For a while now, I’ve been following @IAM_SHAKESPEARE on twitter. The idea behind the account appealed to me – tweeting every work of Shakespeare, line-by-line.
I’m fairly certain I was teaching my Shakespeare class at the time and all juiced up on The Bard.
Initially, Shakespeare was following me too. Not anymore. The realization that my writing had lost his attention, faux or otherwise, was a bit of a blow to the ego.
Then again, I’m struggling to remain interested in what cyber-Bill has to say. Every now and again, I’ll catch a key line from a work I’ve read and feel the self satisfaction of recognition. Most of the time, though, I’ll see something like the recent, “Farewell. Our countrymen are gone and fled.” I’m not sure what to do with that.
The narrative wasn’t built for Twitter.
This is not to say Twitter wasn’t built for narrative.
Most recently, the exploits of the fictitious Rahm Emanuel, @MayorEmanuel, have shown the medium can do more than answer its initial question of “What are you doing?”
As revealed in a recent story from The Atlantic, Chicago writer/professor/punk zine publisher Dan Sinker used the account to build an entire world for what could be described as his Nega Emanuel.
In his analysis of Sinker’s work, Atlantic Senior Editor Alexis Madrigal writes:
When you try to turn his adventures into traditional short stories or poems, they lose the crucial element of time. The episode where the mayor gets stuck in the sewer pipes of City Hall just does not work when the 15 tweets aren’t spaced out over 7 hours. It’s all over too fast to be satisfying. There’s no suspense.
This is 4-D storytelling, and I’m fascinated.
@MayorEmanuel existed as a stand-alone narrative with no tie-in or marketing behind it.
In the lead up to the 2000 release of the film adaptation of Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, fans could receive e-mails from the film’s main character Patrick Bateman. It was 2000 and e-mail was still super cool. I was working at my university’s student paper at the time and remember the daily discussions as the e-mails arrived in our movie columnist’s inbox.
I’d read epistolic fiction before, but this was something new. It was sent out at the author’s pace, not the readers’. As Madrigal pointed out, suspense was built as a function of how the story was told.
The seniors in my Storytelling class are writing short stories now influenced by one of the human emotions as described by Aristotle. They’re crafting stories the way generations before them have composed texts. Though they’ve moved from paper to the screen, the process and the format are largely the same. I see and understand the value of the exercise. There’s a holding on to the roots and the tradition of writing stories (and I love Fiddler on the Roof as much as the next guy).
At the same time, Singer won’t be the last person to bend Twitter or any other social network to his will. I’ll be remiss in my duties if I don’t offer up these online spaces as playgrounds for the telling of the stories my students are writing.
Only doing that, though, would be tantamount to art teachers forbidding their students to use perspective in their painting. Story can have a depth and breadth to it online far beyond the linear nature of the page – be it paper or web.
The future of writing and literature has too many possibilities for me to force them to write in the past.
I’ve begun thinking of ways to encourage my students to start playing with new media as mechanisms for delivering their stories. One of the essential questions for the class asks, “How is a story affected by how it’s told?” The answer to that appears to be shifting before our eyes.