By Louise Ure
“140 characters is a novel when you’re being shot at.”
-Twitter post from Iran, June 20, 2009
Ten days ago, our Toni wrote a Murderati post about Twitter, MySpace and Facebook and the relevance of these social networking sites to writers. My response then was that I was a Luddite in social networking, but that if Twitter and the other options gave voice to otherwise unheard populations like the demonstrators in Iran, it was a good thing.
And then came the even-shorter-than-140-character tweet seen above and I now have a whole new appreciation of the format, one from the point of view of a novelist.
I have always believed that short stories are harder to write than novels. That songs are harder to write than short stories. That haiku is harder than songs.
We even have cell phone novels now, called keitai shousetsu in Japanese, both written and read electronically in 70-word bites. And what about those six-word memes that are rolling around (“For Sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.”)
The distillation of ideas and a paucity of words make one choose carefully. But it makes the work no less meaningful. It can be a quick slash of pain rather than a long drawn out disease. A moment of euphoria instead of a lifetime of gentle happiness.
The poster of that Iranian Twitter message is right: whole worlds can be described in a hundred and forty characters. Hearts broken. Stories told. Lives remembered. It’s not just flash fiction; it’s Big Bang fiction.
And it’s not the same thing as those 25-word elevator pitches we’ve all been encouraged to develop. It’s not a summary: it can have the salty emotional punch of an entire ocean reduced to a single tear.
I saw something in a chat room once that detailed the sad saga of a 54-year old woman seeking the child she’d lost on the streets of Chicago twenty years ago. In Tweet-speak it would look like this:
“I lost my daughter in Chicago in ‘88 and have not seen her since.
Her name is LuAnna Jackson. Born 11/26/73.
Finding her again would be the high point of my fast fading life.”
Or the email message I got from a girlfriend five years ago:
“They set my arm and gave me an icepack in the ER.
He promised he’d never do it again.
That was the last time he ever lied to me.”
Or this good news from a friend whose dreams of adoption came true:
“Her name is Elaine. She was born yesterday,
weighing 7 pounds 11 ounces.
We leave for Beijing in the morning.”
Or even the opening lines from my latest book, Liars Anonymous.
“I got away with murder once but it doesn’t look like
that’s going to happen again. Damn.
This time I didn’t do it. Well, not all of it anyway.”
Who knew I was an unrealized Tweeter?
So help me out here, ‘Rati. Create some Big Bang Fiction for me. Break my heart. Make me laugh out loud. Go on. I know you can do it.
Write me a 140 character novel.