Twitter fiction is a joke

Posted on: June 14th, 2010 by Nathan E. Lilly

I published over 400 stories last year. The punchline is that they all averaged 22 words or less. These stories were published on Thaumatrope, the first twitter fiction magazine, and became part of the microfiction revolution and the recent trend of twitter fiction. Yes, they were all stories that were written in 140 characters or less.

In my comings and goings, introducing people to the twitter fiction concept, I’ve often heard it asked: “How is it possible to write a story that short? If a story must contain an entire plot then how can you compress all that into just a few sentences?” My answer: “Can you tell a joke?”

But seriously folks, try writing your twitter fiction in the form of a joke. Not that it needs to be funny, but that it should have a set-up (exposition, in literary terms) and a punchline (a climax and/or resolution). Consider the work of famous short-form comedian Henny Youngman:

A doctor has a stethoscope up to a man’s chest. The man asks, “Doc, how do I stand?” The doctor says, “That’s what puzzles me!”

In under 140 characters you have a complete story—the set-up: A doctor has a stethoscope up to a man’s chest. The man asks, “Doc, how do I stand?” and the punchline: The doctor says, “That’s what puzzles me!”

Even Ernest Hemingway’s six-word story contains the same elements: the exposition: For sale: Baby’s shoes, and the climax/resolution: Never worn.

Here are some examples of twitter fiction stories originally appearing on Thaumatrope that follow the same pattern:

“The truth,” I said, “is out there.” In a bus station locker in Trenton, NJ, seething, breathing, waiting, explosive. “I have the key.”

“Your first edition of Twilight gave me a paper cut!”

“Yeah, it does that to everyone sooner or later.”

If a Chronodoc says not to let paradox worry you because the math is all right this time, punch him. Punch him while you still have fists.

But the set-up/punchline format isn’t the only one that you could use. You can be even more direct. Henny Youngman was famous for his one-liners:

My doctor grabbed me by the wallet and said, “Cough!”

The one-liner concept, a story that can be told without pause all in one breath, is a bit more difficult to write. It requires that the exposition, climax, and resolution be all in one sentence. Here are some twitter fiction stories using the one-liner concept:

Lying in drag, waiting for the little girl, the wolf wonders what his own grandmother would say about how his life has turned out.

Sadly, Lillie realized the full scope of her powers the day she wished her math teacher would be hit by an asteroid the size of the moon.

The joke is just one of many forms that twitter fiction could take. Take a moment to browse the Thaumatrope archives, and see if you can recognize the format in the stories there. Hopefully this serves as an starting point for writers who want to write stories in the twitter fiction and the other microfiction forms.

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One Response

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