Electric Literature will begin a new venture in microserialization by ‘tweeting’ Rick Moody’s new story, Some Contemporary Characters, from November 30th to December 2nd.  Mr. Moody wrote the story expressly for Twitter. 

Rick Moody  

As Andy Hunter, Editor in Cheif of Electric Literature remarked in his announcement of the Twitter story:   

It is broken into bursts 140 characters or less, each clearly labored over with a precision and lyricism that floored us.

 Rick went head-to-head with the 140 character limitation of Twitter and used it as a source of creative inspiration. It reminds us of the film The Five Obstructions, wherein an artist’s acceptance of an arbitrary constraint leads to innovation. We feel Rick has taken something that could seem gimmicky – “Twitter-fiction” – and created something transcendent.

The Four Fingers of Death book coverRick Moody is one of the most celebrated American writers of his generation.  He is the author of four novels, three collections of stories, and a memoir, The Black Veil which won the PEN/Martha Albrand award for the Art of the Memoir.. In 1994, he published The Ice Storm, which became a best seller and was made into a feature film of the same name, directed by Ang Lee.  His new novel, The Four Fingers of Death will be published in July 2010. He also plays music in The Wingdale Community Singers, whose new album, Spirit Duplicator, is out now.We had the opportunity to ask Rick about Some Contemporary Characters and the challenges this new medium presents to authors.

FPP:  What inspired you to write a Twitter story?

RM:  I think my contempt for Twitter is what inspired it, initially. In general, I think the way to describe the world is to get longer not shorter. Twitter, by virtue of brevity, abdicates any responsibility where real complexity is concerned, because it forbids length. This seemed to me like a challenge, then: how to get complex in a medium that is anathema to complexity and rigor. And a challenge is always thrilling.

FPP:  What is the most difficult part of writing a story 140 characters at a time?

RM:  That’s it’s 140 characters at a time! Is that not difficult enough? It’s very difficult to get real traction and real change into that space.

FPP:  What is essential to carrying the story line in this new species of storytelling?

RM:  I think you have to imply a lot of story because there’s just not that much action you can get into the character-count box. You can’t dramatize a scene so much on Twitter. Or, you have to cut up scenes into the little hunks available. To the extent that you can imply action rather than depicting it, you’ll have more room available for doing other bits of fictive work. Description, dialogue, character, and so on.

FPP:  How does character development change in the Twitter format?

RM:  It didn’t change that much for me. It’s still central to this piece, as it most often is, in my work.

FPP:  Did you create Some Contemporary Characters as a Twitter story originally or take a full blown story and trim it down for the Twitter format?

RM:  It was absolutely written ground up on Twitter, for Twitter, about Twitter, with the character counter page open the whole time, to keep me from going OVER.

FPP:  Would you consider using Twitter as a means to preview future stories for your readers?

RM:  Never say never. But I sort of think that if you mean to use Twitter well you should use it from the start, rather than carving up hitherto existing text to fit into its strictures. That seems slightly obscene to me. It’s cheating.

FPP:  What did you learn as an author from creating “Some Contemporary Characters”?

RM:  That, despite my contempt for Twitter, it IS sort of like writing haiku all day long. And I like writing haiku. Twitter’s brevity, that is, started to have some sublime qualities.

FPP:  Do you think micro-serialized Twitter stories can find a permanent place in literary fiction or is the format too restrictive to be viable long term?

RM:  It remains to be seen, really, because the form is still in its infancy. I’m betting it’s a flash in the pan. I’m betting Twitter itself is a flash in the pan, and that as soon as video is more readily available a lot of these text-based media on the web will be a thing of the past. That’s good, because the word “tweet” is really embarrassing.

FPP:  Are you planning to do more Twitter stories in the future?

RM:  As of right now, I am not. But you never know.


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Nick BelardesAs social media, like Facebook and Twitter, become more embedded into our lives, it seems only natural that writers would begin exploring how to use them as a new literary medium.  At first glance, it doesn’t seem feasible or sensible to consider a service like Twitter as a writing vehicle; after all what can you possibly say in 140 characters.  But, as Sarah Schmelling recently noted in the Huffington Post:

Twitter, too, is full of stories. It may be a cacophony of voices, but you can still easily “follow” someone through the establishment of their problem, rising tension, conflict, climax and resolution. And the trends like “first draft movie lines” can also be narrative entertainment: they’re like the movie scene where someone starts singing and little by little everyone, even that unlikely thug in the corner, eventually joins in.

Like full-blown blogs, Twitter microblogs could emerge as another form of writing in public.  The experiments are well underway.  These projects come in several flavors:

  • Story in chunks – A single author builds the story post by post.  He or she may already have a manuscript, but it gets chunked out a 140 or fewer characters at a time.  Author Nick Belardes has used this approach in his two Twitter novels Small Places and Bumble Square. 
  • Single post, single story – The ultra compressed novel.  An example is novelsin3lines by Félix Fénéon.  This is akin to the first draft movie lines that Ms. Schmelling refers to.
  • Collaborative story seeds -A starting post, followed by a sequence of  Twitter posts contributed by followers.  This process creates a story like one of those school science projects where you grow a crystal in a liquid.  One example is BBC Audiobooks America Twitter novel project.  Here is how it works.  Author Neil Gaiman kicked off the novel with the post:  Sam was brushing her hair when the girl in the mirror put down the hairbrush, smiled & said, “We don’t love you anymore.”  Thousands of people have responded with the next possible sentences.  The selected tweets are chosen by BBC Audiobooks and the final result will be posted on iTunes as a free podcast.

neil_gaiman_Twitter_post

For more examples, check out the Read Write Web which posted a nice list of Twitter novels in progress. 

Inspired?  Brandon Mendelson, who has written the Twitter novel The Falcon Can Hear the Falconer, has posted some good advice for wannabe Twitter novelists on TwiTips.  Key among his pointers is to maintain a separate site to provide the story’s updates from where it began and link to this site from the Twitter novel site.

So far, publishers aren’t lining up to sign Twitter novelists.  But as the medium evolves, it could become a good place to try out story ideas and see what can build a following.  Japanese cell phone novelists have shown that novels in short bites can be successful.  (Now, if we could only come up with a better name for this writing form – something that didn’t start with “Tw” and sound like baby talk.)


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neal stephensonThe term Spew refers to the torrent of information spilling out over the Web.  It was an image first conjured up by author Neal Stephen.  Today the term could serve equally well as a description for the tsunami of tweets pouring forth from Twitter-ers across the globe.  Individuals and organizations have discovered many interesting uses for Twitter:

  • A research tool to plug into the raw elements of news stories while they are unfolding –  e.g. the Tehran protests
  • Live blogging at conferences
  • Distributing news stories – e.g. CDC using Twitter to get the news out swine flu
  • Mobilizing customers – e.g. the bakery in San Francisco that updates local customers on when its sumptuous peach pies are coming out of the oven

Top Twitter Tools Exposed & Explained at Lightning Speed

Not to be left out of the Twitter-mania, authors have also started using the tool to support their book development and marketing efforts.

  • Seek assistance with research for your book
  • Build a following that you can direct to your longer blog posts
  • Respond to comments about your book
  • Announce events such as readings, appearances and book signings
  • Delivering sample book content
  • Share news stories (and pictures) related to your book

twitter-toolsA plethora of Twitter apps are now available to make all these task easier.  The most comprehensive list I have found so far is at Mashable.  Want to follow some authors, agents or the publishing industry?  Try this starter list from Maria Schneider’s blog.  And if you want to track and quantify all your tweet followers and activities, there is a list of excellent Twitter analytics tools available at Social Media Today

Enjoy!


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twitter birdEver since the social networking service Twitterlaunched it has been a magnet for speculation about what it is and what it means.  Twitter has been called a form of micro blogging because, like haiku, it constrains the length of each entry (known as a tweet) to 140 characters or less.  Twittering has also been referred to as live blogging, because the short length of tweets makes it feel more like instant messaging or online conversation. 

Some of the speculation about Twitter has centered on it being a possible replacement for blogging.  Twittering is simpler than blogging.  The short messages are easy to digest and can be read comfortably on the small screens of mobile devices.  I doubt that 140 character tweets will replace blog entries.  They each have uses for which they are best suited.  For example, consider the case of books. 

Imagine reading a book and being able to share an interesting excerpt or impression of what you’re reading with friends or associates quickly and more or less continuously as you work your way throught the title.  You can share something memorable while it’s fresh.  It’s like a bit of social glue between in person meetings – say at a book club – when you want to get into more depth about a book you’ve just read.  It’s ideal for connectors – those super communicators Malcolm Gladwell identified in the Tipping Point – who spread awareness of interesting new things.

Book twitters, however, wouldn’t replace a book review.  A book review – closer to a blog entry in size – is a considered reflection made after the book has been read.  The book twitter is more about sharing an impression.  It is another way to build excitement and community around a book.  Twittering about a title may inspire others to read it and share their impressions as well.  As Amazon demonstrates, peer recommendations count for a lot among book purchasers, no matter how the recommendaiton is packaged.  The practice could become something of a book club on the fly.

book twitterThere are some intriguing experiments happening in TwitterVille.  For example, an Amazon affiliate called TwitterLit is serving up one line literary teasers to entice readers to check out titles.  The site shows the first line of a book and contains a link back to Amazon for users whose curiosity gets the better of them.  The title of the book isn’t shown with the excerpt – you have to go to Amazon to see it. 

Another example is a post on Bob Baker’s Author Blog entitled Smart Ways Authors can Use Twitter.  It provides some ideas authors can use to publish their content in tweet size bites.

And finally, if you want to hone your Twitter craft, visit Slacker Manager and check out The Several Habits of Wildly Successful Twitter Users.