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How to Write a Novel with 140 Characters

Posted by on September 2, 2015

twitter novelI’m a teacher, have been for 35 years. I teach a lesson to my Middle School students that uses Twitter to improve writing skills. There’s a lot this popular social media tool can bring to the education world:

  • it’s non-intimidating. Anyone can get through 140 characters
  • it forces students to focus on concise, pithy writing. Wasted, fluff words are not an option
  • it’s fun. Students want to try it because it’s the ‘forbidden fruit’.

I also have a class that kickstarts the author in students, getting them set up to write and digitally publish the book that festers inside of them (well, statistics say 73% of us have a book inside screaming to get out).

What I haven’t done is blend the two: Write a novel on Twitter.

Anna over at Imaginette reminded me that I should. She’s not the only one, either, who thinks Twitter is an excellent forum for novel writing. Japan popularized it as the microblogging novel or the micro novel. Wikipedia defines it as:

…a fictional work or novel written and distributed in small parts

Just to be clear: We’re talking about squeezing all those novel parts that writers slave over…

  • plot
  • pacing
  • character development
  • theme
  • story arc
  • scene

…into 140 characters. Is that even possible? I’d croak a resounding ‘No!’, but the Guardian persuaded twenty-one accomplished authors to try their hand at this. Here’s a sampling:

James Meek

‘He said he was leaving her. “But I love you,” she said. “I know,” he said. “Thanks. It’s what gave me the strength to love somebody else.”

Ian Rankin

I opened the door to our flat and you were standing there, cleaver raised. Somehow you’d found out about the photos. My jaw hit the floor.

Blake Morrison

Blonde, GSOH, 28. Great! Ideal mate! Fix date. Tate. Nervous wait. She’s late. Doh, just my fate. Wrong candidate. Blond – and I’m straight.

David Lodge

“Your money or your life!” “I’m sorry, my dear, but you know it would kill me to lose my money,” said the partially deaf miser to his wife.

Jilly Cooper

Tom sent his wife’s valentine to his mistress and vice versa. Poor Tom’s a-cold and double dumped.

Rachel Johnson

Rose went to Eve’s house but she wasn’t there. But Eve’s father was. Alone. One thing led to another. He got 10 years.

Andrew O’Hagan

Clyde stole a lychee and ate it in the shower. Then his brother took a bottle of pills believing character is just a luxury. God. The twins.

AL Kennedy

It’s good that you’re busy. Not great. Good, though. But the silence, that’s hard. I don’t know what it means: whether you’re OK, if I’m OK.

Jeffrey Archer

“It’s a miracle he survived,” said the doctor. “It was God’s will,” said Mrs Schicklgruber. “What will you call him?” “Adolf,” she replied.

Surprisingly good. Are you inspired? Here are some tips on Twitter novels from Be a Better Writer:

  • Think token action, dialogue and description. Not this: He sat and looked at the pistol for a full ten minutes before he grasped it and experienced the icy weight of his first semi-automatic. Rather: Gun in hand, he shot.
  • Think installments. Releasing the novel over time increases suspense. Douglas Sovern released 1600 tweets at the rate of about 5 to 12 a day.
  • Think multimedia and add links to images, video, articles or anything else that will add meaning to the story. A Twitter novel allows you to combine text with other media.
  • Think movement. Every tweet should advance the plot. You don’t want your readers ignoring tweets out of boredom.

Educational applications:

  • in a writing class
  • as an elective on writing a novel. Start with a Twitter novel and build.

More on writing novels

Write an Ebook (MS, summer school)

search #twitternovels

66 Writing Tools for the 21st Century Classroom

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, CSG Master Teacher, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.

6 Responses to How to Write a Novel with 140 Characters

  1. Murees Dupé

    Thank you so much for stopping by my blog. A Twitter novel is definitely new to me. It’s like flash fiction:)

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