As an author of children’s books I noticed that when writing my tweets, I’d be using many of the same ‘tricks’ applied when writing fiction. I will be explaining a number of these similarities here.
For purely practical reasons, I have used my own tweets to illustrate my points. However, this is by no means intended to suggest my tweets are in any way better than yours.
Every writer knows not to reveal too much, allowing for his or her readers to use their imagination to fill in any blanks. As the author of a story, you do of course determine in which direction you want your readers to take their imagination: you manipulate their train of thought.
When I tweeted: “There’s a screw on the floor, right underneath my seat”, this triggered replies like “Have a look to see whether it’s come out of your chair”. People like to be able to think along with you. Had I written “A screw fell out of my desk chair”, then I would have taken away the opportunity for them to do so.
On another occasion, I tweeted: “First time ever I’m eating a bran muffin”, stopping short of telling what the experience was like. This, too, triggered readers to respond; this time to ask whether I liked it or not. Tweets like these provide a transparent lead for response.
Both of the aforementioned tweets give rise to questions and conjure up readers’ curiosity. This is a technique commonly used in writing fiction as well, to try and generate readers’ interest in even the most trivial things. There’s no need for there to be a murder on every page; as long as an author is good at manipulating, his or her readers will be captivated by just about anything.
Boring subject matter can be made fun by thinking up clever ways to put it into words, like I did in this tweet: “Somehow, something happens to the adolescent brain that mixes things up, causing teenagers to mistake bedroom floors for wardrobes”. Because of the way this tweet is formulated, readers will need to pause for thought in order to understand and interpret what they are reading. This pulls them in. The tweet was retweeted by many, and undoubtedly more than if I’d simply tweeted “My children leave their clothes lying around across their bedroom floors”.
Another example: When I tweeted “Getting ready for long hot bath with @rustyrockets”, several readers figured out I was about to use my relaxing soak in the bath to have a read in Russell Brand’s latest book, rather than engage in any illicit encounter with the man himself.
Some authors choose to draw up a story framework for each new book, which they then refine into narratives and all other details required to bring the story alive. Other authors choose to let their story develop and evolve naturally as they write.
Sometimes a sequence of tweets may end up forming a story. It starts by setting out the situation and building up suspense.
Here’s one example: “My publisher emailed me he wants a picture of me. He has asked a photographer to call me this week to arrange a photo shoot.”
Ten days later: “On Monday I’ll be posing in front of a camera with a pair of binoculars and a flashlight.”
Two days later: “Smartly dressed, flashlight and binoculars ready. Photographer to take my picture for my story about an adventure trail will be here soon.”
Two hours later: “Photographer wanted me to take off my smart white shirt. He took a dark picture of me hiding behind the bushes. Such fun!”
Another example refers to my regular tweets moaning about the noise some of my neighbours make, particularly on summer days spent in the garden. When the Ministry of Defence announced it would be selling off old military stock, I tweeted “I wonder what a second-hand tank would cost these days…” Though I meant nothing by it, my previous tweets about obnoxious neighbours made some readers wonder if I might want to get one to take control of my neighbourhood. That could make for an intriguing story.
Writing fiction works exactly like that. Readers pick up on information given to them by the author and use that to interpret new material.
In fictional writing, the author decides on what he or she wants readers to know and not know, as well as in which order they will get to discover the next piece of information. The not knowing creates a level of suspense. It also provides the author with an opportunity to misdirect readers.
Twitter allows you to utilise the fact that because readers are unaware of the context of a particular message, they misinterpret it as a result. For example, “I’ve hatched a plan with my son to kill his dad, because he was getting too strong. #RISK”.
In a detective novel, the author will deliberately attempt to misdirect readers for as long as possible, not revealing what really happened until the very end. The art of Twitter is to achieve this within the 140‑character limitation of a tweet.
“At my desk, wearing only lingerie, on the phone to my publisher. I should put some more clothes on.” Some of the readers with a visual mindset considered this tweet ‘#TMI’ (‘Too Much Information’), but readers aware of my love of equestrianism immediately grasped that I’d just had a shower after returning from a ride on my horse.
When I tweeted: “Worked hard in bed this morning” naturally I expected people to let their fantasy run wild before explaining that as I woke I’d come up with a brand new story to write.
Tweets like these suggest something without actually specifying what it really is. The story plays out in readers minds. In fiction, too, the best stories tend to be those that apply carefully crafted suggestion to appeal to readers’ imagination, rather than narrate elaborate fantasies.
After an overnight stay on the Dutch island of Texel, I tweeted: “Got hardly any sleep last night because of constant barking outside”, to which someone replied “So I guess you’re feeling like a dog’s breakfast this morning.”
Twitter is full of puns like this. While the quality of a book boils down to only its author’s linguistic skills – where in the process of writing and rewriting he or she may stumble on a joke – Twitter can at times provide great interactive word plays, as various writers exchange one play on words after another with each other.
7 Central character
It is nice for the central character in a story to have recognisable traits as well as idiosyncrasies. On Twitter, you are the main character, fictitious or not. I never lie in what I write about myself, though I am selective in what I expose of myself. A few examples of tweets through which readers get to know me as a person:
“Sitting on a chair in my front garden, smoking a small cigar. Good way to maintain my social contacts in the neighbourhood.”
“I don’t like games that involve a lot of thinking; they’re too much like work. So I’m having a game of Bubbles on the iPad; nice ‘n’ stupid.”
“Topping up my fat reserves after a relentless tennis practice in the rain. Beer, pretzels, crackers and cheese.”
“I wish the weekends would be longer; they provide such a nice opportunity for me to catch up on work I didn’t get to finish in de week.”
In fiction, the central character’s personality is very much made up of his or her quirks; they are what make him or her interesting to read about. That said, readers wouldn’t expect this main personality to be entirely void of common characteristics, because those allow the readers to identify with him or her.
It’s no different on Twitter. A night-time tweet about snacking: “To me, dieting is more of a morning than a night-time thing” met with wide recognition among readers who had also been raiding their fridges that night.
8 Supporting characters
Supporting characters can be presented in a more caricature-like fashion and be left nameless. SO (‘Significant Other’), DH (‘Dear Husband’), DS (‘Dear Son’) and DD (‘Dear Daughter’) are some of the common acronyms used among tweeps.
Spouses, children and colleagues make for ideal supporting characters. Share some of their key traits and particularly bring them up as a means of refining the central character’s image to readers.
A few examples:
“‘Mum, I found your phone in my pocket’, my daughter texts. She’s obviously borrowed my jacket.”
“My daughter’s wearing my shoes (white Mexx trainers). I make out I’m angry, but secretly I’m feeling proud she finds my clothes fashionable enough.”
“My children recently discovered tea can be drunk hot. I only ever used to serve them cold tea, left over from the day before.”
A nifty little trick to arouse readers’ attention is to come out with something that challenges the norm. Writers of fiction can do this through the characters in their story, for instance by making them think or say something they wouldn’t necessarily agree with themselves. On Twitter I may occasionally shout something that is very obviously not true.
“So far this month I’ve had 45GB worth of downloads already, and it’s only the 8th! Please, people, stop downloading my eBooks!” This tweet resulted in me being interviewed by Dutch literary magazine Boekblad (‘Book Mag’). “Are there really that many downloads of my children’s eBooks?” they asked. Yes, there are, but our servers are handling it fine, so do continue downloading. But if I were to post it to Twitter using those words, it would be outright spam.
When I tweeted “Writing a book about toddlers with old-age mothers (ages 55 and over); looking to interview women in that situation. Please RT” this provoked a flood of responses. “Fifty-five isn’t old age!” many women replied. And “Terms like ‘old age’ or ‘geriatric’ are derogatory; ‘older’ will do just fine, thank you very much!” Others replied they thought the book was a great idea, considering “older mothers are a serious issue”…
In fiction it’s not at all unusual to make a character say something that doesn’t reflect the author’s opinion. On Twitter this approach can work as well, provided you take extreme care in how you apply it. Some people were rather relieved when I revealed the ‘older mothers’ tweet to be an April Fools joke.
I had deliberately written something outrageous, to provoke a response; the ‘interview’ was invented to encourage people to retweet the message, as to reach an ever greater audience.
“I’ve managed to lose 5lbs already by no longer indulging on alcohol and snacks at night. I’ll now have them for breakfast instead.” When a tweet is quite obviously intended as a joke, using false statements can be a clever writing tool.
10 Creating an atmosphere
“Giving three lectures tomorrow, so I best be off to sleep. Can you guys keep the noise down?”
Twitter users will sometimes exchange cups of coffee online, or give each other virtual hugs. Everyone understands it’s fantasy, but it’s great to pretend that all of us tweeps are living together in this great big house that is the ‘twitterverse’.
As with a novel, you recreate an atmosphere on Twitter by mixing elements of reality and fantasy. It’s like an ever-expanding world with increasing numbers of characters who are continually developing.
Twitter a like a book that’s alive, or better still, many alive books combined, because every user creates his own never-ending story there. Everyone may at some point tweet something of which they later wonder whether it was all that sensible. Everyone will make typos. When writing a manuscript you can endlessly go back to correct and rewrite, on Twitter you can’t – it will only allow you to progress your story. Twitter is spontaneous, direct and chaotic. There are no rules: it’s each to their own. As such, the literary tricks discussed here are only intended to serve as inspiration.
See you on Twitter!
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