Affordances and Constraints of Twitter Fiction

Teju Cole wrote “Hafiz” as a Twitter story. He gave his friends lines to post and re-tweeted them in a specific order to create a story. What are some of the affordances and constraints of Twitter as a storytelling medium?

One of the affordances of Twitter stories is the impact of each tweet. Each tweet has a 140 character limit, so they cannot fit many words. However, Cole says it is similar to poetry in which “every single line has a certain punch and precision to it.” This is especially so because generally, the tweets are seen as separate beings. They are not combined to make one complete and meaningful story until they are connected on Cole’s timeline.For example, one of the tweets is, “Why tears? Because light is beautiful. Because we do not wish to leave something and stray away into nothing,” which can be seen as a very meaningful tweet even outside of its context in “Hafiz.”

However, I think this same aspect can also be seen as a constraint. In general, I think most of the tweets in “Hafiz” seem meaningless on their own. Actually, if I saw “‘Is it a heart attack?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘Did you call 911?'” I would be very concerned about the Twitter user and what is happening in their personal life. Because Cole had his Twitter friends post for him and Cole himself retweeted, most people probably saw the lines individually and felt confused by them.

But the way that Cole spread his story through many different Twitter accounts can be seen as another affordance because it helps reach a much wider audience. Somebody could see the tweet that, for example, rob delaney posted and trace it to “Hafiz.” Especially because rob delaney is so Twitter famous and has over a million followers versus Cole which only has 13 thousand.

One more constraint of Twitter fiction is how temporary it is. What makes the story so amazing is the fact that it is on Twitter. If all the tweets were compiled into one paragraph, the story would lack impact. However, Twitter is not permanent. The value of Twitter’s stocks are dropping rapidly, and some are expecting Twitter to eventually go bankrupt which, in that case, Twitter would cease to exist. But even if something that dramatic does not happen, if one of Cole’s friends decides to delete their post from “Hafiz” then the story will be broken.



One thought on “Affordances and Constraints of Twitter Fiction

  1. An excellent summary of the affordances and constraints of Twitter fiction (at least as far as we have read so far). I think we saw with 7scenes that it’s critical to keep both in mind as we explore the various means of digital storytelling. Also, good point about the ephemerality of Twitter fiction. I hadn’t thought about what would happen if one of the posters deleted their tweet.


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