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Has the Twitter Novel Tweetered Out?

By Gila Green

As the name suggests, a Twitter novel is written in tweets, 140 characters at a time. A few years back, while some readers still hemmed and hawed over the Kindle vs. Nook vs. iPad debate, others bypassed e-readers altogether to read and write on their cell phones and other electronic devices. The serialized social novel appeared poised to gain as much popularity in North America as it had in Japan. Now, perhaps not.

In Japan, more than 30,000 Twitter novels existed by the end of 2009. Prior to this, according to ReadWriteWeb, mobile phone novels called "keitai shousetus" had become so successful that "they accounted for half of the ten best-selling novels in 2007."

In 2008, in North America, the QuillPill mobile app offered a platform that made it easy to write portions of of a manuscript 140 characters at a time. Writers could make ongoing posts to their novels-in-progress, and readers could follow and read them. Since then, however, the app has disappeared from the iTunes app store and QuillPill.com no longer exists.

A few writers are still posting novels on Twitter. The authors of these novels have said goodbye to the conventional manuscript form, and many other conventions, including full descriptions, character sketches and pages of dialogue.

Twitter novels are minimalistic, and this limitation affects word choice. To fit more into 140 characters, authors will use 2 instead of two, b4 instead of before, u instead of you and so on, much like texting. The resulting sentences may look something like this: B4 u go u have 2 bring the $ .

This abbreviated style of writing may have been off-putting to some readers, as it's difficult to follow hundreds of messages written in short hand, especially if you drop in on post eight hundred and have to scan back through hundreds of tweets to find the beginning.

But if an author can get readers hooked from tweet one, and can keep them in suspense, it is possible to develop loyal, long-term fans, as demonstrated by the success of Douglas Sovern with his novel TweetHeart, written over eleven months for more than one thousand followers. Unlike many other Twitter novels popular a few years ago, TweetHeart still exists and is still read. So maybe, as with so many books, it is not the idea itself but the quality of the product that determines longevity.

Writing Tips: If you're considering your Twitter novel debut:

  • Think token action, dialogue and description. Not this: He sat and looked at the pistol for a full ten minutes before he grasped it and experienced the icy weight of his first semi-automatic. Rather: Gun in hand, he shot.
  • Think installments. Releasing the novel over time increases suspense. Douglas Sovern released 1600 tweets at the rate of about 5 to 12 a day.
  • Think multimedia and add links to images, video, articles or anything else that will add meaning to the story. A Twitter novel allows you to combine text with other media.
  • Think movement. Every tweet should advance the plot. You don't want your readers ignoring tweets out of boredom.

Whether these novels are gaining in popularity or waning is difficult to discern, but it's possible to find new ones as they spring up—just sign in to Twitter and search #twitternovel.

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