The novel by tweet
(Page 2 of 2)
“I love it when classic stories are put into different frameworks that can bypass an audience’s inherent distrust of ‘literature’ and something that is supposed to be good for them, hence boring,” says Mr. Bushman. “Most of what we consider classics were the blockbuster entertainments of their day.”
In July, Sarah Schmelling, a writer for the McSweeney’s magazine website, brought this theory to its logical, side-splitting conclusion. The project was called “Hamlet (Facebook News Feed Edition),” in a nod to a Twitter-like broadcasting feature on the ubiquitous social network. A sample line: “The king thinks Hamlet’s annoying.”
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Bushman is currently developing “re-imaginings” of “Pride and Prejudice,” by Jane Austen; “Dracula,” by Bram Stoker; and “Moby Dick,” by Melville. He also has a well-trafficked group blog called the Spoon River Metblog (http://spoonriver.metblogs.com), which he calls a “modernalization” of “The Spoon River Anthology,” by Edgar Lee Masters.
“I think there’s value in looking at these media as conduits for serious storytelling,” says Bushman. “I like to think of this kind of work as ‘embedded fiction.’ That is, in your daily online life, you have lots of sites, feed, channels you get information from. And it’s all nonfiction – news, e-mails from friends, status updates. And I want to embed little bits of fiction within these real streams and, hopefully, blur the line between the real world and the story world.”
As Belardes and others have pointed out, the novel by tweet is really a digital extension of flash fiction, an established literary genre which relies on constrained word counts and a florid style to convey often complicated narratives. (H.P. Lovecraft was a pro at flash fiction; so, memorably, was Ray Bradbury.)
Projects such as “Small Places” and “The Good Captain” also have an analog in the so-called “cellphone” novels which have filled bestseller lists in Japan.
“You have to ask yourself, ‘What is a novel?’ ” Belardes says. “You can’t be stuck on the idea of a novel being a book you hold in your hand.”
In recent months, he points out, Twitter has become an accepted tool among media outlets, including The New York Times, which used the service to help cover CMJ, an annual music showcase based in Manhattan. Other papers have reported on funerals, press conferences, and presidential debates by tweet.
Still, some writers see Twitter as nothing more than a useful marketing device for their own literary projects. Brandon J. Mendelson, the author of a work in progress called “The War on Literacy” (www.twitter.com/TWOL), says Twitter is “a clever way to use a [fairly] new service to build an audience.
For writers, the competition is stiff, so we need every edge we can find, but I don’t think this is the future at all. I agree mobile is the future, but 140 characters at a time?” Mr. Mendelson asks. “We want and demand more than that.”