The Future of Fiction?

As originally blogged on, last week I attended “A Conversation with Twitter and The New Yorker on the Future of Fiction.” The event launched Twitter as a vehicle for fiction-writing, and asked writers to rise to the challenge using it as such. I’m not convince this is a challenge writers should spend their time undertaking.

The event was held at The New York Public Library, and was standing room only by the time Twitter’s Andrew Fitzgerald, Head of Editorial Programming, took to the podium to talk about Twitter as a creative medium.

“Twitter is for storytelling,” he said to the crowd of book editors, publishers, bloggers, literary agents, journalists, and fiction writers.

Maybe that’s true – real-life story telling, in real-time. But as a novelist, I have a hard time thinking Twitter is a good vehicle for fiction, despite the fact that Pulitzer-prize winning Jennifer Egan certainly did last spring when she published her New Yorker story “Black Box” entirely in Tweets.

The New Yorker’s fiction editor, Deborah Treisman, took to the stage to discuss the process of live Tweeting a short story, and how Jennifer Egan spent a year constructing “Black Box” with the Twitter in mind. Treisman made a point of saying that this wasn’t just a short story broken up into 140 character chunks – that each sentence of the story was precisely constructed with the format in mind.

Is this the future of story telling? Twitter would like to think so.

At the conclusion of the event, Twitter announced their first Fiction Festival slated for the end of November, a five day event that will feature “creative experiments in storytelling from authors around the world.”

As a novelist who recently did some experimenting of my own publishing my fourth novel as a serialized e-book prior to a print publication next year, I’m all for different modes and methods of storytelling and delivery. But as a writer who spent decades learning how to tell an effective story before finally publishing my first novel, I’m afraid that burgeoning writers will get distracted by technological innovations and lose sight of the craft fundamentals.

Structure. Characters. Plot.  Three simple elements … so complicated to master. My mother always said (although, she was talking about fashion) you can’t break the rules successfully if you don’t know the rules. I do think this applies to storytelling, and are words every writers should heed when diving into the brave new world of storytelling across varied platforms.

During the Q&A portion of the program, an audience member asked Deborah Treisman if Jennifer Egan was planning another publication via Twitter. The answer seemed be no, not at the moment – and that Ms. Egan liked to challenge herself and probably wasn’t looking for a repeat. As writers, we should always challenge ourselves. But for most of us non-Pulitzer prize winters out there, the job of telling a well-constructed, fully-realized story once, twice – again and again – might be challenge enough.

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