twitter has increased the character count of Tweets in certain languages to make it easier to share what’s happening.


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