Mar 17, 2011

Minifiction on Twitter

Does Twitter, with its 140 character limit, provide a platform for good writing? It will be no surprise to learn that Minifiction thinks the potential is there (Time magazine does too, by the way), but has it produced anything so far? And, if so, what does it look like and how do you find it?

The Time article cited above focuses on parodic tweets, such as those you might find in a collection like Alan Beard and Alec McNary’s Historical Tweets: the Completely Unabridged and Ridiculously Brief History of the World. While undoubtedly hilarious, this kind of work is reflexive in nature, relying on being understood as (a parody of) real Twitter to function. Minifiction was also curious to find out what kind of ‘stand alone’ writing Twitter users have come up with.

We dusted off our Twitter account and had a look around, and quickly discovered that there is plenty going on. Searching by ‘hashtags’ (user defined keywords that people include in their tweets) such as ‘#vss’ (very short story?), ‘#sixwordstory’ and ‘#microstory’ throws up a lot of original work as users post it real time. Tweetified poetry wins in terms of sheer bulk: searching under ‘#micropoetry’ and ‘#haiku’ will have someone’s latest effort plopping into your search results every few seconds. There are some gems here, some junk, all of it seems so very fleeting...

A group that has done a fine job corralling such ‘TwitterLit’ is the team at Folded Word Press. Since 2009, Folded Word have run a series of ezine projects that focus on different genres doing the rounds on Twitter: PicFic and Form.Reborn, for example, aim to “boil down the essence” of short stories and verse respectively, while unFold takes an experimental approach to poetry at its most compact. The best of all three ezines made it into their December 2010 print and e-publication On a Narrow Windowsill.

As to be expected with 43 contributors from seven different countries writing narrative and verse – as well as unclassifiable texts that seem to belong somewhere in between – On a Narrow Windowsill is an assortment with something for everyone as opposed to everything for someone. But it is nevertheless a superbly selected, edited, and as far as Minifiction can tell, so far the only, compendium of the would-be ephemeral.

The book is divided into three sections that represent the ezines mentioned above.

The stories in the PicFic section range from tightly-clipped science fiction nuggets such as @kaolinfire’s ‘In Xanadu’:

Exhausted, he nods off; neural connections create lyric beauty through the interface, chaos dreams. Gone with a power failure.

to colourful, alliterative snippets that remind of Spencer Holst, such as @spacedlawyers ‘Life is Pink’:

A gaggle of giggles as the girls pass around the love note: Who will dare deliver it to its object? Not the author obviously. Life is Pink.

There is also the poignant and observant here, such as J. Y. Saville’s fantastic ‘Letting Go’:

Gradually all bonds loosen and slip. Afraid to lose him, she cries “I release you!” and he clings all the closer as she hoped he would.

Most of the stories centre on brief moments, but they are undoubtedly stories; many of the authors take recourse to elision to keep the pieces short and within the character limit – some preferring to drop their articles, others their personal pronouns. There’s very little use of intertextuality here though, which surprised Minifiction, due to its ubiquity in other short short writing.

The Form.Reborn portion of the book offers a necessarily sifted selection of verse from the huge randomness you’ll find on Twitter. There are haiku and cinquains here, but other forms too. Rose Auslander’s four part poem ‘Secret Season’, that finds nature in the industrial with its “hidden blossoms” that “scrape the sky”, sticks out in Minifiction’s mind, and there are others here worth returning to.

The unFold portion of the book is by far the shortest. Minifiction wonders why this is, as some of the work it contains demonstrates the surprising amount of space Twitter offers to dabble in. We’ll mention two pieces here, both of which occupy the zone between poetry and narrative like so much ultra-short writing. Both are by Pushcart prize nominated authors, ‘To Yesterday’s Poem’ by Linda Leedy Schneider:

You incubated in darkness, were born in a yellow notebook; I loved you like any fantasy child.

and ‘Monoline #1’ by Changming Yuan:

There is light in every dream we have in darkness.

A very positive note at the (almost) end of the book.

Folded Press may not be the first seeking to boil their works down to the essence of the story or the poem – minfiction has been around for some time, after all, and is becoming more widespread on the web by the day – but they do appear to be the first to look at TwitterLit as a distillable form, and have proven that it is a form worth distilling.


  1. Wow, Letting Go is 'fantastic'? Thanks! Twitter fiction is a good challenge - taking that 'strip out the unnecessary' thing to (almost) its logical conclusion.

    JY Saville

  2. Thank you for your nice words.

  3. Always nice to hear thoughts from someone who "gets" what we're trying to do:-)

    And to answer the question toward the end: Narrow Windowsill was constructed with works published on Twitter during 2009. Since unFold didn't launch until November of that year, there were fewer to choose from. However it is now going so strong that our next anthology will be solely comprised of unFold poems.

  4. Thanks for the comments all and thanks for the explanation Folded Word, we look forward to the unFold anthology!