The Guardian recently challenged a selection of authors to use the contracted platform of Twitter to write a story. They had only 140 characters to manipulate into whatever snippet of fiction they liked. The results then served both to entertain and question, what exactly are we now calling literature?
These snippets often appear as fragmented and abstract ideas, seemingly belonging in a much larger context. One person left a comment asking “Is a tweet a story?” effectively challenging what precisely these authors were intending and what they achieved from their “tweets”.
But is a tweet a story? In a way, yes. The 140 character limit doesn’t impose too much on the creative faculty of the author as a tweet encapsulates one thought and relates the story of that specific motion. The tweet holds that moment and concretes it in the world of the social sphere, giving a glimpse into the life of whoever is writing it. The beauty of it is then that it only takes 140 characters for the public to judge and assess you. The platform becomes about how quickly and how concisely we can attract people and encourage them to “follow” us.
The problem of condensing is also inherent in the Twitter sphere, particularly when it comes to writing fiction. Simon Armitage has a dig at Blaise Pascal and Mark Twain for not having the time to condense their fiction. Charlie Higson complains of the time it took to condense every Bond novel into individual tweets, learning the hard way that “007” is one character short of “Bond”. Suddenly every use of punctuation and abbreviation becomes integral to the shaping of your piece. The dilemma with a tweet is often which grammatical error to commit in order to prevent sacrificing words to fit the character count.
Authors such as Patrick Neate resorted to abbreviation in their Twitter fiction in order to make what they want to say fit. Neate has then manipulated this into being a part of his piece, commenting on the superficiality and falseness of a social media profile. However in my mind it is the pieces which manage to still incorporate the features of correct English, grammar and all, which are the most effective as they’ve had to be the most ingenious.
Annie Enright takes it one step further and includes hashtags, adapting her fiction to the media in which it is being presented. Literature has to evolve and adapt in order to survive and what she shows is that rather than try and hide from these new forms, literature must embrace them, be clever and manipulate them to their own means. When an author commands a social platform such as Twitter, who is to say what they’re writing isn’t literature?