Storytelling 140 Characters at ...


twitter and storytellingI’ve got the Twitter religion.

I’ve experienced its power in the form of crowd sourcing, research and new connections.

But Twitter is not a platform for storytelling.

Mark Drapeau who pens the blog Cheeky Fresh makes this very point in Microstorytelling Overkill and the Conundrum of the Exciting Event (must be nice to not have to optimize headlines for SEO).

He tells the story of the U.S. State Department sending an eclectic delegation ranging from Esther Dyson to Ashton Kutcher to visit Russia with technology as the conversation driver. But the collective tweets didn’t exactly add up to Tolstoy:

… I was thinking about the way in which the story of the Russian Tech Delegation (#RusTechDel) was being told primarily through Twitter. (Some activities were livestreamed through Kutcher’s UStream channel, as long as his iPhone had battery power, that is.)

At some points, some participants were tweeting something every couple of minutes. And in some cases participants were retweeting other participants. What’s the “right” number of tweets? Everyone has to decide that for themselves. But for me, as a member of the audience, I found this somewhere between confusing and annoying.
And not terribly entertaining, I might add.

Drapeau goes on to say:

The #RusTechDel “exciting event story” is just one of many examples of recent experiences I’ve had with social media storytelling, or attempts at it. A year ago, few people used tools like Twitter, and so only one person might be live-tweeting an event – making their information rare and valuable. Now however, we often see modest or extreme versions of Paul Carr’s “Look at me, looking at this” syndrome, in which people feel compelled to drop every thought they have into a tweet, with almost no regard for the audience they are presumably trying to reach.

I agree.

The reader shouldn’t have to work to extract the story.

Plus, you can’t develop pace in 140 character bursts.

Cruise through the following tweets as a mini experiment:

Hard luck fisherman, old I might add, paints solitary figure alone in his skiff #noluck
Think there’s a boy with the fisherman
No, the boy was only there the first 40 days; old man has been there 84 days
Thought the old man had been there for a good 90 days
Could swear the old man spent some time in Motown via @cheech
I heard the boy’s parents made him leave #toughlove
The boy’s parents liked the old fisherman, but saw opp for boy to catch another ship which landed three good fish the 1st wk #bait
It’s terrible that you can’t eat fish without worrying about the #mercury levels. #protest
One could argue that it’s downright cruel for parents to make their kids eat fish
Check out SCAT (Stop Cruelty Against Tuna) on Facebook.
You have a better chance of getting hit by a bus than dying of mercury in the bloodstream.
The boy still cares about the old man
I don’t know. The boy seems pretty happy in his new “ride.” #pimpmyride
I’m telling you- the boy is big-time sad each day when he sees the old man return empty handed.
Here’s another proof point- the boy always goes down to help the guy carry his coiled lines.
I saw the sail … pathetic #tiger.
I agree with @ernest- saw the boy help carry the gaff and harpoon and even the sail furled around the mast.
Pathetic but functional #rachelray.
If it’s pathetic, it’s not functional. If it’s functional, it’s not pathetic. That’s my deep sea thinking for the day
From what I could sea (clever), the sail was patched with flour sacks; looked like the flag of permanent defeat (think Duvall in #ApocalypseNow).
@Rachel_Ray Just uploaded a rice pilaf recipe on my Yum-O site that is pathetically functional

That’s what the first paragraph of “Old Man and the Sea” looks like tweeted.



Even Mr. Hemingway’s famed economy with language fails in a 140-character frame.

I rest my case.

Twitter doesn’t work for storytelling.


  • Merredith

    Funny comparison. #bossdissesTwitterforstorytelling #Hemingwayesque

  • Lou Hoffman


    I’m guessing the word already exists but if it doesn’t, consider my “Old Man and the Sea” the first graph of a tweevel.

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  • Shirley

    Thanks for sharing @loufhoffman. I see your point, this tweevel is unfortunately not a very good read. But while a tweevel doesn’t work, I do think that Twitter is still an important component of storytelling – it’s like a blurb, and if done right, gets you to read the story or even buy the book!

  • Lou Hoffman

    I’m with you. Twitter has a place in the communications mix. As you shared, it’s a good for highlighting something. Also good for a quip and the gifted few like @badbanana can even be funny in 140 character chunks.


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