Saturday, March 8, 2014

How do you tell a story in tweets?

Twitter is holding its second Fiction Festival in a few days, March 12 - 16, and I'm happy to say that I'm one of the featured authors.

People have been toying around with Twitter as a platform for fiction. As far back as 2008--when Twitter was just starting to get really big--"twitter novels" were starting to become popular in Japan, for instance, but didn't gain much traction here. Over the years, people have continued to try different approaches, everything from flash fiction on Twitter to six-word sentences, to long form told out in hundreds of 140-character tweets.

If you go to the Twitter Fiction Festival website, you'll see the story ideas from a couple dozen writers of all genres that will play out over the next few days on Twitter. The first Fiction Festival was perhaps a bit more international, whereas this year's features mostly well known writers (myself excluded, of course) from all genres, from poetry and playwriting and non-fiction, to literary fiction, mystery, science fiction and young adult. I am amazed at the creativity of my fellow participants. That's one of the nice things about participating in an experiment like this: you get to get out of the ordinary. Get out of your rut. When I first thought about it, I was more than a little nervous. The constraints of writing on Twitter mean that you can't write the kind of fiction that you're used to as a novelist (or can you?). No exposition. You can't go waxing poetically about the setting or scenery--you can't go waxing long about anything, not in a tweet. What about dialogue? And if you're telling a story from a particular character's point of view, does that mean you set up a Twitter account for that character from which to tweet the story? As you can see, there are a lot of considerations and restrictions.

On the other hand, you can put in things that you can't normally have in a novel, like images, and this is what sparked my imagination. I decided that I would tell a story with images and I wanted the images to be strongly linked to place. It made sense to make Washington DC the place since, this is where I live (okay, technically I live in northern Virginia) and after 30 years here, I think I have a good sense of the character of the people who live here (or a subset at least, the army of employees of the federal government who live here).

After coming up with a rough idea of what the story would be about, I drafted my husband into chauffeuring me around the city so I could take the pictures that would be sprinkled through the tweeting. This is a bigger deal than you might think because even on a Sunday afternoon, (a) traffic in DC is terrible and (b) parking is even worse. I spent a day deciding which sites we'd visit and plotting out the most economical route possible. In the end, we left out about a third of the sites because it took even longer than we thought to make our way across the city. I'd wanted to photograph some lesser-known, not your usual DC tourist type places for the story, so you won't see monuments or the Capitol building. Unfortunately, some of the quirkier spots ending up getting cut because of the dang traffic.

I hope you'll join the Twitter Fiction Festival. If you're a reader, I think you'll be treated to some inventive storytelling that you won't see anywhere else. And if you're a writer, I think you might see storytelling in a whole new--and maybe liberating--light. I'm in the process of finishing up my story--over a hundred tweets so far, and growing--and have been amazed at how liberating it is to put a story together in a completely different way.