Sep 02, 2008, 07:11AM

Twitter Tales

With every new medium comes new potential for artistic expression, and Twitter is no exception. A handful of literary projects using Twitter's 140 character or less format have sprouted up. Here's a review of how successful they are, and how Twitter writing fits into a larger history of short writing.

Like all new mediums, microblogging is ripe for artistic exploitation. New York Times writer Matt Richtel set out to test Twitter's literary potential by writing a "Twiller", a thriller story in 140-character increments. Richtel valiantly attempts to convey a cliché murder mystery—complete with dead hookers, an amnesia-afflicted killer, and (of course) Barack Obama.

Though intractably disjointed and largely incomprehensible, the piece has a strange sort of gritty charm. It reads like what you would get if you shoved Dashiell Hammett and Christopher Nolan into a room with a typewriter, a hacksaw, and a massive pile of mind-altering substances. My capacity to appreciate the inventiveness of Richtel's work could be a function of my own affinity for avant-garde literature, and I suspect that most sane readers would find it insufferable. Richtel acknowledges this himself, noting that "it's a short story with a proverbial long tail—albeit a short, long tail."

Aside from Richtel's epic Twiller, there are a handful of other equally intriguing experiments in tiny tale authorship. One of the most notable is the Very Short Story collection that was published in a 2006 issue of Wired magazine. The collection included numerous 6-word stories by widely-known science fiction authors and futurists. My favorite is this tiny masterpiece by "Firefly" creator Joss Whedon: "Gown removed carelessly. Head, less so."


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