A new writing technique

A couple of days ago I finished my first bit of Twitter fiction. The story is called The Other Side of the Glass. Writing a short story over a series of Tweets sounds like it should be easy, and in a lot of ways it was, but it was also challenging, and I learned a lot about writing techniques and my own style during the process. I talked about enjoying twitter fiction in my last post, and at that time I had a rough plan for how my own story would be published. I had written two series of 10 tweets, and planned on a third, all to be published over 3 days. I hadn’t envisaged the plan changing particularly much, but it did slightly.

The story ended up spanning for 5 days, including a total of 52 tweets. It became obvious that there was more to say after publishing day 2 and beginning to write day 3. A lesson there perhaps – make sure all tweets are written in advance…? As I realised the story was growing I did have a bit of a panic – I had promised to publish a new series of tweets every day, and what if I didn’t manage to get them written in time? I know that 10 tweets is roughly only 200 words, but when each element needs to be constructed separately and to a strict character limit, 200 words can take a while. What if I hit the wall, and couldn’t find a way to bring the story to its conclusion? Come to think of it, what was the conclusion?

After this mild panic, though, I just sat down and wrote it. Its sounds clichéd, but I just took it one word at a time, and splitting the story into separate sections actually turned out to help. There were a couple of tweets in each section that were troublesome – what I wanted to say just did not fit into 140 characters – but when that happened I found a way to work around it, either by doing the obvious and finding a shorter word to replace a longer one, or when I had to concede that there just were no shorter words and I would have to start deleting whole chunks of the tweet, I split it in two and added a couple of extra elements to that part of the tale.

Some other notable thoughts:

  • It’s easy to write 140 characters worth of story. But sometimes it’s better not to. My shortest tweet was only 58.
  • There seemed to be a natural place to break the story – I thought I would agonise over where to end it each day, but I didn’t. I think the breaks I chose helped to build suspense, and hopefully leave readers wanting to know what happens next.
  • I learned a lot about how much can be said in so few words. I even surprised myself at some of the sentences I wrote, and in some cases, how quickly I wrote them.
  • I got into a real rhythm while writing, and after a while I knew which tweets were going to be too long and which ones would be troublesome to edit.
  • Shortening troublesome tweets can be more than a little frustrating!

Another result of writing this story is that I gained 6 new followers in the process – to me that is a lot (sadly). But I didn’t do it to get more followers, and really I’m not that bothered about how many I have. I’m more pleased with the end result of my story, and I’m already planning the next one. A couple of years ago I began a short story about a teacher who is naïvely manipulated by one of his students, and although I knew exactly what would happen in the end, I abandoned it because it took on a life of its own, suddenly too long to be a short story but not enough of a story there to make it into anything bigger. It needed to be shorter, more succinct, and I think that using this method is the way to fix it. Writing in this way, I’ve found, doesn’t need to result in a series of tweets published online. It can still be a short story in the traditional sense, but the techniques involved in writing Twitter fiction can perhaps aid the writing and editing process.

I hope you enjoyed The Other Side of the Glass. In case you missed it, you can read it on Twitter @w_notebook. Please let me know what you think. You can read more about my thoughts on short stories – including a great quote from Haruki Murakami about how writing a short story can overtake his life – in one of my previous posts.

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