Carly: A collaborative Twitter story

I have just finished running a Creative Writing workshop as part of the LSE’s Literature Festival 2013. In it I wanted to talk about and explore ways of using Twitter creatively. Briefly, I went through four ways of doing so:

1) the standalone one-Tweet narrative, as seen on nanoism.net. This, we found, was hard.

2) we looked at iterative tweets: those that set up parameters and worked within them, in a non-narrative way. I gave as examples the drone stories of Teju Cole, New Proverbs of Hell by George Szirtes, and some dialogue between W and Lars by Lars Iyer – and clicking on their names here will link to a few examples of each I collected via Storify.

I then asked people to tweet, beginning with either ‘I remember’ or ‘Last night’ (using the #lsefiction hashtag) and I collected these in Storify here and here

3) we looked at narrative stories on Twitter, Jennifer Egan’s Black Box, Rick Moody’s Some Contemporary Characters, Andrew Fitzgerald’s March story on Medium and Litro’s recent #litrostory – which I contributed to, and may have inadvertently damaged – honestly, Litro people, I thought I was bringing the story back to its main narrative. (I also talked about my own Twitter story, J, which you can read more about here, and follow here.)

In fact, the #litrostory – as i saw it – was instructive, because it showed the pitfalls of open sourcing a project like this. People don’t read up what’s gone before, they push it in odd directions, they might even change tense or gender. I wanted to do something a bit like this, but a bit more curated, so as the final exercise we wrote a collaborative piece of non-narrative fiction, a character study, really, called Carly. This was number four.

4. People tweeted using the hashtag #Carly. I gave the groundrule that we were writing in the third person. The #Carly twitter page was open on the seminar room screen so people so people were able to see what others had written, and I encouraged people to follow up on others’ tweets. But, crucially, I then curated/edited the piece on Storify, giving it an order that I felt appropriate, and leaving out tweets that I felt missed the tone or took it in a direction that felt wrong. (Apologies to those who got cut – and there was also a device/platform-specific problem that some people’s hashtags weren’t showing up on the Twitter page, not sure why that was, and apologies to them, too.)

Here’s a link to the Storify page for Carly.

And  below is the pure text of it, stripped of avatars etc – a collective, collaborative text, curated and edited by me. (No editing as in changing what was tweeted, just selecting, ordering and paragraphing.)

It’s short, it was an experiment, but I would love to do it again, given a longer period of time – and hour to write, fifteen minutes to order. (You can do this separately, a la #litrostory, but there was something very interesting about doing it all together, all on our separate devices, all watching it come together on one screen.)

Carly’s glasses are large and always fall off. She is slightly awkward. Awkward in a gawky tall way.

Carly had an insatiable appetite for leafing through the personal effects of others. She was particularly drawn to items which exposed a person’s innermost thoughts, and so were customarily considered private. I am sure Carly didn’t mind when others did it.

Reading the journals and private correspondence of others had taught Carly that people are all very much the same. But this knowledge hadn’t saved Carly from being wrong about a great many things.

Carly suddenly existed in the minds of the 40 or so individuals. Like everyone else she was an entity conceived in the minds of others.

Carly knew what was what.

Her most annoying habit was chewing her hair. Mid-conversation, she would start chewing loudly and noisily. She ate her mushy cereal, not minding that the milk was sour, perhaps it was because of her hair chewing. The milk was sour because Carly had fed the last of the fresh to the cat. She chewed on her fingernails too. But something about that couldn’t compare to the satisfaction of her hair. She did it anyway.

Carly walked to the edge. “Hey babe” she shouted to the boy at the opposite balcony. “Come on over.”

Carly was old. Impossibly old. Skin thin, translucent, blue rivers trickling underneath. Carly had wrinkles that wove their way through her face like streams through the forest landscape.

Carly was timid, likeable, trustworthy and well-meaning. Everyone thought so. Carly was forgiveable. She had the right kind of face. Round, open, quick to smile. You couldn’t hold anything against Carly. Carly never answered to her full name. She shared the same fragility as the autumnal leaves as they disappeared towards winter. Carly spoke softly. And when she cried her sniffles scared her. But when she screamed, which always came as a surprise, it encapsulated all her impossible years of anguish.

Destructive and careless, her whispered utterances clouded a simple conversation over coffee breaks. They all love and think they love. They all cry and beg and hide their way through chapters of their lives.

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