140 Characters: Twitter Fiction and the Art of Concise Writing

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This is an essay by Tucker Cummings.

Plenty of people want to become writers, but feel that they simply don’t have the time to commit to writing even a short story. With all the interruptions of the digital age (to say nothing of family and work obligations), finding time to write really can be a challenge. It’s so easy to get frustrated with your writing when you’re just starting out; so hard to not be discouraged by an inability to finish what you start.

These days, there are plenty of ways an aspiring writer can hone their craft and add publication credits to their resume at the same time. And one of the very best ways is to write Twitter-sized tales. These short stories are 140 characters or less (including spaces), and pack a surprising emotional punch.

Despite the limitations of the form, skilled Twitter fiction writers are able to make readers laugh, cry, or shiver as they build worlds and introduce characters. Twitter is home to several communities of avid writers and readers, and they are passionate about promoting great 140-character stories.

There’s no hard and fast rule about what makes a great Twitter tale. Some stories focus on just a moment’s worth of action, while others span thousands of years in just two sentences. Many are humorous, but plenty more are heart-breaking. The form forces you to choose words precisely, and to cut out any extraneous information. More often than not, the title of the work gives the reader enough framing to understand the events in your story.

So, what do you do after you’ve completed your little tale? The most obvious thing to do is post it on your own Twitter account, to share with your own followers. If you can spare the space, adding hashtags to your story will enable other Twitter fiction fans to find it more easily. Hashtags to consider include #vss (which stands for “very short story”), #nanofiction, or #fiction.

Another hashtag is #lqw, which designates that the story contains the word of the day as designated by @Loqwacious. If your tastes run towards non-fiction, rather than fictional tales, consider adding #cnftweet. Each day, @CreativeNonfiction selects one tweet with this hashtag to retweet, and these tweets are then eligible to be included in upcoming issues of the magazine, or in their newsletter.

There are also dozens of Twitter accounts for websites that publish only 140-character stories. Some of the most notable are @OneFortyFiction, @seedpodpub, @sixwordstories, @twitterfiction, @7×20, and @trapezemag, all of which are unpaid markets.

@Nanoism is a paying Twitter fiction market, which publishes three times a week and pays between $1.50 and $1 for stories: not bad, given the brevity of the form. Serialized Twitter fiction is paid out at a higher rate.

@thaumatrope and @tweetthemeat also pay to publish other people’s Twitter stories, though both markets appear to be on hiatus with no word on when they will resume normal publication schedules.

In short: keep on writing, and keep your eyes peeled for opportunities to grow your fanbase. Depending on where you choose to publish your stories, your work may be exposed to thousands of people. In addition, there are often contests being held on Twitter by various publishers where you can win cash and prizes with your well-written, 140-character stories.

But beyond the accolades and the prizes, the best thing about writing Twitter fiction is how it can improve your writing. With practice, this shortest of short story forms can help even the most verbose of writers to develop a clear, clean, and concise style. And that’s a skill that will benefit any writer as they begin work on longer projects.

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Tucker Cummings is the author of “The Strange Adventures of Margery Jones,” a microfiction serial about parallel universes. Her work has been featured online at HiLoBrow.com (where she won their Spooky-Kooky fiction competition) and at OneFortyFiction. She also won MassTwitFic’s #vss Twitter Story Contest. Visit her online at tuckercummings.com, or say hi to @tuckercummings on Twitter.

Photo: Some rights reserved by bfishadow

Comments

  1. Anita says

    Twitter fiction and poetry have a lot in common. A good exercise in disciplined writing. Much like my city’s sidewalk poetry, which is slightly longer but limited to 10 lines, 44 characters per line, and an overall total of 250 characters. Winners get their writing engraved in a sidewalk (http://stpaul.gov/index.aspx?NID=2820).

    • Read.Learn.Write says

      Your city has a really cool idea. I love that!

      Jack White, one of my favorite musicians talks about this some in this video, as it applies to his music: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eH4NhlxSrOw.

      It’s an interesting idea. Restriction or artificial rules help you create rather than the opposite, sometimes. Worth trying in your own writing or art.

    • says

      God, I love St. Paul. Really sad I missed out on seeing some sidewalk poetry the last time I was there, because that is a fantastic idea. I love the idea of guerrilla art, something beautiful placed in an unexpected place…something you take in almost before you realize it. (Something in that vein: http://safetypinreview.com/)

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