The Promise Of Twitterature

Reviewing David Mitchell’s recent Twitter experiment, which the Dish featured last weekend, Ian Crouch forecasts the future of literary Twitter:

There’s potential on Twitter for wild formal invention. Rather than just fiction tweeted, writers could find narrative in retweets, faves, blocks, and unfollows, and write in not just words but images, GIFs, emoji, and hyperlinks. Characters might exist as different Twitter handles, put in conversation, or else many characters subtly inhabiting a single account. It would wade into the messiness of parody accounts, anonymous mystery accounts, brand accounts, fake brand accounts, bots, and real people posing as bots. There are examples of this kind of writing, and its real emotional and intellectual possibilities, in the archive of work created for the Twitter Fiction Festival, which was held this past March: God tweets out a new book of the Bible about Justin Bieber; a cast of characters tweet about being trapped in a fictional airport during the polar vortex; Henry David Thoreau gets a smart phone at Walden Pond. Twitter is often funny, and so is Twitter fiction, but there are stories, too, of lost love, loneliness, and despair.

Writers may decide that Twitter is too narrow a space—too ephemeral, too rude or self-serving, too muddied by advertising and promotion—to both inspire and host meaningful fiction. Maybe everyone writing there is really still just gunning for a book deal. But I like to think that there is another kind of fiction to be written, the truest expression of the form, which embraces the quotidian nature of Twitter and its movements in real time. The project couldn’t be pre-written or announced; it would be spontaneous, changeable, full of odd tangents and breaking news and animal videos and sad, unfaved tweets. It would feature our first true @ narrator, writing in a voice that only seemed like unvarnished nonfiction opinion at the time. There may be someone out there already hard at work on the Great American Twitter Novel, tweeting and retweeting and subtweeting it one day at a time.