Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Why Twitter Fiction?

 Jessica Otto, editor of Write1Sub1 favorite magazine Trapeze kindly offered to share her thoughts with us on why she loves Twitter fiction so much. Here's what she had to say :

I decided to start writing twitter fiction when 1) I received rejections from every print poetry magazine I sent submissions to and 2) when I finally stopped questioning the point of Twitter and created an account.  I don’t remember how I discovered the existence of twitter zines but I did quite quickly and I couldn’t help thinking how amazing the idea of a 140 character story is.  My writing skills are limited to short poems.  I do not write short or long stories and I do not have the patience or the mental capacity right now to create thousands of words on the same plot line. 

The discovery of 140 character stories renewed my love of fiction, specifically genre fiction. Writing a 140 character story was much harder than I expected and my first 20-30 attempts, stories that I thought were complete and well developed were in fact not.  Enter the extra special bonus of twitter zines: because the stories are so short many editors have the time to offer constructive criticism and tips for improving one’s writing.  Ben White (of @nanoism) and Travis A. Everett (of @escarp) were very supportive and willing to give advice about mastering this short form.  I also found that if I wanted to get better at writing Twitter fiction I needed to pay attention to the stories that were being published.  This is important with any genre or form but for Twitter works especially because each story has to convey a large amount of meaning within a very small space.

The basics: I visualize characters as the protons, neutrons and electrons of words.  This may not be the best analogy because I am terrible at science but if a writer can get past the concept of sentences and words to focus on the elements he/she should have no trouble writing a successful Twitter story.  This is where my fondness for the speculative genre comes in: in long fiction the term speculative is often paired with the genres of science fiction or fantasy and the focus of the story does not stray from the plot or how the author makes the plot conform to the genre (via imagery, character development, etc.)  With speculative Twitter fiction an author can play with the characters to make an out-of-bounds piece in form as well as in subject matter.  I reference Simon Kewin’s piece that appeared in @trapezemag earlier this month:

But too late; he’d already pressed. desserp ydaerla d’eh ;etal oot tuB !sdrawkcab nworht eb ll’ew ,dnuor deppilf sah wolf emit ehT !trobA

My writing style: I believe that Twitter fiction should act as a border that allows the reader to cross from one state of mind to the next.  While 140 characters is a small space, it is not impossible to develop a complete story arch.  I have found that the best way to accomplish this is to focus on one specific transitional detail of the scene and describe that with a few characters at the beginning and end of that description set aside for the name of a person or place and an action or emotional presence. 

I was taught in a poetry class in college that poems have their own identities (this is probably true for stories/novels as well but I don’t know much about their construction and chose to leave them out because I don’t like to write them) and the revision process must stop when the poem tells the author what it wants to be.  The same goes for Twitter fiction; once an author places their idea within the 140 character space, the space determines how that story will develop.  If one starts writing a story with a specific image in their head and translating that image only takes up 50 characters, the author has 90 more to play with.  This may not sound like a lot but for those of you who have not written a Twitter story yet I suggest you find software with a character counter and type in a line or part of a sentence and see how much space you use.  I personally like to use all 140 characters when writing a story but that is by no means a requirement. 

The space of 140 characters is a membrane or chrysalis that allows the identity of the story to safely form.  The smallness of such a space allows the speculative writer to reconstruct and reconceptualize text.  An author can create abstraction out of a concrete plot or an evolution of the same concept and ignore realities that are enforced by long fiction (see “literary” drama).  Here I would like to mention the importance of the fragment and how easy it is to uncover a fossilized creature that will transport the author and the reader someplace scary.     

Publishing Twitter fiction:  I enjoy publishing Twitter fiction very much.  I decided to make my own magazine, @trapezemag, after writing Twitter fiction for about a year and spread the love.  As an editor, I love Twitter fiction for its size and my ability to send prompt and personalized responses to authors.  As a writer I try to make my magazine very writer friendly, I understand that waiting for a response can be frustrating and I try to send out my responses as quickly as possible so you, the author, can receive an acceptance that much quicker or turn around and send your story off somewhere else that much quicker.  Submissions are open all year and I publish 1 story/poem 3 times a week.  The genres that I publish are speculative and surreal science fiction, horror and fantasy.

Things I like to see:
1) Authors who follow the guidelines.  I receive submissions from many authors who do not follow the guidelines.  These authors are actually very helpful because I can talk with them and figure out where my guidelines are too obscure and re-word them to make more sense.  But as a rule, please read completely through the guidelines before you send a submission.  I am a very open person and I love getting feedback about my magazine, if something is unclear just send me an email.   
2) Stories/poems that utilize the characteristics of the term “speculative” in form as well as in subject.  Play around with letters and punctuation, use negative space (please specify how in cover letter), take e. e. cummings or Mina Loy to the next level, surprise yourself and make it weird.

So there we are! Many thanks Jessica. If any Write1Sub1ers would like to submit to Trapeze, the full guidelines are here. Good luck!


  1. Awesome post. I'm still trying to get my head around Twitter and maybe I should follow Jessica's example and just sign up!

    Thank you!

  2. Hello Jessica,
    I am constantly surprised how authors can create break out of the smallness of the form and produce something meaningful. Your idea of a tweet poem/prose as a bridge to another state of mind is very insightful.

  3. Now to condense this awesome Twitter-fiction manifesto into 140 characters or less...

  4. Twitter fiction is really the only reason why I tweet.

  5. What a brilliant piece! I feel inspired to give it a go. But first I must go read some more. I saw some yesterday on twitter and was impressed.

    Thanks to Jessica for sharing her thoughts.


  6. Thanks Jessica! This was wonderful. Dare I demonstrate?

    You wrote your thought down into words; I read your words up into thought. Now I wonder, lighting my cigarette: Was it as good for you?

  7. Helloooo! the things you learn - I hadn't heard of Twitter Fiction before this entry :D

  8. Thanks, Jessica for sharing!