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[GUEST POST] Nate Crowley (THE SEA HATES A COWARD) Tells Us How Twitter Fiction is Done

Nate Crowley lives in South East London, and knows too much about the history of public aquaria. Once, he accidentally punched a wrasse while wearing a diving suit from the 1800s. He keeps a List of Animals. He is the author of Daniel Barker’s Birthday, and can be found on twitter as @frogcroakley. The Sea Hates A Coward is his first wossname.

Howling Into the Bucket: How to Do Twitter Fiction

by Nate Crowley

This summer, I was offered a book deal by @RebellionPub because I tweeted about my mate’s birthday for 75 days.

It is – both literally and figuratively – quite a long story, although it’s summarised pretty well here if you’re curious.

Admittedly, being picked up based on a series of 700 or so tweets about clowns and anaemic leopards is a stranger way into publishing than the usual route of working really hard for years. As I said at the time, it feels a bit like being made defence minister because someone saw you throw a crisp really hard at a dog.

Nevertheless, I jumped at the chance. And I hope other publishers make similarly reckless commissioning decisions, as I think twitter is a strange and lovely crucible for fiction.

If you’ve ever felt defeated at the prospect of sitting down to write long-form prose, or get dispirited with the idea that you’ll never be a ‘proper’ writer unless you’re impossibly driven and competitive, you might want to try telling a story on twitter. It certainly changed my view of what I can do.

In telling stories through tweets you’re not trying to create an unblemished whole, nor are you committing to completion of a major work – you’re just telling a story that entertains you, piece by tiny piece. And the best bit is that people are listening as you go, sharing the good bits, and urging you on.

If embarking on writing a novel is like running an ultramarathon alone in a vulture-haunted desert, writing a story on twitter is like doing laps round a pub on a moped while being cheered on by yokels. Now, I am going to give you the keys to that moped.

Below are fourteen pointers (each, naturally, offered in 140 characters or fewer) on writing twitter fiction. I’m certainly no expert on the subject, but I do really, really enjoy it, so hopefully they’ll help in that regard at least.

  1. Ideal length for a twitter story is 10-14 tweets (250-350 words): enough room for drama without spamming timelines. One story per day.
  2. Don’t overplan each tweet before writing – but do know how and when you will end, so you don’t get stuck rambling. Know when to wrap up.
  3. One way to write a twitter story is to write it as a series of short paragraphs – & then go back and cut each one down to 140 chars.
  4. Sentences shouldn’t span 2 tweets. A thing must happen each tweet, even if it’s just a tortured simile, so each one works on its own.
  5. Mind your adjectives. And definitely your adverbs. Ramming stories into 140-character chunks forces economy of language.
  6. Learn to mercilessly curtail detail for the sake of concision – 12 tweets leave scant room for scene-setting or introducing characters.
  7. That said, do occasionally lavish whole tweets just on atmosphere: a good starter will grab people’s attention & enrich the rest.
  8. Hyphens take just 1 char more than periods – but often lend a better rhythm to a tweet; semicolons also have their moments.
  9. Much as between comics panels, things can happen between tweets. To shorten stories, figure how to imply action between tweets.
  10. Beware of starting accounts just for writing. Stick to your main account where people know you: shouting into a void can be demoralising.
  11. Twitter is perfect for serialisation – and the savage, strictly modular nature of a tweet story is ideal for twists & cliff-hangers.
  12. Unsure of where to start? Join a regular twitfic competition like #whimword for some practice in farting out stories on twitter
  13. Storify is your mate, as it lets you collect and save twitter stories, as well as add images, annotations and even others’ reactions.
  14. Even if you get no reaction, if you’re enjoying yourself, don’t stop. Twitter is a bucket to howl into – and sometimes it howls back.

1 Comment on [GUEST POST] Nate Crowley (THE SEA HATES A COWARD) Tells Us How Twitter Fiction is Done

  1. Nice post.

    I like to think that Mari Ness’s “Twittering the Stars”, which I published in my SHINE anthology — released March 30, 2010 — through Solaris Books (Abaddon is a sister company) was the very first story published that consisted completely of a series of tweets. Before Joe Hill’s “Twittering from the Circus of the Dead” (August 2013), as far as I can tell.

    If there are any earlier examples of published stories that consist purely of tweets, then I’d be interested to know.

    In any case, kudos to Nate Crowley and “The Sea Hates a Coward”.

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