Twitterature (a portmanteau of Twitter and literature) is a literary use of the microblogging service of Twitter. It includes various genres, including aphorisms, poetry, and fiction (or some combination thereof) written by individuals or collaboratively.
The 280-character maximum imposed by the medium, upgraded from 140 characters in late 2017, provides a creative challenge.
Aaron Haspel, @ahaspel
Aphorisms are popular because their brevity is inherently suited to Twitter. People often share well known classic aphorisms on Twitter, but some also seek to craft and share their own brief insights on every conceivable topic. Boing Boing has described Twitter as encouraging "a new age of the aphorism", citing the novel aphorisms of Aaron Haspel.
Och fast det är hett
känns det ibland
känns det ibland
som om jag
handlöst mot hösten.
Haikus are a brief poetic form well suited to Twitter; many examples can be found using the hashtag #haiku. Other forms of poetry can be found under other hashtags or by "following" people who use their Twitter accounts for journals or poetry. For example, the Swedish poet and journalist Göran Greider tweets observations and poems using the Twitter handle @GreiderDD (Göran Greider) as shown in the example on the right.
Twitterature fiction includes 140-character stories, fan fiction, the retelling of literary classics and legends, twitter novels, and collaborative works.
- 140-character stories: refers to that fiction that fits into a single tweet. An example of these stories are those written by James Mark Miller @asmallfiction, Sean Hill @veryshortstories, or Arjun Basu @arjunbasu (shown on the right). A number of Twitter journals dedicate themselves to the form. In 2013, The Guardian challenged traditionally published authors such as Jeffrey Archer and Ian Rankin to write their 140-character stories. The Guardian then featured their attempts.
- Fan fiction: Twitter accounts have been created for characters in films, TV series, and books. Some of these tweet accounts take the events in the original works as their starting point.
- Literary classics and legends: Literary classics and legends are retold on Twitter, either by characters' tweeting and interacting, or by retelling in tweet format, often in modern language using slang. In 2009, Alexander Aciman and Emmet Rensin published Twitterature: The World's Greatest Books Retold Through Twitter. In 2010, a group of rabbis tweeted the Exodus, with the hashtag #TweetTheExodus; in 2011, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the English game company Mudlark tweeted the story of Romeo and Juliet.
Arjun Basu, @ajunbasu
Nick Belardes, @smallplaces
Robert K. Blechman, @RKBs_Twitstery
- The twitter novel is another form of fiction that can extend over hundreds of tweets to tell a longer story. Twitter novels can run for months, with one or more tweets daily. Context is usually maintained by a unique hashtag: searching by this produces a list of all available tweets in the series. Some serials are posted in short updates that encourage the reader to follow and to speculate on the next installment. Examples include Small Places, written by Nick Belardes using the Twitter account @smallplaces. Small Places began on April 25, 2008 with the tweet as shown on the right. Another example is Executive Severance, written by Robert K. Blechman using the Twitter account @RKBs_Twitstery. Executive Severance, which is Book 1 of The Twitstery Twilogy and is the first live-tweeted Twitter comic mystery, or "Twitstery", began on May 6, 2009 with the tweet shown. The Golden Parachute, Twitstery Twilogy Book 2, appeared a Kindle eBook in 2016 and I Tweet, Therefore I am, the concluding Book 3, was released early in 2017. Hari Manev, who does not use Twitter, published his twitter novel The Eye, which is Volume 1 in the twitter trilogy The Meaning of Fruth, as Kindle eBook in 2019. Traditionally published authors such as Jennifer Egan and David Mitchell have also attempted the twitter novel. Jennifer Egan's "Black Box", first published in about 500 tweets in 2012, and David Mitchell's "The Right Sort", first published as almost 300 tweets sent over one week in 2014. The first published book entirely composed on Twitter was John Roderick (musician)'s Electric Aphorisms, which Roderick composed in individual tweets Between December 2008 and May 2009 and deleted on publication of the book itself by Publication Studio in November, 2009. The author of a Twitter novel is often unknown to the readers. The Twitter account name can be a character in the story or a pseudonym. This anonymity creates an air of authenticity.
- Collaborative works: Neil Gaiman coined the term "interactive twovel" for an experiment in involving his Twitter followers in collaborating with him on a novel. This was conducted with BBC America Audio Books. The first tweet from Gaiman was as shown on the right. Then, he invited his readers to continue the story under the hashtag #bbcawdio. The result was published as an audiobook under the title Hearts, Keys and Puppetry, with the author given as Neil Gaiman & Twitterverse. Teju Cole sent lines from his short story "Hafiz" to other Twitter users and then retweeted them to assemble the story.
Related to anti-humour and created primarily by Twitter users who are not professional humourists, Weird Twitter-style jokes may be presented as disorganised thoughts, rather than in a conventional joke format or punctuated sentence structure. The genre is based around the restriction of Twitter's 280-character (previously 140) message length, requiring jokes to be quite short. The genre may also include repurposing of overlooked material on the internet, such as parodying posts made by spambots or deliberately amateurish images created in Paint. The New York Times has described the genre as "inane" and intended "to subtly mock the site's corporate and mainstream users." Related accounts include originators such as dril and, more tangentially, authors such as poet Patricia Lockwood.
Twitter was launched in 2006. The first Twitter novels appeared in 2008. The origins of the term "Twitterature" are hard to determine, but it was popularized by Aciman and Rensin's book. Since then the phenomenon has been discussed in the arts and culture sections of several major newspapers. In addition to "twovel", the terms "twiction" and "tweet fic" (Twitter fiction), "twiller" (Twitter thriller) and "phweeting" (fake tweeting) also exist.
Twitterature has been called a literary genre, but is more accurately an adaptation of various genres to social media. The writing is often experimental or playful; with some authors or initiators seeking to find out how the medium of Twitter affects storytelling or how a story spreads through the medium. A Swedish site called Nanoismer.se was launched in 2011 to "challenge people to write deeper than what Twitter is for".
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