The Future of Twitter Fiction

twitter.jpegJess McElhattan

Creative writing isn’t one of the first things we associate with Twitter, but maybe it should be. The tweet thread allows someone to create whole narratives in bursts of short description, readily available to the public. The thread could be argued to be an emergent form of creative writing that contradicts other forms in that it encourages the public to get involved in its creation.

As Shanna Mallon states in ‘Social Stories: How to Use Storytelling on Twitter’, ‘no tweet is an island’. If one person begins a story in tweets, another person can add to it. A single tweet become a thread which reads as a coherent story, and writing fiction on Twitter becomes a collaborative process. However, this process contradicts assumptions we might have about creative writing. If anyone can add to a thread at any time, there is not the same chronological succession as in a short story by a singular author, as it can go into many different tangents simultaneously. Not only this, but the concept of an ‘author’ becomes fluid for a story created on Twitter.  Rather than being a singular person from a specific background, an ‘author’ on Twitter could include the minds of many people from completely different backgrounds. An ‘author’ on Twitter may therefore be a collective term, and can acknowledge small contributions from many different minds.

Authors have tested the storytelling capacity of Twitter in different ways. In 2012, Jennifer Egan published a short story, Black Box, in a succession of tweets on The New Yorker’s Twitter. Clinton Yates also created  #afternoontwittertale, in which he narrates a story in the form of a thread. The recent introduction of the 280 character limits means tweets lend themselves even more to storytelling; being able to include more description means tweeters can alter the language they use. These examples are indicative of a new interaction between author and reader.

A book creates a hierarchy in which the author editors, proof-readers, or anyone involved a text’s publication can edit it, but the reader cannot. On Twitter, the reader occupies the same platform as the author – they are able to add to or criticise the text so that it will be immediately apparent to the author. Writing stories in tweets therefore allows a dialogue between the author and reader that has not existed before.

Twitter opens up a new capacity for storytelling that encourages people to think creatively together, producing an easily consumable and readily available text. Whether or not it achieves the status of other published fiction, over time the Twitter thread may become a more respected way of both individual and collaborative storytelling.