How to Write a Novel with 140 Characters

twitter novelI’m a teacher, have been for 35 years. I teach a lesson to my Middle School students that uses Twitter to improve their writing skills. There’s a lot this popular social media tool can bring to the education world:

  • it’s non-intimidating. Anyone can get through 140 characters
  • it forces students to focus on concise, pithy writing. Wasted, fluff words are not an option
  • it’s fun. Students want to try it because it’s the ‘forbidden fruit’.

I also have a class that kickstarts the author in students, getting them set up to write and digitally publish the book that festers inside of them (well, statistics say 73% of us have a book inside kicking and screaming to get out).

What I haven’t done is blend the two: Write a novel on Twitter.

Anna over at Imaginette reminded me that I should. She’s not the only one, either, who thinks Twitter is an excellent forum for novel writing. Japan popularized it as the microblogging novel or the micro novel. Wikipedia defines it as:

…a fictional work or novel written and distributed in small parts

Just to be clear: We’re talking about squeezing all those novel parts that we writers slave over…

  • plot
  • pacing
  • character development
  • theme
  • story arc
  • scene

…to name a few must be accomplished in 140 characters. Is that even possible? I’d croak a resounding ‘No!’, but the Guardian persuaded twenty-one accomplished authors to try their hand at this. Here’s a sampling:

James Meek

‘He said he was leaving her. “But I love you,” she said. “I know,” he said. “Thanks. It’s what gave me the strength to love somebody else.”

Ian Rankin

I opened the door to our flat and you were standing there, cleaver raised. Somehow you’d found out about the photos. My jaw hit the floor.

Blake Morrison

Blonde, GSOH, 28. Great! Ideal mate! Fix date. Tate. Nervous wait. She’s late. Doh, just my fate. Wrong candidate. Blond – and I’m straight.

David Lodge

“Your money or your life!” “I’m sorry, my dear, but you know it would kill me to lose my money,” said the partially deaf miser to his wife.

Jilly Cooper

Tom sent his wife’s valentine to his mistress and vice versa. Poor Tom’s a-cold and double dumped.

Rachel Johnson

Rose went to Eve’s house but she wasn’t there. But Eve’s father was. Alone. One thing led to another. He got 10 years.

Andrew O’Hagan

Clyde stole a lychee and ate it in the shower. Then his brother took a bottle of pills believing character is just a luxury. God. The twins.

AL Kennedy

It’s good that you’re busy. Not great. Good, though. But the silence, that’s hard. I don’t know what it means: whether you’re OK, if I’m OK.

Jeffrey Archer

“It’s a miracle he survived,” said the doctor. “It was God’s will,” said Mrs Schicklgruber. “What will you call him?” “Adolf,” she replied.

Surprisingly good. Are you inspired? Here are some tips on Twitter novels from Be a Better Writer:

  • 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.

I’m well over 140 characters, so I’m done. You can get ideas by searching #twitternovels.

–first published on Today’s Author

More on writing genres:

10 Tips for Picture Book Writers

10 Tips for Steampunk Writers

18 Tips for Memoir Authors


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, adjunct professor of technology in education, a columnist for TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

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19 thoughts on “How to Write a Novel with 140 Characters

  1. I’m going to have to give this a try, if only for the academic aspects of re-thinking how to phrase things in a more efficient and (hopefully) better way.

  2. Brilliant! My writing is expansive, not always contained by limitations. I might give this a try. Failure always an option. A trophy there.

  3. (Did you notice? Only 140 characters in my comment. Willing to share any leftover spaces from this one. For a fee. Gotta pay for ink. Oops!)

    • Ha! Of course you only used 140 characters. But, I fear your type of writing isn’t quite suited. Lee and I–no brainer–World under attack! Hero kits up and saves the day!

  4. Doubt I could do it. Takes me 140 characters just to say hello. 😉

  5. It was a dark and stormy afternoon. Two men sail a Hobie cat. One wields a knife. Great white circles. A fierce attack. Only bones by night.

  6. Twitter novels – what a concept! Love it.

    Shari’s was very good, I agree. I loved all the entries. Such discipline to get so much out of 140 characters.

  7. He closed the door. Frowning. So strange, no one there. A creeping chill. A prickle of fear. The slithering sounds increased. He looked up. It would be his final action.

  8. I did this with my middle school students as well. I presented the technique at a conference. It helped my ESL students especially. It was less intimidating since they wrote their dialogue and stories in just 140 characters. Of course, the ultimate goal was to get them to write essays and other genres.

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