Constructing narrative on Twitter.

Back when I first started really using the Internet (1998?) my friends and I would search AOL for chatrooms dedicated to shows or bands we liked. In retrospect, I probably spent an inordinate amount of my childhood talking to teenagers (who were really 40 year-old men) about Buffy The Vampire Slayer and The X-Files. But I also found a community of writers who wanted to use this new platform to new work. In one room, volunteer poets were given a topic and a few minutes to crank out a five or six lines of poetry. These pieces were, without exception, very bad. The point was to write in the moment. It followed the same logic of competitions like NaNoWriMo. The platform of the chatroom did not really allow for careful lines of crafted simplicity. These were the draftiest of drafts.

When scanning a piece like The Good Captain, a space adaptation of Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno (why do so many Melville adaptations take place in space?!), that was originally formatted for Twitter, I cannot help but think of the way the logic of the chatroom shaped the work produced there. (Telling you that the work was uniquely awful may not help my point. In the hands of more skilled writers, the work may have been better. ) The Good Captain follows Cereno’s plot formatting: a brief intro explaining the narrative, followed by the first person account of the ship’s rebellion, then an official document recounting the whole onboard revolt.

The shift in platform raises interesting questions about telling a story like Cereno. Print allows for shifts in point-of-view and narrative style that seem artificial on Twitter.  Much like those early chatrooms, Twitter is best when its able to provide an up-to-the-minute narrative. It allows requires a kind of storytelling not always at work in this piece. In the sections sandwiching the action of the story, the platform betrays the artificiality of the story. The middle section, however, is best suited to Twitter’s aesthetic. I’d like to see more pieces done on Twitter that actually make use of the platform effective instead of trying to shoehorn older narrative structure into platforms that just don’t fit.