Using Social Media to Tell a Story

So many readers and writers are still debating print books versus ebooks, but what about stories told through social media? Apps and social media services, which thrive on communication, are platforms for storytelling—though we don’t typically turn to them for reading or publishing fiction.

But that doesn’t mean authors haven’t written and released short stories on social media platforms. In fact, thanks to their ease of use, writers can self-publish stories through Twitter and other sites without hassle. Here are some examples of awesome and innovative stories that show how your favorite social media site can become your next publishing platform.

tejuThe Collage

Teju Cole (pictured left) collaged together a short story told through re-tweets. Cole’s authorship here is more as editor, having organized and culled the story together, as not one word is written by him. But the story isn’t a Dadaist let-the-cards-fall-where-they may exercise; Cole solicited contributors to write a line, writes the Verge, but the story still makes for a cool example of collaborative, indie intervention cutting through the noise of the Twitterverse.

elliotThe Meta Story

Eliott Holt (pictured left) really pushed the envelope by not just telling a story over Twitter, but performing it. Holt tells her story through a series of tweets from three fictional guests at a party (all from their own accounts!), where another guest has fallen to her death. Was it an accident? Murder? Suicide? Through its multiple perspectives, all unfolding in real-time (at least at the time of initial posting), Holt has woven a compelling mystery that could only be told in the 21st century—and serves as a great example for how anyone with an internet connection can push the limits of the short story form before a mass audience.

elanThe Hoax

Before we delve into this example, hear me out: while hoaxes might just seem like hysteria-inducing jokes, they can still be compelling narratives. One only needs to think of the iconic War of the Worlds radio play to see how a false story can be great, artful entertainment.

And you might remember this story: on Thanksgiving Day, 2013, Elan Gale live-tweeted about a rude passenger, Diane, on his flight. In between short dispatches, Gale (pictured left) tweeted photos of written notes between himself and Diane. As tempers rose, readers were riveted and glued to their screens—until days later, when Gale admitted that Diane never existed!

Gale created a situation that so many of us can relate to—being trapped in a public space with someone whose attitude is unbearable—and told the story through updates that used photos of various props (the written notes) to expand the narrative and make it appear more real. This use of multi-media storytelling, serialized in bite-sized chunks over the course of a flight, was perfect for hungry readers. And the timing was perfect as well, as Gale’s story was directly tied to the holiday that he chose to share with readers.

The takeaway with these Twitter stories is that authors can quickly and easily use a social network’s unique properties to effectively share a narrative: by showing alternate perspectives, by serializing a story, by creating an ephemeral story that relies on the time it’s being told, or even by crowdsourcing a story within a community.

pass theThe Subreddit

Speaking of crowdsourcing, social media fiction has found its way onto Reddit as well. As a forum site, Reddit is the perfect place for generating collaborative fiction with a mass amount of participants—and subscribers to the Pass the Paragraph subreddit. Here’s how Pass the Paragraph works: someone begins by posting a vague title for a story in a blank post, then begins the story in a response post. Those who want to continue the story can post their following paragraph as a response to that post.

Things can get messy! Due to the collaborative nature of the “game” as well as the nesting characteristic of Reddit’s threads, the story can branch out in various, alternate ways. But after readers “upvote” their favorite passages, a single, cohesive narrative will become apparent and easy to read. It’s almost like exquisite corpse, and sort of like a “choose your own adventure” story where everyone has a say, voting democratically on where the story might go.


1 reply
  1. avatar
    ValueInvestor says:

    Teju Cole spread false accusations in the New Yorker against one of the leading anti-racist newspapers in France (Charle Hebdo) due to ignorance coupled with arrogance. This is a story that should be told on Twitter. One writer has already apologized. But not Cole.


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