Twitterature – how to write a novel in 140 characters

A while ago, I mentioned the Guardian’s requests to various novelists to write a novel as a Tweet. I believe I called it Twitfic, but it’s also known as Twitterature and my friend Sally Allen has some great pointers on how to do it yourself. If you can manage it, it’s a great way to get your skill as a writer showcased on Twitter. Sally is the editor/owner of Hamlet Hub Westport, a local online newspaper/magazine, and writes a regular Tuesday column about books. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook. Here’s the beginning of her piece:

Photo by Anthony Karge

Every sentence tells a micro-story. We have an actor (the subject) who does something (the verb) and then consequences ensue (all the other stuff, like objects and direct objects and all kinds of phrases and clauses). We can be spare in our telling (“Run!”) or embellish the story with details (“As the tornado bore down on us with alarming speed, Bonnie hollered, “Run!”).

This is how I explained the structure of the English sentence to my English-as-a-second-language students back when I was a graduate writing instructor. I thought I was a grammar geek, the kind of grammar geek who finds sentence diagramming relaxing, but my students put me to shame with their awe-inspiring ability to recite the rules of English grammar. I mean, their textbook knowledge was impeccable. So I was rather surprised to discover that knowing the rules did not mean they could implement them (I was young and foolish, I suppose).

To address this, my students and I took things vertical, making lists of all the people, places, and things that could do something (potential subjects), lists of all the actions they might take (potential verbs), lists of everything else going on in that moment (the other stuff). From there, we would painstakingly construct sentences simple and complex (and sometimes compound-complex).

And this was also how we began to think of every sentence as telling a story, with a beginning, middle, and end, and even, possibly, an Aristotelian dramatic arc.

This, by the way, was all before Twitter existed. But Twitter would have been an interesting case study for the study of the sentence—140 characters to do and say something interesting? Quite the fun challenge!

Just about anything you can dream of has a Twitter handle—Salman Rushdie’s tree, Paul Ryan’s bicep, a llama in Easton, cats and dogs all across the country, more inanimate objects that I can possibly account for here.

But for book lovers, the social media site is also exploding with literary diversions. Oh, and also? “Twitterature” is a thing.

So here are 4 ways for book lovers to geek out, literature style, on Twitter:

Read on here

Re-post: 5 Unusual Ways to Experience Books by Sally Allen

Sally Allen is the editor of Westport’s HamletHub  an online newspaper, and blogs about books and literature at Open Salon. She earned a PhD in English education from NYU. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter. As a book-lover, a recent article got my attention right away, with it’s new and unusual ideas for ways to enjoy books.

Here it is:

5 Unusual Ways to Experience Books

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been running into fascinating projects that involve experiencing books in unorthodox ways. By ‘unorthodox,’ I mean not sitting down alone and reading quietly in your head but taking the act of reading into a social realm that feels very ’21st Century.’ And not in the kind of way that involves complaining about e-readers and the death of the book/publishing industry/library.

These ideas all offer exciting new ways to experience books that show how relevant reading is today and why it will always matter. Yes, always.

Since they’re all worth sharing, I’m going to do just that! Click on the link to visit the project then meet me in the comments to discuss:

Around the Watery Part of the World in 135 days: The MOBY-DICK Big Read

In an earlier blog post I sang the praises of “Moby Dick,” a novel that wasn’t appreciated in its time but that readers and scholars have been appreciating the crap out of since around the 1920s.

I don’t know that I convinced any of you to read it because—let’s be honest—it’s a really, really long book, a major time commitment. And when you have so many books to catch your eye (and capture your imagination), classics can get relegated to the back of the pile (especially the long ones). It’s kind of like how New Yorkers never quite make it to the Statue of Liberty.

With this project, you can get through “Moby Dick” with a chapter a day, and you don’t actually have to read it! The book is read TO you by a different person each day (Tilda Swinton read Chapter One!). The project began on July 9, but you can still catch up. Melville wrote pretty short chapters.

Moby-Dick Marathon NYC

Here’s another way to experience the American classic without having to sit down and read it for yourself and by yourself: a reading marathon to be held in New York City from Nov. 16 – 18. The website is pretty brief, but here’s what I can tell you: over 100 readers will gather over three days at three independent bookstores in two boroughs.

And also, the celebration marks the 161st birthday of “Moby Dick,” which was first published on Nov. 14, 1851.

“It Was a Dark and Stormy Night,” the Board Game for Book Lovers

I’m almost speechless with glee at this idea for making reading social—a board game that asks players to correctly identify famous first lines of books, from novels to mysteries to non-fiction to children’s literature to short stories. You can play as individuals or teams. It sounds hard but deliciously fun!

The Shakespearience

Launched this week in the iBookstore is this interactive e-book of Shakespeare’s works. Embedded in the text are translations into contemporary language as well as well-known performances featuring Laurence Olivier, Kenneth Branagh, and Orson Wells. The e-book also offers production notes, photos, and other fun features from famous stagings of the plays. The three included in today’s launch are Othello, Hamlet, and Romeo and Juliet.

Reading Parties

Here’s another idea I’m deeply in love with, offered by Book Riot writer Jennifer Paull as an alternative to the traditional book group. What’s the problem with book groups? Maybe that you have to read a book you’re not interested in, or you don’t have time to read the book that’s assigned? This idea takes care of both of these issues.

Instead of picking one book, having everyone read it before the meeting, then getting together to talk about everything but the book that none of you read, make the book group meeting about the act of reading itself.

What does that look like, you ask? Paull suggests setting aside time to read together, as in sitting in a room together and reading. You read the books of your choice, maybe even taking time to read a favorite part out loud to the group, which (incidentally) can be a great way to discover new books to experience in full. Genius!

Do you have a great idea for social reading? Maybe you’ve tried one of these or want to? Tell me all about it in the comments!

Not sure how to end your novel? Part 2: Coliloquy has a solution

Yesterday I mentioned Ernest Hemingways’ 47 attempts to finish A Farewell to Arms. If you’re having the same problem, you could turn to a relatively new website called Coliloquy for inspiration. It’s an eBook publisher with a twist. It refers to its publications as “active fiction specializing in reader engagement and serial storytelling.” Essentially, you get to choose the ending that you’d prefer for the book you’re reading. I can’t hope to paraphrase this correctly, so here’s what the founders of Coliloquy say about it:

Coliloquy was founded on the belief that digital fiction can push the boundaries of how we think about narrative and storytelling.We publish all of our books as active Kindle Fire (and now Nook and Android as well) applications, rather than static files, allowing our authors to build ever-expanding worlds through episodic, serial storytelling and engagement mechanics, like choice and voting, branching story lines, re-reading loops, and personalized content. The result is an incredibly fluid and immersive story-telling experience…

At the moment they have eight titles, mainly, it seems to me, aimed at YA audiences (apart, I assume from the erotic novel…). They require their authors to be published already, then they help and guide them in producing this different style of fiction.

Tawna Fenske

I bought one of the books (which you buy as a Kindle Android app, not a Kindle book, which is not interactive) and enjoyed it. But I found a bit of a problem with Coliloquy’s take on their books. They aren’t selling a series of books, where the main character has various stand-alone adventures. What they sell is a serial – a different kettle of fish altogether. I purchased Getting Dumped, having read a couple of sample pages and deciding that the style and subject matter would be fun. Author Tawna Fenske is a terrific writer and I laughed out loud at several places in the book. She has a great way with words, and this was reminiscent of the Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich. The Evanovich books are a series, however. Getting Dumped was not. After paying $4.99 for the book, I read it in a couple of hours and the realized that I was only halfway through it. In order to find out what happened I had to pay another $4.99. And although there was one place in the book where I could choose from three alternative scenarios (heroine calls one of three possible love interests) the subsequent chapters were all identical. I know, because I tried all three. Essentially, what you get is identical plot development with three different ways of delivering the same information to the reader.

If I’d bought the first volume of the book when it first came out, I would have been very irritated to find that I hadn’t purchased a whole book. And I’d have had to wait several months for the second half.

When I asked founder and CEO Lisa Rutherford about this, here’s what she said:

You are correct that the choice in GETTING DUMPED PART 1 takes the reader to one of three different scenes, before reconciling the story. It’s actually one of the simplest uses of our technology (compared to some of our other authors), but arguably the most powerful, both in terms of reader behavior and how Tawna uses the data. (She uses it to help plot the next half of the book GC)

With regard to series/serial, we had early feedback that it was more confusing to refer to some titles as series and others as serials, particularly since the two words are often interchanged in common American usage. 

I guess that’s fair enough. Point is, this is an interesting new way to use technology to craft eBooks. I think it’s worth keeping an eye on. Maybe they’ll start a subscription service. How about unlimited installments for a fixed annual fee? I could see myself going for that.

Reading my first interactive eBook – and loving it!

Sumner Glimcher is quite a guy. I first met him at the Westport Arts Center in Connecticut, where he was telling people about his new eBook memoir A Filmmaker’s Journal. I read it recently on my Kindle Fire, and it was astonishing for several reasons. First, Sumner’s career has taken many twists and turns. Starting with a stint of active combat in World War II, through service in post-war Germany in the de-Nazification program, through a long career in documentary film, followed by teaching at NYU, he’s had the sort of life that probably wouldn’t be possible today.

But the thing that interested me most about his book was not the story, fascinating though it was. What hooked me was the fact that this was the first interactive eBook I’d seen. It contains links to clips from Sumner’s movies, as well as to an oddity of a song called “That Ignorant, Ignorant Cowboy” – designed to be a way of telling people, after the invention of penicillin, that syphilis was now curable. Apparently it became a huge jukebox hit!

Why is this so extraordinary? Because Sumner is a very charming and gregarious 88 years old. And he’s still taking a very active interest in new technology and ways of getting his message across using all the means at his disposal.

Over coffee recently, I asked him how he’d managed it.

“Oh,” he said suavely, “Once I’d conceived the idea, I found this absolutely terrific young guy at the Apple store, and he helped me get it all together.” Creative thinking, right?

Just reading this eBook has given me a whole lot of new ideas of what’s possible in the eBook world. So, although I love a paper book, this kind of creativity will keep me reading on my Fire.

If you’re old-fashioned, and must have a paper book, it’s available as a paperback from Amazon, as well as in eBook form for Nook, iPad, etc. So you have no excuse now. If Sumner can lead the way, you can follow.

You can find Sumner at his website, on his Facebook page and you can follow him on Twitter – he’s just started tweeting. You can find his movies on YouTube, or just Google him…he’s everywhere.

This Saturday, August 4, he’ll be interviewed on WWNN radio (8.30-9am) by Anita Finley, host of the radio program:  “Cutting Edge with Anita.”  They’ll be talking about how the Publishing Revolution has developed as a result of self-publishing, reading tablets and eBooks. And on August 20th, (6-8pm) you can meet him in person at a “Meet the Filmmaker evening at the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in New York.

It seems that Sumner Glimcher’s adventures keep right on happening.

 

Margaret Atwood leads the digital media pack

There’s a new short fiction app called Wattpad and the website that invented it has 9 million followers. Surprised? I was, because I’d never heard of it. So I signed up to take a look. Readers describe themselves as an eBook community, but the interesting thing is that many of them are writers too. You can upload your own work for others to read. And you can do it chapter by chapter, if you like. The reason this is appealing is that it enables a writer to get feedback as they go along, rather than waiting until it’s a ‘finished’ book and then finding out that readers hate it. And readers may even suggest new plot developments or request more characterization.

Margaret Atwood

The reason Wattpad came to my attention is that among their new members is prize-winning Canadian author Margaret Atwood. Atwood’s novels include The Handmaid’s Tale, The Blind Assassin and the Year of the Flood, as well as children’s books, non-fiction and poetry. She has published two new poems on the site, and is planning to share a piece of fiction this Fall. The poems are: Update on Werewolves, in which she explores the world of the female werewolf and Thriller Suite . (I hope these links work for people who aren’t signed up for Wattpad…)

She will also be the final judge of a poetry contest to be held on the site this month. She already has 280 fans, one of whom is me, of course. And once people discover her whereabouts, that number will just keep going up.

Readers comment on her work, as they do for any other writer on the site. Ms. Atwood says she’ll be reading the feedback on her work, but won’t be commenting on other writers’ stuff, though she promises to read some. She feels any comment she might make would carry too much weight for its recipient – good or bad.

Making yourself visible on Wattpad isn’t easy. Even Margaret Atwood has stiff competition. There are currently five million stories in 25 languages, and more than half a million more are added every month. So if you add something, you’ll be competing for readers’ attention, too. But then, that’s a real author’s life, isn’t it? Name a genre and they have it. Presumably, there’s writing which doesn’t fit neatly into a genre, but so what?

I think it’s time to get some writing on there and see what happens.

P.S. This isn’t the only way in which Margaret Atwood is reaching readers old and new; I’ll be doing a follow up post on her remarkable new ideas soon.