Move over Bloomsbury, Penguin, and Juggernaut — Twitter is now the premier fiction publisher in the era of coronavirus.
When Twitter user Shiv Ramdas wrote a lengthy thread about his brother-in-law buying a truck of rice, his posts received 77,000 retweets and 3 lakh likes within days. That’s how starved people are for a quick, interesting read on social media.
Let’s be honest, it’s practically impossible to get through a 500-page book today when you have to respond to every text, Instagram forward, and see every video on Facebook or Twitter. But fear not, Twitter story threads are the new place to quench that bookworm in you.
And you thought Twitter is only a playground for trolls. After Black Twitter and Dalit Twitter became thriving virtual subcultures, fiction Twitter is slated to be the next big thing.
Anyone can tell a funny, evocative, romantic, or thrilling story on Twitter — 280 characters at a time. All you need is snarky vocabulary, internet inside jokes, and concise sentences. Each tweet becomes a chapter, and each thread, however long you may want it to be, becomes the tale.
There’s a story everywhere, if you look
“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms,” poet Muriel Rukeyeser had once mused. And when you’re living through a historical moment, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, stories can help you ride the storm.
Gone are the days when writing was about perfect grammar, intonation, vocabulary, and context. In the age of Twitter, all you need is a good tale and the ability to tell it with some flair. The ‘like’, ‘share’, and ‘retweet’ buttons will do the rest.
Even if the story is about something as mundane as a bag of rice, or in this case it was actually a whole truck, you can find yourself a captive audience if you make things interesting enough. On 3 September, author Shiv Ramdas’ brother-in-law accidentally ordered an entire truck-full of rice, in an earnest attempt to avoid going out and buying a new packet every few days. When the rather large consignment reached his front door, he realised what a colossal mistake he had made. A truck is not just the size of a big SUV, but a “literal lorry”, he specified for non-Indian Twitter users tuning into his hilarious live updates of the events that unfolded. What ensued was a series of tweets that took us through a comedy of errors, captured deftly by Ramdas in a very, very long Twitter thread.
OMG my brother in law, the gift that never stops giving, was tired of being sent to get rice every day so he decided buy in bulk, talked to the shop about it, wires got crossed, now there is a literal TRUCK FILLED WITH RICE outside the house and my sister is losing her shit lmfao
— Shiv Ramdas (@nameshiv) September 3, 2020
Who would have time to sit and read a bunch of tweets about a truck full of rice, you ask?
The story of the rice-purchase gone wrong was admittedly quite banal. But the way Ramdas narrated the story — replete with regular updates about how annoyed his sister was, how frustrated the poor lorry driver was, and how many bottles of rum had to be exchanged to finally call truce — made his Twitter ‘audience’ sit at the edge of their seats, waiting to hear what happened next. The universality of the ‘characters’ made the story that much more enjoyable — an over-enthusiastic brother-in-law, a smooth-talking boss, a well-meaning but unhelpful father, a bossy mother, and a cameo from a nosy no-mask neighbour.
The latest Twitter saga, which has had people questioning the difference between reality and fiction, is about an editor from The New York Times, a young girl in Mumbai, and a shared love for the spelling bee. These may seem like incongruous elements, but they were seamlessly woven into a Twitter story that made people ask — did this actually happen? But does it really matter in the end? It was a highly enjoyable story, and we lapped it up.
The Editor smiled as he sank into his chair. This was the best call he had ever taken in his long career. "Listen, when this pandemic is done and dusted, get that kid and her Dad here on a holiday. At our cost. This is the first time that a gaol has liberated someone."
— Ramki (@ramkid) September 29, 2020
Twitter is an open platform publisher
It’s not just quirky, feel-good tales that can engage audiences on Twitter. A viral story thread by nephrologist Dr Sayed Tabatabai illustrated what a post-Covid future could look like. Science fiction and dystopia are much-loved genres, but it’s downright scary to read something that’s so close to bordering on reality.
It isn’t easy being 80 years old.
Things don’t work like they used to. People don’t treat you like they used to.
I’m standing before the shower in my hotel room.
“Temperature?” A voice asks me.
“Warm, but not too hot,” I answer.
The shower starts, the water’s perfect. 1/
— Sayed Tabatabai, MD (@TheRealDoctorT) July 13, 2020
PSA: Wash your hands and maintain six feet distance to avoid this, please.
Threads like these aren’t new though, they have been around for a while. But with soaring anxiety levels making it harder to read entire books during Covid, more people than ever have joined in on the Twitter fiction bandwagon.
Brandon Stanton, founder of the popular Facebook page Humans of New York, has narrated wonderful human-centric stories in the long thread format for some time now. Another personal favourite thread of mine is a three-part family story which has drama, romance, and cute kids, all in one.
Hello, good morning. A ridiculous but ENTIRELY TRUE story coming up, told in three parts. Ten tweets per part so you might want to a) make a strong coffee, or b) ignore me
— sixthformpoet (@sixthformpoet) June 9, 2019
Twitter has proved you don’t have to wait for a book or movie deal to become an exciting storyteller. In fact, in 2015, about a weekend gone very wrong in Detroit, US, actually got made into a Hollywood movie titled Zola.
So, who knows, your own wacky family tale, first-date horror story, or disastrous day at the office may just be the next big fictional masterpiece. Get tweeting and find out.
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