Thursday, January 30, 2014

Twitter Used for Writing Novels?

In 2010, something unusual happened: while I was at Barnes and Noble, one of our endcaps featured two novels written by Japanese students. That doesn’t sound altogether unusual, does it? Well, these
two novels had been written at 160 character increments –that’s not just text but spaces and punctuation, too- as these two Japanese students texted themselves their novels on the subway. These students found that their commute home from school was often lengthy (sometimes an hour or so at a time), so to pass the time, they would write their novel as one text message to themselves after another. Now Twitter is showing us how a writer can string a novel together from one chunk of 140 characters at a time next to another –this time with the public watching.

MicroBlogging Novel
A new phrase has been born of this idea: microblogging novel. A microblogging novel is the publishing of a novel is small, set-character-length increments. For example, microblogging through Twitter is in 140-length increments, and microblogging through Facebook is set in 300-character-length increments.

Flash Fiction
Now, in the creative writing world, there is something called Flash Fiction, which is a story-length or novel-length idea written with extreme brevity. Generally, Flash Fiction is considered to be a complete story that is written anywhere from 300-1000 words. Flash Fiction, however, is not a segment of a story or novel that happens to be 300-1000 words. It can’t be a piece of a novel, it can’t be part of a story, it can’t leave any questions or “loose ends.” A Flash Fiction story must contain an entire story arc (beginning, exposition, driving question, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement) within the 300 word and 1000 word boundary. Storytellers know that it’s not always easy to do, and love to rise to the challenge.

Is MicroBlogging Flash Fiction?
Writing a novel on Twitter could be Flash Fiction –or it could just be a novel. When a writer sets out to microblogging, they have already made some kind of declaration that the following posts (sometimes they may even venture to estimate for how long or for how many posts) are fiction. Now, Ernest Hemingway once said he wrote the shortest story at six words –“For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.”- but few authors set out to write stories that short or stories that can be contained in 140 characters. To that end, the writer of these Twitter stories can take as long as he or she needs to in order to write them. Maybe once a week the writer will post the next chunk of the story. Maybe the writer attempts this project much like Julie Powell’s Julie and Julia where she blogged about a Julia Child recipe every week for a year. The breadth of the project can be as long as the writer sets for his or herself, and to that end, MicroBlogging does not have to be considered Flash Fiction. After all, Flash Fiction defines the length of the writing project once complete, not the writing of that project. So if the writer sets out to write 1000 words max, then it is considered a Flash Fiction project via Twitter, but if the writer sets out to write more than 1000 words during the course of the novel-posting experience, then it is not considered a Flash Fiction piece.

Why MicroBlog?
Some readers wonder “why bother?” Why bother microblogging when the writer could just sit down and write a novel and have it published by a traditional publishing house? Even the Japanese students –though they wrote the whole novel by text messaging- did choose to have the novels published by a publishing house and not through any web-based interface that resembled self-publishing. The answer to this question may likewise be “why not?” We live in an age now where anything is possible with the use of technology. No longer is the novel-writing process limited to a pen and paper, to a typewriter, or to a general word processor on a computer. Now we can use posts in Twitter, posts in Facebook, blogs, emails, and even other tools like the “Notes” app on a smart phone. You could choose to type of a scene in a note document and then Share it via text message or email. If you use the Evernote app, your text is synched to other notes that you’ve left for yourself on your computer, making it easy to keep the information together (if you wanted to assemble the manuscript after it was complete). Evernote also gives you the ability to Share as a text message or an email, and also to Share on Facebook, or other social media options. Sometimes novelists need different options to be able to find the right way that works for them, and now with Twitter, apps, and technology, novelists have every option at their disposal.

Modeled After the Serial Novel
Some readers might think it really bold to write your novel with the whole world watching. In truth, that idea might even be scary to the novelist that is writing. What if a plot hole develops? What if you want to change something? What if you write yourself into a tangent and get stuck? (This is why sketching an outline might be a good place to start so that these public problems don’t happen.) Interestingly, this is not the first time that the idea of a developing serial novel has been popular. In fact, during the time in which serial novels were popular, authors has no idea that 150 years later, there would be such a thing as Twitter. Charles Dickens, author of Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol, Tale of Two Cities, and several more famous and award-winning novels wrote these famous works by publishing them serially. Every week for sometimes two years at a time, Dickens would publish another chapter to the story. Novel writing to the Victorians was very much like watching television is to us today: when the end of the story was coming, everyone knew it, and they put their lives on hold until they could have resolution for the end of the story.

Same Idea, Different Medium
Serial novels to the Victorians were the same as television is today, and not so different from the new Twitter novel told in a serial fashion. These are all the same because humans love to hear stories about other humans, no matter how the story develops, no matter how much of the story they get at a time. 

Do I have a Twitter? No.
Am I now considering it? Maaaaaaaybe...