Writing Stories 140 Characters at a Time

The inevitable moment has come for my vocation and avocation to overlap. Tonight, I’m writing about an interesting Web application, which is a lot of what I do in my day job. Brave New Fiction was built mostly as a demo of an infrastructure for Web applications, and I’m not even sure if the people who built it are still actively maintaining it. I, however, am finding it fun.

The site adapts the format made popular by microblogging sites such as Twitter, Jaiku, Pownce and Identi.ca. In case you’re not familiar, users of microblogging sites post in 140-character nibbles which are then broadcast to followers or subscribers who are signed up to receive the updates. I’ve experimented with Twitter, but haven’t been able to make it part of my daily life, and am in the middle of giving microblogging another try on identi.ca.

What I found unsatisfying in my tries with Twitter was that I wanted to play with the form and find ways to use it for creative writing. I tried haiku, but that felt too constraining for me. I ended up getting very tired of making nature posts, and didn’t have the facility to write natural-sounding haikus about things that come up in my day (some writers really do).

Brave New Fiction is far more up my alley. On the site, I can write a serialized short story. I get to write as much as I want, but it will only post 140 characters at a time, once per day. I like the effects of the format. I’ve been thinking a lot about individual sentences in the story I’m working on. I tend to write in streams of sentences, and only seeing one go up a day makes me meditate on the sound of it much more.

The format has been making me wonder about what individual sentences should be doing in a story. I’m not going to lie. Some of the sentences in my story won’t exactly knock you over or give you a big reveal when that’s all you get to see for the day. I’ve already decided that, for the second story I write there, I want to see if it’s possible to make each sentence truly count for a reader.

Another effect of the format is that it breaks the writing process down to small, achievable pieces. I often mess myself up by thinking I need to set aside hours to write. I find the prospect of writing only 140 characters enticing. So enticing, in fact, that I’ve seeded my story pretty far in advance. That makes me want to write a novel in that format.

As a technology reporter, there are a few things about the site that I find frustrating. I keep wanting features. I want statistics. I want to see how many people are following my stories. I want stories that have been updated recently to come to the top of the list, and stories that have been abandoned to fall to the bottom. I want stories that have been completed to go off into a special category.

Before writing this post, I made sure I’d read all the stories started on the site. As far as I can tell (though it’s hard to be sure), only one is complete. I’m disappointed that there’s not a great community there, and that there aren’t features to make it easy to connect. But I remind myself that this is a demo, not a real application. That said, there’s something interesting about checking out the fragments. I’m fascinated the same way I am in a ghost town.

I plan to keep experimenting with the site.


6 responses to “Writing Stories 140 Characters at a Time

  1. Cool idea. Please email me your full name for a post I am riting. rjeffries@gmail.com (your blog’s About page seems to be “no worky”)

  2. Hi Ron,

    Thanks for taking a look. The about page is working as far as I can tell, so maybe the problem was temporary. In any case, I’ll be in touch.

  3. Yes. Short venues lead to poetry.

    I find 140 characters pushes you towards painting a scene, and maybe some irony.

    In the 1000 character venue, you still scrape to make every character count, but you start to get a real plot. I’ve written a 7 part story in this venue. I had no idea where it was going as i wrote it. I consider it unfinished, but no inspiration has appeared for the next section.

    This story starts in June 2008 on my blog:


  4. Pingback: Cloudy Thinking » Blog Archive » Erica Naone — Writing Stories 140 characters at a time

  5. Hi Stephen,
    Interesting distinction. I’ll check it out, and I hope you’ll figure out where to go with the story next.

  6. Pingback: Brave New Fiction - Google App Engine Application gets Figaro Interactive some exposure | ShaunGish.com

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