This weekend marked the second #TwitterFiction Festival, a four-day celebration of the not-so-selfie-centred social media site and its creative possibilities. The festival sought out well-known writers as well as held a contest to determine who they’d feature, but the beauty of the event, ideally, reflected that of the website and, indeed, the Internet as whole: unlike a certain other often-hashtagged event going on at the same time, at the #TwitterFiction Festival, anyone, anywhere, could participate. While part of the point was being able to watch – and help – the stories unfold in real time, you can also approach #TwitterFiction the way you might approach a celebrity #TwitterFight that happened while you were sleeping: start from the bottom.
One of the weekend’s best, most affecting narratives came from contest winner Lara Prescott, whose on-point depiction of the escalation of an anti-government protest from several perspectives was both a comment on the different ways we use Twitter and a damn good story. Its devastating – but still totally realistic – climax is made all the more so by Prescott’s deft skill at crafting her characters’ voices using varying levels of grammatical error that were realistic but never moronic.
Being arrestedsend help— Omar (@OmarIsIn) March 14, 2014
The tension between the indelible ink of the Internet and Twitter’s inherent ephemerality often stymies many writers of Twitterature, but the spirit of social media should be spontaneity. One of our favourite indie lit mags got in on the action by enlisting poet @johnmortara to helm a droll choose-your-own-adventure that poked at both post-ironic noughties’ nostalgia and the traditional thriller/mystery/fairy tale genre(s). Much exclamation, many references to ‘GOTH CHICKS’. It was both confusing and exciting, the way Twitter so often is.
Working with characters from her upcoming novel, @JuliaFierro captured the cringe voices of and punctuational liberties taken by 30-something parents on a timeshare holiday as something sinister begins to happen. ‘I mean WHAT does she have in there??’ one character writes. ‘Pounds of coke? If only. JK! My wild party days are over. ;) #mommytamed’ Too real.
Despite what seemed a heavy-handed start, bestselling authors Brad Meltzer and AJ Jacobs ultimately succeeded in their witty dialogue that worked with Twitter the way it’s actually used. Self-aware and –referential, the back-and-forth succeeded in mimicking the way two good friends might end up bantering in virtual public while also tonguing the cheek of their own writerly profiles in a way that would make any postmodernist proud – Meltzer is a mainstream thriller writer and Jacobs has written bestsellers like the much-hyped The Year of Living Biblically.
Speculative commentary on our world’s likely doomed trajectory into a dystopically virtualized reality were plentiful, and Australian poet Omar Sakr’s tweets as a user from the grave were subtly spooky in a ‘Not only are we all going to die, but we’re going to die having spent our lives addicted to our smartphones!’ way.
I remember feeling tired and cold, my phone in my hand, warm & humming like a live thing, a glittering plastic bird and— Omar Sakr (@OmarjSakr) March 14, 2014
Among all the self-referentiality and bleak dystopia was some of the quick storytelling (and less-bleak dystopia) that can easily pleasantly surprise you scrolling through your timeline any day. Plum’s peppy rhyme scheme balanced a dark subject matter (#death), and pictures made the whole thing feel more like a fucked-up kids’ book.
Several writers played with fictional versions of their own online personas and examined the idea of the digital-age writer in general, and the novelist Ben H. Winters was one of the most successful at weaving fiction with reality. His voice, incorporating an artful use of grammatical error, gave his story the realistic sense of anxiety happening in real-time, and the result was the right balance between intellectualism and plot that we were more than willing to scroll through.
Novelist and prolific tweeter Emma Straub offered a second-person homage to short-story master Lorrie Moore. While Straub didn’t really utilize much of Twitter’s unique creative potential, the 140-character limit led to some really biting lines à la Moore, and Straub’s smart, deadpan protagonist read just like your favourite funny feminist blogger.
When you get to the room, ask “Where are the bunk beds? Did we not ask for bunk beds?” and then punch the man in the arm.— Emma Straub (@emmastraub) March 15, 2014
With more speculative fiction questioning our fervent love of Twitter and the technology that goes along with it, novelist Benjamin Percy scared a lot of his @-replies with a bleak and unflinching look at the darker side of technology and the ‘spider, a horned goat, a twisting pile of serpents, a giant bat with leathery wings’ that lives inside it. It read like a warning to stop reading immediately.
An RT is like spit on a doorknob, fecal matter on a playground slide, a cough that spreads into a virus.— Benjamin Percy (@Benjamin_Percy) March 14, 2014
While some authors stick to one or two narrative modes when translating their work to Twitter, it was writer Chris Arnold who really took advantage of Twitter’s possibilities in both form and content. Multiple character accounts (developed before the festival) interacted with festival participants during the fictional 48-hour snowstorm that set the conceit for the Twittersphere in which he operated: bored people trapped in an airport. In addition to weather maps, poetry, vines and good, old-fashioned complaining, there was a great fictional teenage break-up text message screenshot. ‘and now my phone is almost dead’ never felt so #sad.
Follow Lauren Oyler on Twitter here @laurenoyler