Genre tips

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 an internal book 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

…into 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 over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  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.

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

  1. Pingback: 8 Digital Tools for Writing | WordDreams...

  2. Pingback: 7 Digital Tools for Writing | Today's Author

  3. Reminds me of what was said about ad films and videos and why it was so much more creative than making movies – because you have to tell the whole story in a few seconds, in a way that captures the viewer’s imagination. Interesting thought to have kids use this format for learning to use words in a measured way.


  4. It’s a fantastic teaching tool to show how so few words can say so much. I’ve seen competitions like this and some of the stories that come out of it are fantastic. I like the ones you’ve given here. Rachel Johnson’s packs the biggest punch😉


  5. I think Twitter Novels is brrrrrrrrriliant and entertaining. I could see where each one could also be a writing prompt for flash fiction and/or short story and/or novel.

    Science is ever evolving and art forms like writing, dance, music etc should be too. I think “old foggies” (like me) too often get stuck in the familiar.


  6. This can obviously be done on a smart phone. It’s a great tool for teaching because it uses the media kids are already using. I think it also encourages a very short attention span in kids when they need to learn to concentrate in depth.
    As a writing exercise it could be useful – reduce your book to its most important elements. For me – not as a finished product. I would never publish this way.


  7. Am I stupid that I saw the title and assumed you meant a novel that had 140 different major characters in it? The idea of “Twitter” never crossed my mind for a second. (Then again, I’ve never used the blasted thing, so why would it?)


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