In our increasingly digital-dependent society, we are never more than a click away from instant access to a stream of information, even if it is just how much your friend hates Mondays. But how are these bitesize texts revolutionising the way we read and interact with stories?
Publishers have become increasingly aware of the necessity of using social media to not only market their books, but to build their author’s brand. Having been urged to take to twitter, authors have responded in various ways such as tweeting through one of their characters, leaking parts of upcoming work and experimenting with (extremely) short stories.
When bestselling author Philip Pullman was advised to join the twitter network, he was at first daunted by the task of capturing his audience amidst the wave of dull day-to-day events that take over social media. Then he met Jeffrey. Jeffrey, a housefly that had taken up residence in Pullman’s kitchen whilst he was writing his upcoming novel, was to become the author’s next protagonist. Pullman began to narrate his new friend’s daily adventures, tweeting: ‘Jeffrey our resident fly is the most polite insect I’ve ever met. He leaves our food alone but sits on my shoulder to read the Oxford Times.’ When Jeffery met his end, his twitter obituary was met by a flood of tweets demanding the lovable insect’s revival. The life of Jeffrey has since become an online chronicle that makes effective use of the social media’s 140 character limitation. Pullman has embraced the social media platform announcing: “What I welcome about telling a story like this is the brevity… It is sort of an imaginative break… a kind of emotional relief.”
And this is not an isolated case of inventive fiction. Last month saw the launch of the second Twitter Fiction Festival, an online celebration of innovative story production that not only showcases the work of famous names, but is also open to interaction from the public using the hashtag #twitterfiction. Writers responded in diverse ways, with Alexander McCall Smith serialising four short stories in micro-chapters, whilst others experimented with several user accounts interacting with each other to create multiple narrative views of unfolding events. One comical tale by Katie Fforde relates moment-by-moment tweets of a fictional woman on her twentieth blind date, involving insecure over-sharing and a run to the ladies to ‘tart down’.
The ability to add in links, photographs and illustrations adds a further dynamic to this new genre of writing and, with retweeting and hashtags, writers are able to interact with their audience in ways never before possible. Stories can be crowd-sourced and built collaboratively, allowing reader input into the shaping of the plot.
Most importantly, it provides an accessible medium for aspiring writers, as stories can be written in a spare few minutes and anyone can have their writing instantly published on the internet and available for feedback via favourites and retweets.
Amongst the outcries that social media is destroying the population’s writing abilities and the English language, these new narratives throw up a strong defence. The limit on the number of characters forces thought to be put into each tweet, often producing clever, emotive and memorable snippets. Some feeds have even made it into print. Dan Sinker’s sci-fi parody, The F***ing Epic Twitter Quest of @MayorEmanuel, has been immensely popular and, in 2009, first year students Alexander Acimen and Emmett Rensin transformed literary classics into bitesize slang in Twitterature.
Following the four day festival certainly brightened up my twitter feed. For those feeling a bit unsure of how to start, the website hosts a random generator for you to try out some experimental tweeting. They’ve also archived the best tweets of the festival at http://twitterfictionfestival.com/