Social media has changed the world. In a few short years, it transformed from a novelty for angsty teens into a force that literally topples governments. It changes the way we maintain friendships, the way we look for love, even the way we eat. Now, it is about to change the way writers craft their stories (if it hasn’t already).
Some writers are still hesitant about social networks. To them, Facebook and Twitter are part of the vanguard of an invading army seeking to destroy the traditions of the craft. They worry that readers are less likely to read a book when they have the infinite distractions of the sharable web at their fingertips. They worry that social media undermines grammar itself and dumbs us down. But where they see an attack, I see an opportunity.
Social media is a gift to writers for three reasons. First and most obviously, it levels the playing field, allowing writers to publish without a brick and mortar publishing house. Anyone can be an author. There is instant access to millions of readers and you can skip the middle man entirely. You can discuss your work with readers or co-create new pieces in real time with collaborators all over the world.
Second, the limitations of the technology itself could give rise to new forms. Currently, Twitter only allows you to post 140-character messages. How do you tell a story in 140-character increments? I don’t know, but I like the challenge. There’s a little more wiggle room on Facebook and sites like WordPress and Tumblr that make it possible to post entire novels on the web. All we have to do is learn how to write for these new media. In the near future, there may be an explosion of tweet-length poetry or status short stories.
Third, the denizens of Twitterverse and the blogosphere are voracious consumers of the written word. There is a lot of bad writing online. Those few people who can actually string together a coherent thought with accurate punctuation are becoming increasingly popular. If you can use the medium and write for it effectively, you can and will find an audience waiting to devour it. If nothing else, the sheer volume of terrible content makes some people more appreciative of the good stuff.
By our very nature, humans are storytellers. All of our great inventions were designed to help us share our stories and social media is no exception. The ways in which a writer can spin his or her digital yarn is literally without limit. The future of social storytelling is especially exciting when you see the new networks that are slowly gaining traction. Services like Storify allow you string together photos, videos, audio, tweets, Facebook posts and a host of other social content to tell stories on a multimedia platform. Imagine a whole new way to write that curates photos to establish setting and tweets for dialogue. Think of the possibilities for creativity.
Now, don’t get me wrong — I love books and I don’t think they’re going away any time soon. But I foresee social storytelling establishing itself as a beautiful compliment to the traditional hardback novel. Within the decade, a new generation of writers will develop a whole new art form that combines the new and the old in ways we cannot yet begin to dream of. It’s a brave new world just waiting to be explored.
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When I’m not busy blogging, I’m a social media manager and an incessant tweeter. If you have thoughts, responses or opinions you’d like to share, please feel free to do so in the comments or over on Twitter, where my handle is @jonnyeberle. Thanks for reading.
UPDATE: The New Yorker is serializing the sequel to Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Visit from the Goon Squad on Twitter. Follow the story on their feed at @NYerFiction and learn more about Egan’s decision from the Mashable article.