As a follow up to my last post, “Picking a Genre in New Media “, where I listed out several of the major genres of writing common in blogs and other forms of new media, I thought I would approach some of the genres and try to share some writing tips. Then I saw this post over at Techcrunch: “Can Twitter Authors Capture The Magic Of LonelyGirl15?“, and decided I would start with my favorite genre: fiction.
Many readers might think that the online medium is not suited to telling a good story, but this is not true. Techcrunch cites the classic tale of LonelyGirl15 as a perfect example of the possibilities on online fiction. For those who are unfamiliar with the tale: LonelyGirl15 was Bree, a fictional character created for a series of YouTube videos which eventually unfolded into a rather epic tale of secret government conspiracies. This was a remarkable example of viral marketing: it turned out a creative agency created the interactive story. This highlights what is possible with fiction when the internet is used as the medium. What begins as a single person’s story can take on a life of its own, remixed, revamped, and expanded by other creative minds working in concert.
So let’s consider Twitter and other microbloggers. We have the possibility for small bursts of tale, added to and changed by followers and retweeted across the net. We also have the possibility for the return of the “serial” and “periodical” in a new form, where a string of updates over time can serve to create tension, invite speculation, and cause readers to experiment with their own explanations of events in the story.
So how can you write the kind fiction that would work through a medium like a microblogger?
- Consider your limit. 140 characters per update. You could consider posting a whole string of updates in a row, but each post should be complete and move the story all by itself.
- “Murder your darlings”. This quote from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch tells us to get rid of every word, every phrase, every bit of writing that does not move the story and is not the perfect words to express what you want to express, no matter how clever or pretty. While it is always good advice (and never easy), it becomes even more important in this medium. Never fall back on empty phrases, no matter how elegant, and never write platitudes or cliches. In the online world, anything that does not move the story is simply ignored.
- Allow for the responses you receive from followers to influence the story. This is perhaps the greatest strength of the online world: ease of collaboration. Thanks to the medium you can adjust your tale and answer the desires of your readers like no “Choose Your Own Adventure” novel could ever hope for.
- Allow for ambiguity. Part of what made LonelyGirl15 compelling was that no one was sure for awhile whether it was real or fiction. By the time every one knew it was fiction, no one cared and followed the story out of interest.
- Update regularly. Your followers need to know when the next installment will come, and they need to be able to pass that knowledge along. If you must miss an update, work the delay into the story.
- Avoid explanations. Explanations of the story don’t move the story and prevent it from being open-ended and ambiguous enough to draw virality.
- Avoid plot-twists. Plot-twists are cheap when done in serial form…consider the “cliffhangers” of old movie serials, where each episode placed the hero in some deadly danger…only to have it explained away in the first moments of the next installment. People see this tactic a mile away, and will quickly lose interest. Instead of going for overt plot-twists, go for lots of ambiguity where any number of explanations, twists, and turns could happen and make sense, causing your readers to attempt to figure out where it will go next only to be endlessly surprised. Think “Lost” rather than “The Village” and you can’t go wrong.
These are only suggestions about how to tackle fiction through microbloggers…I have only begun considering the possibilities. I am very interested in seeing where people go with this as a medium and will be following mylifein140, the account mentioned in the Techcrunch post, as well as looking into “Twittories“, a group creating crowdsourced fiction using Twitter.
Questions for my readers:
- Are there any other writers attempting a similar experiment?
- Any thoughts on the possibilities of fiction in new media? Perhaps something I haven’t considered?
- Are the possibilities for pursing other forms of writing in this way, perhaps poetry or philosophy?