Twitter Fiction: Modern Short Stories


Studies suggest a decline in fiction reading. Social media is taking the blame. Can writers reclaim their readership through Twitter?

In the United Kingdom alone, it is estimated that the individual’s average social media usage is 114 minutes per day across any given device. These growing technologies and the advance of social media is often blamed for young people disconnecting with reading for pleasure rather than necessity, with a sharp fall in literary fiction sales in the last fifteen years. Arts Council England (ACE) blames the rise of smartphones, and a recent report from digital publishers Canelo pessimistically states that “literary fiction is often ‘difficult’ and expensive: it isn’t free, and it requires more concentration than Facebook or Candy Crush”.  Although this is not entirely fair, with up to 76% of readers reading for pleasure at least once a week, perhaps it is time for fiction to adapt to the technological climate in order for fiction reading to remain relevant and exciting.

If you can’t beat them, join them


With authors such as Neil Gaiman using the platform as early as 2009, writers have taken to Twitter to produce short stories in just a single tweet of 140 (now 280) characters. Similarly to flash fiction, which is typically a story comprised of up to 100 words, Twitter fiction is a test of a writer’s skill in condensing a complete narrative or sentiment into an impossibly small word limit. In the same way that a short Tweet can summarise a person's day, mood, or a notable moment, Twitter fiction presents a complete fictitious narrative. 

The Guardian has curated several showcases of short-form fiction over the past few years, in both 2012 and 2015, challenging various authors to take part. Of course, you don’t have to be a well-established author to partake in the challenge of Twitter fiction: Twitter account (and website) Nanoism post weekly stories obliging to the 140-character limit, even in light of Twitter’s recent change to 280.

Nanoism take submissions along with a short author’s bio, if you are interested in creating Twitter stories of your own. Submissions can be any genre, subject or style as long as they conform to the limit.

Historically relevant

Of course, authors on Twitter did not invent miniscule fiction. As well as the aforementioned flash or ‘micro’-fiction, the character limits of Twitter fiction hark back to Ernest Hemingway’s six-word stories, and the famous “For sale: baby shoes, never worn”. This form lives on, with authors often trying their hand at writing a six-word and often single-sentence novel, and has been expanded into the form of  Tweets. 

Writing a story so short whilst still providing such impact is a work of extreme care. Masses of dialogue and excessive descriptions of treetops and eye colours cannot be relied upon, as each word plays a valuable role in the arch of the narrative and characters cannot be spared on extra adjectives. What may seem like a quickly-typed Tweet likely took drafting and re-drafting, just as any written work does. Creating Twitter fiction is a good exercise for the writer - a practice in writing succinct, effective sentences. 

With our social media feeds often filled with news alerts, squabbles and slightly concerning commentary from a certain President, a short burst of creative flair can never go amiss. If you feel like giving Twitter fiction a go (and have enough characters to spare), tag us at @falwriting so we can take a look!

by Maisie Prudames