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.

27 Tips About Writing From Twitter

twitter tips

Tips I got from Twitter about writing

I’m a writing tip junkie. Any tweet or blog post or random comment that begins, “Here’s the best tip I’ve ever gotten about writing…” makes me click. What’s thirty seconds when I could pick up a gold nugget that changes my writerly life?

Mostly, 1) I already know them, 2) they’re pedestrian, or 3) they’re wrong, but occasionally I get one–or twenty-seven in this case–that I think are worth passing on. See if you agree:

  1. Unless required for voice-related purposes, avoid using “needless to say” or “utilize” or “awesome tits” in your writing. (Women: Fill in the blank: “Awesome _____.”)
  2. Be tech savvy and have a good liberal arts background [to succeed as a writer].
  3. The whole process of writing a novel is having this great, beautiful idea and then spoiling it.
  4. “The writer is only free when he can tell the reader to go jump in the lake…”
  5. Stop calling yourself an ‘aspiring author’.
  6. Aspiring is dead.
  7. Back talent with arrogance.
  8. Writing what you know IS writing who you don’t know.
  9. Edit.
  10. Her plot is as slow as a tortoise on Valium. Don’t make your plot as slow as a tortoise on Valium (you’d have to know that cable TV commercial to get this one).
  11. Don’t let ANY AGENT set you up for a high-five and then trip you.
  12. I’ve known agents who wouldn’t know a good book if it took them to the World Series.
  13. If I was trying to get there [the climax], I wouldn’t start from here.
  14. Ironing out the plot problems would take an industrial laundry a month.
  15. In romance novels, plot is important. Characters are more important.
  16. You either have to write or you shouldn’t be writing. That’s all. (I forget who said that–someone famous)
  17. …don’t wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has got to get down to work.
  18. As long as you produce pages, your writing method is the best.
  19. Write your heart out.
  20. Don’t try to anticipate an ideal reader–or any reader. He/ she might exist–but is reading someone else. (I think this is Joyce Carol Oates)
  21. The first sentence can be written only after the last sentence has been written.
  22. Use active voice whenever possible.
  23. Cut the boring parts. ~Elmore Leonard
  24. Speed through your climax like an Indie car. (if you write thrillers)
  25. Write without pay until somebody offers to pay. ~Mark Twain
  26. Following what works will only get you so far.
  27. Don’t use coffee mug slogans for your story themes.

Continue reading

Birds of a feather

By FC Robinson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By FC Robinson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’m suddenly awakened by the deliberate plunking of a piano blues riff: Daah duh duh duh dhaaam…daah duh duh duh dhaaam. 

“Cut it out, N’awlins,” I yell out in a raspy voice.  “Yuh hear”?

The rhythm continues to crescendo from across the room.  Daah duh duh duh dhaaam…daah duh duh duh dhaaam.  I yell out again, “That you, Money Fatts”?

My wife is not amused at my early-morning attempt at humor.

In one swift motion I swing my body off the bed, pulling half the entwined sheet and comforter combination with me until it’s tugged back into place like a rubber band.  I take a few clumsy steps in the dark, feeling for the top of my tall mahogany-stained dresser with outstretched arms, and retrieve my phone from the charger to silence the troublesome “blues riff” alarm tone.

The air in the room is brisk and cool.  About sixty-six degrees, I suspect.  I hate January; we really should move to Florida one of these days.

It’s nearly five o’clock on a Tuesday and I have just one hour to devote to writing and related research for the day before showering, dressing, and leaving for work.  I need to make this hour count!

I throw on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, feed the cat a small portion of his morning breakfast to keep him quiet, and bump up the thermostat.  Click, click, click, ker-plunk, ker-plunk, whooooosh.  The burners fire and warm air begins to flow throughout the house.

I finally head into the family room where I sit down at my laptop to start writing.  The room is dark, as I’ve deliberately kept off the lights sans for the glow of the laptop LCD at the head of the table.  The daily self-interrogation begins.  Do I dive right into writing, or do I check my Twitter feed first to see what new insights were posted by my writing friends?  Maybe I’ll tweet the word count of my current WIP?  Or maybe I’ll comprise a romanticized tweet to impress others with my dedication to the craft at five o’clock in the morning? 

I log into Twitter and take a moment to skim my feed.

That woman is a machine…was she really awake two hours ago to comprise a tweet about her WIP? 

There’s this guy again…why did he re-post that same article he posted just yesterday afternoon?

I swear this woman…best-selling author of nineteen novels I’ve never heard of…must have six identical Twitter accounts!

I put my hand on the crown of my head, feeling to see if the thin spot has gotten any worse from the day earlier.  I slump back into my chair.

Coffee.  I need coffee!  I walk into the kitchen and brew myself a cup of Keurig.  The aroma of sweetened espresso shifts throughout the room when the forced-air blower kicks on for a second time.  This will surely wake her up.

Returning to my chair at the table, I see fourteen new tweets are available to me.  Three are duplicates, two are advertisements.

It’s now ten minutes to six, and I realize I’ve squandered yet another potentially-productive writing morning with no substantial benefit.

With the push of the mouse, a small arrow glides to the upper-right corner of my screen.  Account… Settings… Deactivate My Account.  Complete.

If I want to be a writer, I need to actually write, I think to myself as I snap shut the lid to my laptop.  Tomorrow’s another day.