All a-Twitter

By MIKE MILIARD  |  January 14, 2009

Scratching sound, distant clicking, deep space voices rising and falling in a wash of white noise. Breathing.

That was Chapter One. Seventeen chapters later, it's still going strong.

Jay Bushman's short story, a space-age adaptation of Herman Melville's novella Benito Cereno, is perfect for Twitter, thanks to its first-person narrative. With its short bursts of prose, it reads more like an epic poem.

We dock with Mother Volga. Equalize the airlock. The pressure door opens. I step onto the ship.

Immediately I am swarmed by people. But no, not people. Artificials. Fishes, in spacer slang.

They crowd around me, babbling in Russian, blank crystal eyes wide with panic, like a swarm of lost children.

The tale is but part of Bushman's "Loose-Fish Project" (, which aims to "[get] around the gatekeepers" and bring published work directly to the reader. Having begun on Twitter back in November of 2007, it concluded four months later. (It's now also available via paperback, Amazon Kindle, and free PDF.)

Brandon J. Mendelson's novel has been on hiatus for the past week or so, but he's also written a guide to Twitter novel writing that offers some wise tips (Twips?) for fist-timers. Among them: manage the Clock. ("What's great about a Twitter novel is that your content is no longer static. Depending on how committed you are, you could have events happen in real time using services like Tweetlater.) Also, Move It Forward. ("Each tweet should move the story forward in some way. If it doesn't, cut it.")

Journalist/blogger/videographer N.L. Belardes has been working on his experimental novel since this past April. It's a story that means to look at "everyday problems in micro-form, in bug-like terms, in tiny thoughts, bits and pieces," as he recently told By using Twitter, Belardes says, he seeks not so much to "write a novel . . . but mold a novel, transform a novel."

He published a traditional hardcover mystery, Hooked, a couple years back, but since August this New York Times business and technology reporter has been writing a thriller — ahem, "Twiller" — about a man with amnesia, using his cell phone and Twitter "to tell his story of self-discovery, 140 characters at a time." And, since starting, he's doubled his readership.

"You might remember the novel in its earlier form," Richtel wrote on his Times blog this past summer. "It had a cover, and many pages, forethought of plot, editors and agents weighing in, and, oh yes, it generally had sentences and punctuation. And, finally, some poor suckers had to take the time out of their busy days to actually read it. Who has time for all those niceties? They're so first half of 2008."

Part of UK publisher Penguin's new-media "We Tell Stories" experiment, this teen novel was repurposed for posts on Twitter and LiveJournal this past March. The fact that it attracted only 110 followers (Small Places, by way of comparison, has nearly 4500) suggests it'll be a while before the Twitter novel catches on, if ever.

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