23 April 2009

140 Characters in Search of an Author

During an idle moment in Tuesday's lunch hour I created a second Twitter account, cleverly named "trapphic ", as a conduit for the 140-character microfictions I've been posting there occasionally. By 2:30 it had been picked up and recommended by Dave Gorman (the famous one, that is), and by the time I left work it had over 100 readers.

(The presence of celebrities in Twitter is strange and confusing, partly because of the possibility of sudden unexpected celebrity endorsements, but also because I haven't a clue who many of them are meant to be. I'm lucky Dave Gorman was someone I'd heard of, really, or I'd have been completely mystified)

The uptake rate has died down a bit since -- it's currently at 122 -- but I'm feeling the pressure to keep them entertained.

Rather than treating the 140-character limit imposed on tweets as a maximum, I've been pretending it's an absolute, and working precisely to that length. The resulting form is an odd one, because it often means exchanging a word or phrase that works perfectly for a slightly less sparkling one which fits the count. (Of course it's possible to fudge this to some extent by fiddling with the punctuation. Names are also useful, because you can always change them if they're a few letters too long or short.) Occasionally, though, the space will unexpectedly open up for an additional adjective (say) which finishes the whole thing off perfectly. It all tends to confirm the Oulipian principle of creative inspiration through willingly accepted constraints.

Being a perfectionist tinkerer, I'm finding the impossibility of going back and editing my tweets frustrating. It's all useful discipline, though.

More generally, it strikes me that the very short story, rather than being the haiku of the prose world, is rather like a cartoon caption without a picture. The trick is to give just enough information that the reader constructs their own mental image, thus completing the story. My favourite of the ones I've posted so far runs:
‘It’s true,’ Alice conceded. ‘I can climb from a room into its mirror image. But however would my ability be useful to this Dr Van Helsing?’
This requires the reader, having recognised this as an Alice in Wonderland / Dracula crossover, to follow through on the logic and complete the story. The actual punchline lies in the answer to Alice's question, some distance beyond the words themselves.

In a rather delayed response to my sudden following, I've updated my website with a shiny new microfiction page, and a fresher, cleaner design for the front page and some of its subsidiaries. (Aside from the rotating quotes at the top, the design isn't substantially changed from the six-year-old version, but the fonts and colours look a bit more modern. Well, I hope.) The whole site still needs a comprehensive overhaul, but I'm unlikely to manage that any time soon.

I wanted to put a feed from trapphic in here as well, but it doesn't seem as if Blogger allows the existence of more than one Twitter feed on a page (or if it does I'm too dense to work out how to juggle the code). Since this is, when all's said and done, a blog, I've kept the feed from the purserhallard account and included a trapphic feed on the microfiction page. I may fiddle with the template on the right there to link to that.

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