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Author of 'The Ice Storm' tries storytelling on Twitter

November 30, 2009 | 10:20 am

Rickmoody01 Rick Moody, the author of "The Ice Storm," is publishing a short story on Twitter, 140 characters at a time. Moody took up the challenge when it was suggested by the innovative new magazine Electric Literature, which is publishing "Some Contemporary Characters" simultaneously with about 20 others, including L.A. bookstores Vroman's and Skylight and CalArts' literary magazine Black Clock.

The story is being tweeted in 10-minute intervals by @ElectricLit and the others between now and Wednesday, taking breaks at night. 

So far, it looks to be a story about a budding relationship between a forty- to fiftysomething man and a woman less than half his age -- hey, it works for Philip Roth -- Internet daters who meet cute. The story has been told, in its first installments, in what are nominally alternating tweets from the perspective of each character. 

It's interesting that a writer of Moody's caliber is willing to give Twitter a try. But at this early stage, the experiment shows where form and content aren't yet matched to their best advantage.

If Moody wrote the story from two individual points of view -- possibly more, as the story is called "Some Contemporary Characters" -- why tweet from a single feed? If the story had an omniscient voice, a godlike storyteller narrating the events, the single feed would make sense. But if these are supposed to be the tweets/thoughts of different people, why not fully exploit the form and bring them each into being on Twitter for the life of the story?

And the simultaneous publishing by 20 different Twitterers is perhaps a miscalculation. In the past, having bookstores, bloggers and other magazines simultaneously pass out a short story would widen the circulation. Today, many of those people are in overlapping social networking circles, and the result is repetition rather than reach. Anyone following more than one of the outlets sees exactly the same tweet show up at exactly the same time from multiple sources. Twitter has a viral recirculation tool -- retweeting, or an RT in a post -- which is organic and feels like a shared secret. But this project isn't using retweeting, it's simply sending out the same broadcast from many places at once -- leaving the receiver to feel like he or she has been attacked by clones. No fun.

What role Twitter eventually will take in our culture -- other than short-attention-span distraction -- is hard to predict. But surely it is a possible venue for telling short stories, and Electric Literature is to be commended for splashing in with this one. But it shows that Twitter as a storytelling form hasn't been fully exploited -- yet.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Rick Moody in 2001. Credit: Jeff Geissler / Associated Press

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