Feb 7 2009 3:07pm

Weekend Getaway: The Shortest of Fictions

This Weekend Getaway is a short one. Really short, in fact. I only expect you to read 140 characters at a time. Why yes, I am talking about a Twitter-based piece of writing. In fact, there are two things I will send you out to look at today.

First, we have Thaumatrope, a Twitter-based science fiction, fantasy, and horror magazine. You can learn a little about the background of the zine here. All the stories on Thaumatrope are 140 characters or less, and the zine has featured work from writers such as Cory Doctorow, Mary Robinette Kowal, John Scalzi, Tim Pratt, Althea Kontis, and many more. As might be expected, the quality is hit and miss. Many of the stories work with being punny or have twist endings, which can get tiring if you read a bunch of them at once. It’s better to dip in now and again, or subscribe to it with your phone or favorite Twitter interface, and read them as they come.

Similarly, Orbit author Jeff Somers (The Electric Church, The Digital Plague, and The Eternal Prison) has written a story using Twitter*. Of course, now that the story is complete, it can be hard to read as Twitter displays updates from newest back to oldest, i.e., you’ll see the end of the story first if you click on that link. Here is the link to the first update. Although, you don’t get an option to move forward through the updates from there, so you’ll have to go to the first page of updates (currently page eight), and read from the bottom of the page to the top and work towards the newest page. Think of it as reading Manga and you should be fine.

I know that neither of these conceits will appeal to everyone. For me, I appreciate that people are trying something new in storytelling. Using Twitter or SMS for stories may not work well for Latin-based languages where a word is made up of several characters (unlike Japanese or Chinese where each character represents a word or a concept) since it can take many updates to tell a story of any substance.

In November 2006, Wired magazine challenged a number of authors to write six word stories. According to Wired, this was inspired by an Ernest Hemingway six-word story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Allegedly Hemingway considered this some of his best work.

So that’s three places to go do some reading this weekend, but it’s all short.

* In case you’re wondering, there are about 50 updates for the Somers Twitter story, and calculating update length at an average of 23 words, the story is approximately 1200 words long.

Tara Chang
1. tlchang
I follow Thaumatrope in my twitter stream. It works great there as entries are spaced far enough apart to be fresh when reading them.

(And I loved the Wired 6 Word Challenge. Amazing how clever brevity can be.)
Arachne Jericho
2. arachnejericho
For ease of reading @Somers_Story (or other Twitter feeds similar to this, like @Othar), do the following:

1. Subscribe to the Somers_Story twitter feed in Google Reader.

2. Mark all entries read. (Just to start with, so step 4 will work better.)

3. Google Reader will now have a box that reads "Somers_Story" has no unread items. View all items." Click on the "View all items" link that appears in this box.

4. Click on "Feed Settings..." and choose "Sort by oldest."

5. Enjoy "The Black Boxes".

6. Keep updated for the next story on 2/16. New updates will come in oldest first.
Sumana Harihareswara
3. brainwane
If 140 characters is too short for you but 1,500 words is too long, try the 101 words of Anacrusis.
Arachne Jericho
4. arachnejericho
With Jeff Somers' permission, I've reproduced the Tweets comprising "The Black Boxes" in chronological form.

(I used a Ruby script and the Twit4r library, and it seems satisfactory enough, if plain, and should be able to do this easily for any future Twitter stories that show up.)
Erika A.
5. brownjawa
There was an article in the New Yorker a month or so ago about the cell-phone novel with essentially, the same premise in mind that's exploded in popularity in Japan over the past few years. While not started on the web, cell-phone novels began by using the 140-character maximum to post chapters of novels on the web. Unfortunately, the article isn't available online to non-members, otherwise I'd link it here. It's really fascinating!
Erika A.
6. brownjawa
WHoops! It is available! Here's the site!

I ? Novels by Dana Goodyear
Fred Coppersmith
7. FCoppersmith
I like Thaumatrope, but I think it's tough to really produce a story in 140 characters. The best I've seen so far have been more like interesting ideas or short jokes.
John Klima
8. john_klima
@7 I agree; the ones I like tend to sound like writing prompts. Maybe that will be the first Thaumatrope antho (virtual or print), take the best posts and use them as prompts for other people to finish.

There's your assignment. Now go write!
Darryl Parker
10. Darryl Parker
I have a sci-fi Twitter stream going with a 140-character maximum (and minimum) length to the short stories:

Twitter is helping me exercise conveying concepts succinctly and providing an outlet for short bursts of creativity versus the longer dedication required for blog posts, articles and books. My collection of posts is certainly fodder for character, plot and scenario development.

Thanks for your article and the great leads!


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