Friday, 16 April 2010

The Twitter Short Story -delivery in progress

This is my second blog about twitter, it's getting to be a habit. If anyone has been following my twitter feed, they will be aware that I'm in the process of delivering a story, Bad Hair Daze, via twitter. Yes, I'm doing it to promote my work, come on, I'm not that innocent, but I'm also doing it because I enjoy playing with new formats and exploring how they can be used. (It's how I got into writing software reviews for magazines like Video Age). The question is, could twitter be a viable delivery tool for short, or episodic storylines, or will it remain the preserve of Haiku's and links to news items?

I'm now into my second day as a twitter novelist (Okay, short fiction writer), so far it could best be described as a learning experience. Bad Hair Daze is a romantic comedy, following the day to day life of Zel, a 24 year old features writer on Hair Magic Magazine. The story is written in a form of diary style, with Zel updating the reader about the events in her day in real-time, as a series of tweets. As a writer this has thrown up a number of challenges, the most obvious being twitter's 140 character limit for each tweet. Frustratingly, this also includes spaces, so lots of short words can be just as bad as long ones. The art I needed to learn was to make each tweet: stand alone –without the need to run onto a second–, still have meaning in itself, and still be able to drive the story forward. The second issue I needed to look at was time. Each tweet must be sent at a particular time, to coincide with Zel's day and the events that are apparently unfolding in real-time. For me, apart from that fact that it plays havoc with my concentration, it has meant getting creative with the means of sending tweets. Normally I can use the computer to send tweets, but to tweet when not at home has necessitated the use of my phone to send them through SMS text messaging. There have been one or two technical difficulties to overcome with this; including switching provider, because my original one didn't work with twitter. I'm also the first to admit I'm useless at tapping out text messages on the phone keypad. To get round this, I send the tweets as text messages using Skype, from my computer to my phone, in advance; it is then a simple matter of forwarding each message to twitter at the scheduled time.
All this should have been fine; it worked during my testing, but yesterday's experience highlighted a couple of issues with the use of my phone. The first being that, for no reason a could tell, it split one of my tweets. I sent it as one text, but it appeared in twitter as two consecutive tweets. The second issue (and lesson learnt) is that, the final tweet of the day lost the last word, appearing in twitter as:
'Evelyn stood right next to me in the lift, touched my hair, and said she liked it in this colour, but it would suit me better shorter. C …'. The last word should have appeared as 'Creepy'. What I had failed to take into account was that mobile phones can deliver more than 140 characters, and my tweet was actually 142; an oversight I should have checked before it was sent to my phone. By the time I realised, parked in a lay-by on the A35, there was really nothing I could do.

I hope that I can work around any future glitches, as I will be relying increasingly on my phone during the London Book Fair next week. Just to be on the safe side, though, I think it will be wise to seek out as many wireless hotspots, for my laptop, as I can.

Aside from any technical problems, I hope that the flow of the story will start to come through as the tweets progress and any idiosyncrasies of the medium will be forgiven as merely a kind of realism to the delivery of the story. I still intend to see the story through to it's conclusion on the 30th April, and hope that those who follow it, find it an interesting and engaging way to experience a narrative. It remains to be seen if it will be worth repeating the experiment, although I do have a longer, and more gritty, story which I may deliver towards Christmas. I may even consider writing another episode to Bad Hair Daze, if this one isn't a complete disaster.

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