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By Kellnerin (Mon Dec 07, 2009 at 08:46:45 PM EST) (all tags)
Post-FC indulgence, part one. (This is what happens when you run a several-months-long Fun Challenge.) No spoilers, except for the obvious revelation of which entry I wrote.


I'M NOT SURE EXACTLY when I settled on the idea of doing a WTFC entry by posting it in reverse order on Twitter, but I know that the exact idea had a lot of predecessors.

For one thing, there seemed to be a lot of serial stories going around earlier this year, but they were all for much larger works than I had in mind. I was thinking something somewhat longer than a typical WFC entry, but shorter than a novel. At some point this idea combined with the fact when I first started talking to toxicfur about Twitter, I wanted to have some sort of project if I started using it. (Yes, I know it sort of misses the point of Twitter.)

I'd read about Twitter novels, though at the time they mostly seemed to be novels that someone had sitting in a drawer that they decided to chop up and post, rather than something they were writing as they went along. And then I heard that the author of one of the first Twitter novels (if not the first) had collected, on a regular ol' Web page, the first several hundred tweets' worth of Small Places, and that this archive wasn't being updated as the story continued, the combination of which struck me as both helpful and a little silly at the same time. (If only someone would write a Tweet Reverser like what 256 did for Blogger ...)

So anyway, it seemed logical to me to post a story backwards, so that anyone trying to catch up midstream could easily read it forwards. Of course, it meant that if you wanted to follow along in realtime, you had to consume it backwards, and that the story on some level had to work that way. Well, that sounded like just the sort of stupid challenge that I like to take on. (Followers of my so-called literary endeavors may recall that the beginning of the original story this was based on was driven in part by the desire to spell my username backwards using the first letter of each paragraph.)

It's actually not the first time I thought about playing with the reverse-chronological nature of Web sites, or even combining it with serial fiction in very small bites. The first scenario actually didn't have anything to do with most-recent-first formatting. Back when text ads on K5 had just been introduced, rusty played with the idea of serial text-ad fiction. Because he was rusty, and because it was K5, he could maintain a diary entry where he listed all the "episodes" in order, but no one else could. And wouldn't direct links in the ad itself (what is an ad but a link, after all) have been a friendlier form of navigation? Unfortunately, it's impossible to link to the URL of a future ad, so in order to allow people to click from each entry to the next, you'd have to write (or at least post) backwards.

It's worth noting that fluffy had demonstrated the same principle for diaries, during the K5 CYOA experiment (referenced in my comment to that diary). So really I stole the idea from rusty and fluffy, originally.

Lots of time passed between that abortive attempt at reverse-serial-micro-fiction and now. At some point I'd contemplated combining the discipline of 100 words with a typical blog format to tell a story in 100-word chunks, backwards -- that was when I came up with the username sdraw (geddit?) I never actually did anything with the idea, although it's part of the reason I found Dian Bling so charming, with its exploitation of the blog format to tell a story that works in both directions.


THIS IDEA THAT I had in the back of my head was one of the reasons I was particularly intrigued by the suggestion Jane Espenson offered on her blog that one way of approaching a story is to write it backwards. Of course, she only meant to work out the story that way, not to actually present it to an audience in that order.

Part of the problem with my application of her advice was that I didn't have the one crucial moment to work from. I had some possibilities based on my original WFC2 entry, but I was never entirely happy with the ending and I didn't exactly know what I wanted it to be instead. But according to the parameters I had set for myself, I had to start at the ending, so I needed an ending. It's a little odd (and mildly nervewracking) to start with the payoff before you've set it up, or more to the point, before you're at all sure that you're going to be able to set it up properly.

In order for it to read somewhat smoothly, I wrote (and am still writing) it in sections of at least a thousand words, rather than 140 characters. The sections, when I write them, are not necessarily in any particular order, though I try to attack the parts that come later in the narrative for obvious reasons. Since it is practically impossible to write a story that reads equally well forwards and backwards, I had to privilege one version over the other. The intention is that it reads better forwards, that is, in the opposite order of posting, but with references sprinkled about to things that have happened earlier / will be posted later to help things make sense, sort of a cross between foreshadowing and structurefucking. I outlined the story in more detail than I usually do so that I could do this, and then proceeded to throw away the outline once I had some idea of the various elements in play.

A few years ago I read an interview with Kevin Brockmeier in which he proposes that "any narrative (or any piece of writing at all, really) will either adopt the sentence or the paragraph as its smallest unit of complete meaning, stacking one on top of the other to make the steps by which it moves forward, and it can be useful to determine which sort of narratives you're most comfortable with or skilled at producing." Clearly the main unit of this narrative is the tweet, which I'm sure wasn't one of the options that Brockmeier had in mind. It certainly doesn't come organically, though, or at least not yet; once I have the next section for posting in roughly the right shape, I edit it and break it up into tweets and then group batches of several tweets into a days' worth of posts.

Sometimes doing this has forced me to streamline rambling sentences (or cut them out altogether if I go 140 characters without having much of a point), though there are also times that passages have suffered for shoehorning into the format. At times I've been guilty of fingerpainting. I've also developed even more weird dialogue-writing tics than I already had, in an attempt to make it clearer who was speaking. Anyway, as I go I find that I tend to write in bursts that break more easily into roughly tweet-sized pieces, and try not to write paragraphs that are longer than five or six tweets long.

I sort of hate my framing story, as well as the use of the hated second person, but it seemed to make sense in the context of a narrative that's being serialized in such small bits. The way I envisioned it, there's an overarching storyline in the present tense and several in the past; the pronouns that apply to the main characters are, respectively: I, she, and you. That was also the reasoning behind the fairy tale section at the end, to provide at least a partial framework for the story being told. I hoped (with no actual evidence) that this would make it easier to follow, but it doesn't always read that well. If I don't completely hate this story by the time I'm done, I think it would work better as a collection of connected stories, which is sort of what this is turning into anyway.


IN MY POST ABOUT my previous writing project I mentioned that the tactic of throwing my characters out of an airlock backfired on me spectacularly, and Scrymarch observed that it only worked for Douglas Adams because of the pressure to write the next bit, whatever it might be. So by posting it serially (and publicly) I hoped to throw the writer out of the airlock, as it were, with the attendant speculative benefits.

That didn't work, either, when I got stuck (due to a piece of the framing story refusing to come together) and let the story lapse for several months.

The main reason it didn't work was because no one was watching, other than spambots. This was more or less on purpose, since I was trying not to attract too much attention until I was "ready" and could, in fact, be relatively confident of continuing the story before an audience. So now, with the FC deadline passed, and enough momentum to carry me for a while, I decided it was time to do the real Twitter thing and follow people, or at least accounts doing things vaguely related to what I was doing.

I discovered that people doing tweet-sized fiction seem more active on the whole than those doing serials, which surprised me at first (given my favorite quote about writing), but became obvious after a little while. Self-contained stories work much better in the medium, when your posts are going to be interspersed with other people's stuff in one big stream. I also wonder if the phase of people with pre-existing works serializing them in this way has mostly passed. Keeping up an ongoing serial that you make up as you go is nontrivial, even (especially?) if you only have to post 100 words or so each day. Anyway, I'd be curious to see if anyone can actually follow the story this way, but I wouldn't be surprised if it turns out to be too hard to follow it natively in Twitter, as it were. I suppose if you like the story and but not the presentation you can always check the profile page periodically and read it in larger chunks (that's less egoboost-y for me than if you click the "follow" button, but it's cool anyway. It's also cool if you're so bored by this that you didn't even read this far -- in which case you won't even know I said this -- but I feel good about writing it, so there.)

The other downside to actually following people on Twitter is the constant Skinnerian impulse to refresh my timeline, which is a big part of the reason I've resisted it until now. I need another Internet addiction like I need a perforated cranium, but I guess it's too late now. So, who should I be following with my stealth account?

< And it continues along at pace. | on fog >
Temporal Gravity | 9 comments (9 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
There's a lot here by ana (4.00 / 1) #1 Mon Dec 07, 2009 at 09:04:05 PM EST
and I'll just drive by and say that the 100-word thing is one of my favorite essay formats. I used to do one a week, give or take, to prompts in another online community. I should prolly do that again some day.

And it's been fun, watching this thing of yours grow.

"And this ... is a piece of Synergy." --Kellnerin

I still by Kellnerin (2.00 / 0) #3 Tue Dec 08, 2009 at 06:27:43 AM EST
have never done the 100 words thing -- it's one exercise in odd constraints I haven't gotten around to.

Along those lines, I always thought Severance was a clever idea, although I haven't actually read it.

--
"Plans aren't check lists, they are loose frameworks for what's going to go wrong." -- technician

[ Parent ]
Well I subbed by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #2 Tue Dec 08, 2009 at 12:52:49 AM EST
But I can't bring myself to sign up to Twitter. It's a bridge too far. Add one to your mental list though.

Will sig for food

understood by Kellnerin (2.00 / 0) #4 Tue Dec 08, 2009 at 06:28:48 AM EST
Thanks for incrementing the mental counter.

--
"Plans aren't check lists, they are loose frameworks for what's going to go wrong." -- technician
[ Parent ]
lots to say. by clock (4.00 / 1) #5 Tue Dec 08, 2009 at 07:45:09 AM EST
too many meetings.  i'm following you now (stalkerliscious, this twitter thing) and will keep an eye on you.  i like the twitter experiments. i have followed a few others in the past with very mixed reviews but nothing one wouldn't expect from an experimental format in a new flavor of media.


I agree with clock entirely --Kellnerin

tease! by Kellnerin (2.00 / 0) #6 Tue Dec 08, 2009 at 07:18:42 PM EST
You will have to come back and say those things when/if the meetings abate. At the very least, tell me about the Twitter experiments (or at least the good ones or more interesting failures ...)

I think at some point down the line I'll have to do an interesting and/or failure check on this thing I've got going ...

--
"Plans aren't check lists, they are loose frameworks for what's going to go wrong." -- technician

[ Parent ]
Units of meaning by Scrymarch (2.00 / 0) #7 Wed Dec 16, 2009 at 10:07:32 PM EST
I have not really paid a lot of attention to computer analysis of literary texts, but this one seemed relevant to the chunk of writing comment.

Will sig for food

probably a good policy by Kellnerin (2.00 / 0) #8 Sun Dec 20, 2009 at 06:56:51 PM EST
-- disregarding computer analysis of texts in general. The text stats on Amazon, for example, are more a curiosity than anything. "Did you see the maximal informative span on that book? No way I'm buying that."

That said, I'll probably be obsessing about what my personal chunk of meaning is now.

--
"Plans aren't check lists, they are loose frameworks for what's going to go wrong." -- technician

[ Parent ]
Reminiscent of sporting stats by Scrymarch (2.00 / 0) #9 Mon Dec 21, 2009 at 05:27:35 AM EST
Insert commentator of choice into voiceover recitation of same ...

Will sig for food

[ Parent ]
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