While doing some research on flash fiction, I ran across what may be the shortest complete story ever written in the English language. Penned by Ernest Hemingway, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn,” weighs in at a meager 33 characters (including spaces), making this story fit comfortably within Twitter’s 140 character limit. I was impressed by the impact that so few words could have, and how such a complete picture could be painted using only six words.
The classic definition of flash fiction has all of the usual story elements: a protagonist, conflict, obstacles or complications, and resolution. Due to the word limits (usually less than 2000, often less than 1000 words), one or more of these elements may be dropped, as Mr. Hemingway’s extreme example illustrates. For me, as a writer, this has huge possibilities for future tweets.
Twitter’s 140 characters places a severe limit on what you can express via this medium. It forces you to strip your statements down to the barest of bones. So instead of telling the tale of your arduous, and hazard filled journey to the shower, tweets are all too often reduced to the fumblingly dull: “Just washed my hair. Got shampoo in my eyes. It hurt.” (52 characters) A tweet like this may elicit sympathetic noises from those that know you personally, but really aren’t that interesting in and of themselves.
Bearing in mind that I am no Hemingway, you could instead tweet the tale like this: “Note to self: washing your eyes with shampoo is a bad idea” (58 characters). What my poor example does is pull your follower into the tale by demanding that they engage their imaginations. This story format causes your audience to ask why. The answer will of course be immediately apparent as they relive their own shampoo misadventures, and thus draw them into your story. Now, instead of telling them what you are doing, you are sharing a common experience. Your story has become their story, and there is nothing more important to a person than their own story.
By making your followers ask fundamental questions such as “why” and “what,” you bring them into the tale, making your story their story. And that, my friend, is what you call engagement. Engagement is what you want and need to be a valuable part of the twittersphere.
Engage your followers at the gut level and they are more likely to retweet your posts, follow your links and generally engage with you. Why? Because they trust you as they trust themselves. Because they trust that you are all about them. Because my story is your story, and that makes us good tweeple. Now there’s a tweet for ya.