Twiction

Is it the fate of the internet to endlessly combine two words to make memes? Will these neologisms always make normal, everyday people throw up in their mouths, just a little? I recently discovered twiction, a combination of “twitter” (for the microblogging service) and “fiction” (as in fiction). Twiction, AKA twitter-fiction or (even worse) tweetfic, is fiction in a maximum of 140 characters, which usually translates to somewhere between 1 and 3 sentences. It’s been around for a couple of years and seems to fall somewhere between kinda popular and vaguely interesting.  It comes in two forms:

First, the more common form, standalone microfiction: stories told in a sentence, usually feeling like something in between Ernest Hemingway’s famous “story in six words” experiment (For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn) and more traditional flash fiction. Given the inherent limitations of the Twitter service, writing Twiction is a sort of writer’s challenge—can you write a compelling story in a sentence? Can you fit a character, a conflict, and a resolution in a line? Or, in another view of what makes a story: can your character change from the beginning of such a story to the end, all in less than 25 words? The answer? Sometimes.

Any twitterer trying to write twiction comes across the problem that it is actually very difficult to produce a lot of super-short stories with distinct plots, characters, and resolutions. 140 characters isn’t a lot. What I’ve noticed in reading around is that one common crutch is to resort to melodramatic endings (“and he was never seen again” sort of stuff), like this piece from the now defunct twitterfiction:

The poison cut deep rivulets in her flesh, her blood caught fire and her heart slowed. Soon she would be dead.

Death is an easy resolution, but it doesn’t make for a very compelling or thoughtful piece. Who is she? Why is she being poisoned? It’s impossible to fit in everything, but all we have here is an ending—not a story.

Another common “mistake” is to paint a scene or a scenario, but not a real story. After all, it’s much easier to write a character sketch or a lyrical description of a forest in 140 characters than it is to write a complete story. An example from 3S Stories:

Karma can be a bitch. Ike wasn’t sure what he did to deserve being reincarnated as a function call in Vista, but it must have been horrible.

It’s funny, and I actually rather like this one, but there’s no motion. There’s nothing inherently displeasing about it (and new writers struggle with the same issue even with no artificial restrictions), but it does mean a sizable chunk of twiction is more like the creative writing of interesting sentences than true standalone stories. In some ways, twitter might be more suited for twitter poetry, where an image alone—well painted—can stand on its own.

A second type of tweetfic is the serial-story (two examples), a more conventional length piece written in 140-character installments (like the serialized novels in magazines that were common in the olden days). The biggest issue here is writing a story that moves along at a decent clip in small segments. Writing a bunch of entries back to back defeats the purpose entirely. Pacing becomes a problem because there is a tension between condensing action too much (boring) and not making any progress per entry (also boring). On top of that, it’s impossible to go back and alter tweets. The story must go on, no matter if you think you’ve made some serious mistakes in previous entries. A strong detailed outline probably couldn’t hurt. Still, word-choice and character-limits will never be as frustrating as in the first type—if something can’t fit, then move it to the next installment.

So what we have in twitter-fiction, I think, is a challenging medium that is almost at odds with the nature of Twitter (in the sense that Twitter users generally post frequently and have conversations with other Twitter users). At best, it’s a literary diversion in the blink of an eye with at least some degree of artistic merit. More often, just words. Though, after seeing the content of your average “tweet,” just words might be just fine.

13 Comments

  1. No I hadn’t–but its priceless. There are dozens (maybe hundreds) of haiku twitterers, but I think she’s my favorite of the ones I’ve seen. And she has a ton of followers too—wonder how that happened?

    I’m really hoping to see more stand-alone stuff out there. I come across more serialized long-form stories everyday but none of it is really piquing my interest. @tweetfic is following a bunch of writers and starting to talk about ’em. Otherwise, not a whole lot of organization to the noise.

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  2. It’s good to read an overview like this. I like to see it as a lab, where thousands of variations are being tested. What works and what doesn’t. Similar to how early novels weren’t sure of the form and you had picaresque and epistolary and others. It’s interesting that what is generally considered the bench mark of the novel was utterly dictated by serialization (as you mention) and we clearly haven’t hit a similar conflation of form and content. What (ahem) Twiction might be good at is with interactive, conversational writing — those ARG experiments such as Mad Men and Peep Show. I could go on for hours (not a natural microblogger) but I haven’t had breakfast yet.

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  3. I’ve been experimenting with both forms of Twitter-based fiction. I tag my single-post stories with #nanofic (though I may start using #nf instead, to save space), and I’ve done a handful of day-long “TwitFics”, where I tweet as a character inside a story. (I’ve posted some TwitFic transcripts to http://www.thephatbunny.net if you want to see them.)

    I’m always looking for more people who have done this so we can network and share ideas. Thanks for posting this!

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