Sunday, 31 January 2016

Twitter vs Print Showdown: Form Wins

I can't help but reflect on some of the characteristics that Bonnie Mak described in terms of the relationship between the content and the structure and materiality of the page itself as I encounter Twitter fiction. I see this as a significant factor that distinguishes the two.

Furthermore, in seeking out Twitter fiction, the biggest obstacle for me was locating and encountering fictional material in a cogent manner. Typically, to encounter fictional narrative in a digital context alone is not so challenging; there are websites and databases that publish such material regularly. On twitter, additional task of needing to separately and discretely track different characters, narratives strung across time or a series of unique posts can be difficult. This fundamentally alters how one perceive the narratives, regardless of the substantive content or topic.

In those twitter narratives that construct a fictional world through several twitter accounts representing characters, institutions, or contextual elements, etc, there is an even greater difficulty in locating a narrative. In that sense, each discrete granularlized portion of a larger narrative is itself a small story. This is basically the point that I think Smith is making about @horse_ebooks

While collating unique narratives from across several Twitter accounts to construct the broader one may also be easier with the historical fictional characters that King mentions. The additional context creates more meaning, which itself continues its own suggestive journey, 140 characters at a time, toward a cogent narrative. Smith is pointing to @horse_ebooks faux-random beauty in this disjointed narrative form could only operate on readers with the additional context of expectations and etiquette on Twitter, different from those in the print narrative. A unique dialect in narrative is thus expressed. Twitter fiction, largely in formal ways disrupts the habits and conventions of print fiction, and it demands a new criticism, drawing from other scholarly traditions.

It got me thinking a lot about GIFs, and how they are also a new dialect in digital communication and art. and much of the growth, exploration, and literacy in that area should cross-pollinate for me.


King, R.J. (2013). "How Twitter is reshaping the future of storytelling,” FastCoExist. Retrieved from\

Mak, B. (2011). "Architectures of the page." How the page matters. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

PBSoffbook. (March 2012) "Animated GIFs: The birth of a medium." Retrieved from

Smith, A. (October 2013). "Literary Parkour: @Horse_ebooks, Jonathan Franzen and the rise of Twitter fiction,” Grandland. Retrieved from

The Great American Tweet

Twitter Fiction, if it can be described as a single entity, derives its uniqueness as being a subset of electronic literature delivered specifically via the Twitter platform. It affords the author the advantage of the platform: an opportunity to connect with some of the 330 million users who visit monthly and (presumably? hopefully? potentially?) consume content.

Twitter Fiction

The printing press was a bad idea.  Self-publishing was a bad idea.  E-Books are going to be the death of books, and now cellphones or tablets are squashing out both.  Writers are now either getting on the Twitter Train, or condemning it.  Twitter Fiction seems to be another process of story-evolution.  It’s happening.  It doesn’t mean that literature and writing is a dying art, it just means that it is changing.  There are entire website dedicated to twitter fiction.  There is even an annual Twitter Fiction Festival.   

“The concept of Twitter fiction may seem superficial to many because it can literally be done by anyone and, quite frankly, it goes against the established realms of highbrow literary art that dominate most lauded magazines.” (Santully, n.d.)  Santully then points out that the time invested in writers and readers in Twitter Fiction vs. full stories evens out.  It could take about fifteen minutes to write a twitter fiction story, and thirty seconds to read it.  Whereas it takes much longer to write and then read full stories.  Santully also notes that as he was getting started as an author, and on Twitter, he found that submitting Twitter Stories actually promoted stronger feedback from editors, with more detail, because they can easily pinpoint what they do and do not like, or their thoughts on the piece.

The youth of today are programmed to share stories and thoughts in 140 characters or less.  They adapt to saying as much as possible with very little space, in the hopes of validations through favourites and retweets.  Many magazines looking for short stories prefer submissions of 1,500 words or less (Santully, n.d.).  I can’t tell if the medium is influencing the message, or the message is influencing the medium, but the way to deliver stories is evolving, and people are evolving with it.  Melissa Terras, a Digital Humanities professor calls it a different type of art form, with a different experience and new constraints (Goldhill, 2015).

Favourites like choose your own adventures are even going from books, to online websites, to Twitter.  One author has created an online choose your own adventure on Twitter, with many possible outcomes, combined with links to websites.  He states that there are thousands of interactions with fans.

The interview with the author is in the first 8-9 minutes.  If the video is not showing up, a link to the interview is here.

Authors can also use Twitter Fiction to not only help them get published with a full story, but to promote upcoming book releases, like author David Mitchell did with his piece of Twitter Fiction.

Author Robert Swartwood says (Crum, 2015) that a story should do four things:

1.       Tell a story
2.       Be entertaining
3.       Be thought provoking
4.       Invoke an emotional response

If a story can do that in a few tweets of 140 characters (or even less than that, such as ‘Six Word Stories’ examples can be found here) why should it matter?  It forces authors to expanding their writing skills, reevaluate how to deliver something creative and creates very concise forms of writing.  

I still prefer print and ebooks, twitter stories end far too soon for my liking, but I could see how it would be easy to get lost in a website that hosts twitter stories, and comb through dozens of them in one sitting.  


274: Twitter fiction, designing a grief app, the dangers of digital metaphor and more(2015) Available at: 

Crum, M. (2015) Here’s how you write A short story on Twitter. Available at:

Goldhill, O. (2015) Is Twitter fiction the new literary genre?  Available at:

Santulli, A. (n.d.). Consider Twitter fiction. Available at:

 Six word stories. Available at:

Module 5: Facebook & Narratives of Memory

Module 5: Facebook and Narratives of Memory
Monday, Feb.1, 2016 - Sunday, Feb.7, 2016
  • Feb. 2: Tweet two reflections on a reading from this Module’s list
  • Feb. 5: Conduct an experiment! Read your Facebook feed and analyse how your “friends” employ their timelines? Can you find narratives? What is the role of “public” in these narratives (are they clearly written for an audience? A specific audience?) How does the format/character constraint affect the narrative?

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Twitter - Print: Scriptors & Commentors evolving...

Twitter narratives appear to be carving a new wave in certain areas of communicating fiction, but there are some interesting overlaps with earlier waves of changes in communication technology. When the printing press was first being used there were a variety of roles that emerged, perhaps we are seeing some similar roles emerging with Twitter?

Printing Press in the Royal Library of Belgium - RO Rossier (2012)

According to Eisenstein, there were four different scribal roles associated with manuscript preparation. Scriptors to transcribed documents without making any editorial changes. Compilators transcribing documents and adding the words of benefactors. A commentator transcribing documents and adding personal comments and conjecture. An auctor (author) writing their own intellectual creations but also incorporating the works of others in the body of their work (Eisenstein, 1983, p. 85). In other words, manuscripts were often evolving documents, not static documents. 

Similarly, Twitter narratives are evolving to have a number of roles and are evolving documents. Examples include writers who Tweet stories, and compilers who scrape Tweets to recreate and reframe stories. Some Twitter users are content to reTweet without adding their own content or perspectives, others engage in a value-adding process; but there are profoundly similar components of the way we communicate digitally now, compared to how we communicated centuries ago. Our brains have not evolved as fast as our technology... 

The key differences between Twitter narrative and traditional print narrative include: speed of publication, multimodality, and audience.

Speed: While books might take years to write, layout, design, print, and distribute; Tweets take seconds. Andrew Fitzgerald gives an excellent description of real-time story telling and our capacity to produce and distribute Twitter narratives very quickly.

Multimodality: While books have variation in size, shape, binding, font, paper, ink; Tweets might include video, sound, images and links to other much more interactive media, like the Westwing Twitter accounts. Books traditionally communicate to readers, but Twitter narratives can have communication between any combination of writers, commenters and readers.

Audience: Books have an audience limited to the holder of the book, and even with e-books there is normally a limitation in the number of people who can receive a book. Readers do not need to be Twitter users to read Tweets, however they do need computer and internet access, as well as a level of computer literacy.


Eisenstein, E. L. (1983). The printing revolution in early modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fitzgerald, A. (2013). “Adventures in Twitter Fiction, Ted Talks, 

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

The role of aggregation in Twitter storytelling

The transitory nature of Twitter makes it difficult to tell stories, whether fictional or otherwise. While there are tools (ScribbleLiveCoverItLiveStorify) to collect tweets, an editor is required to aggregate the work. 

In the example of Elliot Holt’s #TwitterFiction [sic] project, the story is narrated by three characters, each with their own Twitter handle. Indeed, the permalinks to Holt's tweets are not active anymore, so the story only exists in its aggregated form. 
A screenshot of Holt's story on Penguin Press' Storify.

Holt’s story was part of the Twitter Fiction Festival and hosted by Penguin Press. In the finished project, an editor from Penguin has aggregated the content into a Storify page. Should the editor be getting credit for their role in the story’s creation?

I agree with Slate’s David Pierce that:
"In most ways, the Story Time Twitter reading experience is awful. You’re waiting for tweets, as the author painstakingly tries to contort a long story into some indeterminate number of 140-character chunks. Tweets get lost in your timeline unless you’re vigilantly paying attention.”
Though I'm a transliterate reader, I find it difficult to follow a narrative without an aggregated story. Therefore, Twitter fiction presents a problem of accessibility: not all readers have the time/means to enjoy the story live. Typically, I tune into the Twitter story well after it has unfolded. Take for example, the tale of Aziah King (NSFW). I would venture that this aggregation is counter to Twitter’s nature as a place for brief texts written quickly in a casual manner. 

As Rita King puts it, "Twitter story experiments aren’t shackled by the linear requirements of paper”. Though I applaud the progressive nature of Twitter stories, I still cling to narratives in print. This recalls our reading of How the Page Matters by Bonnie Mak. To me, the stories still ends at “the edges of the cognitive space” of the page (p. 13).

In Andrew Fitzgerald’s TED talk "Adventures in Twitter fiction", he provides an intriguing graphic of Twitter interactions. This web is so wide, it is impossible to extricate any one user or story.

I think this graphic is an apt metaphor for the multimodality of Twitter. In contrast, print fiction is distinctly one dimensional. That said, print media is innovating and expanding its boundaries.

It makes me think of the early 2000s, when newspapers tried to garner more web traffic by starting printing QR codes alongside stories. Little coded boxes would appear next to the text, encouraging readers to scan the code and connect with further information online. This technology was cumbersome at best: you had to download a separate app to read the codes. Of course, now QR codes are somewhat redundant thanks to advances in near field technology (NFC).


Holt, E. (n.d.). @ElliottHolt's #TwitterFiction Story (with image, tweets). Retrieved January 27, 2016, from

King, R. (2013, May 22). How Twitter Is Reshaping The Future Of Storytelling. Retrieved January 27, 2016, from

Mak, B. (2011). How the page matters. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Pierce, D. (2016, January 22). Gather Around, Folks, for the Brilliance of Story Time Twitter. Retrieved January 27, 2016, from

Fitzgerald, A. [TED]. (2013, October 11). Andrew Fitzgerald: Adventures in Twitter fiction [video file]. Retrieved January 27, 2016, from

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Module Four- Twitter is only part of the story

Reading Buttry’s praise about the live tweeting of the hysterectomy reminded me of a show I used to watch in the late 1980s, it was called The Operation, I think, and you could watch a compressed, edited version of all kinds of operations. I remember watching a brain surgery where the person had to be awake, it was mind bending. Live tweeting a surgery is probably just as accurate in terms of production- I’m sure the hospital isn’t going to tweet things like “whoops, just cut the wrong blood vessel, stitching now,” or “robot stalled because nurse tripped on power cord,” so there has to be a certain amount of fiction in the process. I agree that waiting to find out how your loved one is doing in surgery is nerve wracking, but surely there must be a better use of resources to keep the family informed than live tweeting it- will every operating theatre have a social media person to tweet how the surgery is going? Hopefully the surgeons can be free to concentrate on the patient. If someone is curious about the procedure, and not queasy, there are many videos on YouTube you can watch to find out about it, including the video of a surgery in the same hospital, by presumably the same robots.

Smith lays into Jonathan Franzen and his views on Twitter, and I have to say I can agree with him on many points. I also don’t agree with her that you have to participate in Twitter to understand it, or to speak out on how you think it will affect your industry. That’s like saying I don’t fully understand smoking’s health risks because I don’t smoke. Authors have to promote their work, or they don’t sell books. If they don’t sell books, they are people with day jobs who write at night when they have time. Why wouldn’t they join Twitter if it could help them create a bigger audience for their work? And why can’t they be creative in different ways? They are creative people and as such should be able to experiment with what a story looks like to them. Will Salman Rushdie stop writing novels because of Twitter? Doubtful.

I also took exception to her point “even if Twitter was intentionally designed for advertising purposes… that still does not sum up or circumscribe the ways that ordinary inhabitants of this city of language are choosing to express themselves.” The platform does effect the ways people create because it is limited in so many ways, what people see, what is trending, how the bots encourage connections, because the business model is to make money on advertising. Any creativity that happens on Twitter is in spite of its design and not because of it.

King’s article in Fast Company probably came the closest to the way I feel about Twitter fiction- it’s an experiment. No one is writing a novel 140 characters long. They probably aren’t writing it 140 characters at a time either. More likely, they are writing it all down, somewhere else, and then using Twitter as a broadcasting/publishing platform. Teju Cole’s Seven Short Stories About Drones project really seemed like short stories, they were so vivid. Here's a sample: 

It's pretty clear what he is trying to say there, but it leaves me wanting more of the story, and that’s where Twitter's format is lacking for me. 

Instead, I believe Twitter's strength is telling a story while it’s happening, like the earthquake we had in Vancouver- people were tweeting their experiences in real time and we were telling a collective story for the world.  


Buttry, S. (August 2009). "Riveting Twitter Narrative of Robotic Surgery at St. Luke's” Retrieved on January 26, 2016 from:

King, R. J. (2013). "How Twitter is Reshaping the Future of Storytelling,” Retrieved January 26, 2016 from

Smith, A. (October 2013). "Literary Parkour: @Hourse_ebooks, Jonathan Franzen and the Rise of Twitter Fiction,” Grandland, Retrieved January 26, 2016 from:

Monday, 25 January 2016

Inanimate Alice - Beach Haze

Alice Beach Haze.
I am like you, but I live near the beach.

Imprecise narrative details insist on an interpretive reading

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Alice 2016

Inanimate Alice
Episode 7: Turkey

This story uses images, text, and sound; turn on the sound on your computer.

Use your mouse and click on the arrows >> to move forward.
Sometimes you may need to perform an action for the story to continue.
You can also use the icons on the right-hand side to return to earlier sections.

The story takes about 37 hours to view.

Alice in Moose Jaw

The Alice series is part mystery, part nostalgia, intergenerational considerations and international travel. Alice and her mother Ming, embark on a journey to Canada to find out more about Alice’s great great grandmother, Ying, who emigrated clandestinely from China in 1916 to a small town called Moose Jaw. Rumour has it that great great granny Ying worked as a messenger in the city’s tunnels for none other than Al Capone during the prohibition era. Alice and her mum are dying to find out more about this mysterious family member whose Chinese name means “clever”or “eagle”…

Video editing courtesy of

Photos by JP Deneault, all cityscape images are of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Exception of the following CC-licensed images: Little Chinese girl, Al Capone, and image of the tunnel

Music by Dj Saintone, from CC-licensed EP "Underground Dreams", available on