How Twitter Can Help Your Storytelling Skills

If you weren’t there at FWA 2013, you may have missed the fact that I told the entire story of The Lives of Dexter Peterson between songs while on stage.

The concert was scheduled for 90 minutes, but at least an hour of that was all music and applause breaks. How the heck was I supposed to tell a 200-page story in less than half an hour? Actually, I (like you) have been practicing condensed storytelling for years thanks to a 140-character limit on certain communication media. What I didn’t expect, however, was how this process would change the story.

We’ve all been there: Writing a brilliant tweet, but it comes out to about 250 characters.

The process of paring a thought down to fit an arbitrary container is frustrating, sometimes maddening. After all, if I didn’t mean all those words, why would I have written them? Yet as I started trimming each chapter down into just a few bullet points, I had to perform some painful artistic triage. The question that keeps popping up again and again is “what am I trying to SAY here?” I had, at most, 5 minutes between each song to explain a chapter that could be up to 40 pages.

Trimming those tweets down to the magic 140 (or less if you’re adding links, photos, etc.) is the jogging track for creative editing that you never knew you were on. The exercise of saying what you mean instead of whatever comes to mind is one that strengthens your storytelling potential. In fact, it can even broaden your vocabulary as you try to combine three words into one.

But as I condensed I realized that, for all the words I had barfed onto the manuscript, I had been missing key concepts that made for a much more compelling story. When presented with the bullet points of what I’d actually written, they often pointed to a concept I had either misarticulated or missed entirely.

It’s like mixing a song with a hundred instruments, then muting everything but the vocals, bass, and drums to find the foundation again.

In the end, I found with a better story than the one I’d written before taking the stage. Who knows, maybe I should condense each chapter into a single bullet point. A tweet. A word. Imagine that: A twelve-word novella. Maybe that’s some kind of bullshit zen ideal, maybe it’s just an academic exercise, but if Twitterization helped me this much, I’m willing to give it a shot.

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