Writing’s Next Frontier: Twitter Fiction

by | Jul 8, 2010

Perhaps you caught Chris Vognar’s article on DallasNews.com? Twitter’s character limit sparks new style of short-form writing. In his article, which I really enjoyed, Chris mentioned one of the writers I follow on Twitter, Sean Hill @VeryShortStory on Twitter.

He’s among a group of writers who have taken to the Twitter 140-character limit the way a sonnet writer takes to iambic pentameter. It’s not so much a limitation as an means of honing your poetic ability against the resistance of the form.

When I think about the future of the book a lot of my attention is focused on the way reading habits and expectations are changing. The book, bound sheaves of ink-friendly material, imposes an order on the text it embodies.

Maybe the capacity of our minds to process stories has determined the character of the books we’ve created. And the books, of course, have conditioned us to have certain expectations of the texts we read.

Enter the Digital World

When I was publishing with my mentor, Felix Morrow, I was surprised at how brusque he could be on the phone. He would call up and, without a “Hello” or any other preamble, just bark out a question like “Does Thomson-Shore do spit runs?” and wait for the answer. When I would say, “Yes, Felix, they do.” He would hang up. Period. No warning.

It wasn’t until years later, when I started using email, that I understood how powerful a medium it was, because it was the only one in which you could rationally and politely send a message of one or two words.

Writers have been attracted to the new, shortened form of prose pretty much invented by Twitter. It’s astonishing how much story these writers can pack into 140 characters. Here are some of my favorites.

Twitter Writers, Short and Sweet

William Brazill @InstantFiction

In our world of chaos, no one is out of place. Not even Elroy, with his tics, quirks, and awkward angles. “I belong!” he shouted.

She played the harp in the park, collecting coins from passersby. I began to dance to her music, but she would not share the coins with me.

“I picked these blueberries to make a pie,” she said. “You don’t know how to bake a pie!” he protested. So she threw the blueberries away.

Sean Hill @VeryShortStory

After 3 years of college, Rex knew how to enjoy summer. He filled the water bowl and splashed around with the other genetically altered mice

The power went out. The elevator stopped. In the dark you told me your fears and cried. The next day you fired me to keep your secrets safe.

I slipped into your bed and cuddled you. I felt safe. I’d leave before morning, beg coins all day, then follow someone else home tomorrow.

Maureen Evans @Maureen

Bones in my writing hand which resemble bows for arrows: tapered, tense.

Slowly, my travel spun weft and weave’s become more grey, more worn, more me.

When you go, I read, get more done; my hands smell of mint, and I miss you.

Ben White @Nanoism

Three days ago, a climbing party went missing. You move to the next headline, wonder if you’ve fed the dog.

He grabs her under the palapa, all hands and hot breath. Maria will run tonight, after. Empty bottles; a blouse ripped for the last time.

I ask if it scares her, seeing him covered in IVs, and she says no. Then she looks up and beams. “Know what? I’m stronger than Daddy now.”

I hope you’ll follow some of these writers on Twitter, just to experience the way text is being used to tell new stories in new forms. Or try your hand at Twitter fiction yourself!

Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/gaelx/

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. The Jersey Guy

    I enjoyed this article, informative, concise and a pleasure to absorb, as I enjoy most of what you write. I am however shocked, that at a site such as this, you offer every means of sharing but not a “print” button.


    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks, Jersey. Looks like the “print” button got lost in one of the endless tweaking iterations. I’ve put it back, and thanks for the heads-up.

  2. Jessie Mac

    Thanks for the examples, Joel. Really enjoyed them. Sometimes it’s through constraints that you can be most creative.

    • Joel Friedlander

      I love coming across one of these in my Twitter stream, it really wakes me up to the creative. Thanks for reading, Jessie.

  3. Vincent Nguyen

    Great imaginative stories you found Joel.

    It is quite fascinating to discover new ways to “stretch” ourselves aye?
    This is a perfect example of what I call “constrained creativity”.
    Art and creativity can never be tamed nor contained….because we will always find alternative ways/routes toward beautiful and enlightening results.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Hey Vincent, glad you enjoyed it. I like your idea of “constrained creativity,” because each form imposes its own boundaries, yet artists find ways to create within those boundaries.



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