Twitter as a Medium for Creative Writing

Let’s play a game. It’s called “Tweet or first sentence?” It’s pretty easy. I’ll give a line, you have to guess if it’s a tweet or the first sentence of a novel. I’ll put the answers at the end, but no cheating.

Begin.

“Since Aramis’s singular transformation into a confessor of the order, Baiseameaux was no longer the same man.”

“Iain Cameron, at an undisclosed location, paced the sterile room he’d been holed up in all day.”

“Sam was brushing her hair when the girl in the mirror put down the hairbrush, smiled, and said, ‘We don’t love you anymore.’”

“Things were not too simple in this safari because things had changed very much in East Africa.”

Stumped? You should be, because one of those quotes is both a tweet and the first sentence of a novel.

Twitter’s been around for over ten years now, and like any piece of technology, it has developed rapidly over that time. What began as a “short message service” in 2007 has dramatically expanded to a platform that services everything from news headlines to memes. Like most technology, Twitter’s versatility comes from the creativity and ingenuity of it’s users. But unlike other technology, Twitter — and other social media — lends itself to even further transformation because of it’s interactivity. The very nature of social media allows for a kind of collaboration that is virtually impossible anywhere else. Twitter especially, with it’s hashtags allowing unconnected users to be brought together in a common thread, is conducive to a scale of collaboration and interactivity previously impossible to the human race.

It didn’t take long for people to realize the potential that Twitter held for creative collaboration between hundreds, if not thousands, of users. In 2009 Neil Gaimon and the BBC embarked on a novel that was entitled “Hearts, Keys, and Puppetry.” Neil Gaimon tweeted out a sentence, a first sentence to be exact, and from there Twitter took over. A 14,000 word story was written in 8 days, with 124 contributors, and composed of 874 tweets. Those tweets were then compiled into a free audio book, and the world’s first novel penned by Twitter was born.

While “Hearts, Keys, and Puppetry” may have been the first large scale creative writing project to use Twitter, it is by no means the last. Today, the uses of Twitter as a creative medium have only expanded, and now hundreds of people participate in creating their own stories or responding to others to build onto a project.

Author and blogger Marcus Lopes runs a #TwitFicTues in which he tweets parts of a story each Tuesday, using only the (now) 280 characters Twitter allows. In 2013, Elliot Holt began a Twitter Fiction Festival, inviting users to tell complete stories in 140 characters or less.

But participation in creativity and collaboration is not limited to authors and writers alone. Popular YouTuber jacksfilms uses Twitter to produce content for his YouTube videos. In a series he runs called YIAY or Yesterday, I Asked You, he asks his Twitter followers a question, and hashtag with which to respond. He then combs through the responses and chooses some to read in his videos. And that’s it, that’s the video. They garner hundreds of thousands of views, for a concept as simple as asking the viewers to create the content themselves. Of course, it takes a certain personality and a dose of video editing wizardry to truly make the videos entertaining, but the content is produced entirely by the audience who is viewing it.

Twitter has also been used to create interactive fiction games. While sometimes Twitter will shut them down as spam accounts, interactive fiction has proved that Twitter is actually an ideal medium. One game, titled “a dreadful start” utilizes nearly every aspect that Twitter offers users. The story uses both handles and names to create steps that a players can choose. By using just one tweet on each new “step” the player can progress to different results by choosing their path — a twitter handle for an action. That brings them to a new page, with new choices, and on until you reach a conclusion. Small details like profile pictures and banners add to the feel that this is a real game with actions happening. Small blurbs under the profile, where bios often go, add a dose of humor to the story as well.

It’s a surprisingly well written story, and executed with a grace that proves that Twitter can be used to almost any creative end.

As the media landscape continues to develop in the 21st century, the dividing line between the traditional and the new social media will blur even further, pushed into obscurity as out-of-the-box ways of consuming and using media become mainstream.

The BBC and Neil Gaimon were able to pioneer one way of blending the traditional and new through their collaboratively written book, and as I’ve written here, there are no shortage of others who have challenged the ways we think of and use Twitter as a platform.

So have you figured out which of the quotes are lines from novels and which are tweets? As promised, here are the answers.

“Since Aramis’s singular transformation into a confessor of the order, Baiseameaux was no longer the same man.” — Alexander Dumas, The Man in Iron Mask,

“Iain Cameron, at an undisclosed location, paced the sterile room he’d been holed up in all day.” — Marcus Lopes, from #TwitFicTues

“Sam was brushing her hair when the girl in the mirror put down the hairbrush, smiled, and said, ‘We don’t love you anymore.’” — Neil Gaimon, Hearts, Keys, and Puppetry, the first tweet that launched the book

“Things were not too simple in this safari because things had changed very much in East Africa.” — Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

How’d you do? Better than you thought? Worse than you thought? Either way, maybe it’s time we reconsider how we view the Twitterverse.