The Washington Post

#Twitterfiction goes mainstream

Steven Soderbergh is writing a book—though it won’t have pages, paragraphs, or chapters more than a few lines long.

Steven Soderbergh (Axel Schmidt/dapd)
Steven Soderbergh (Axel Schmidt/dapd)

The director of “Traffic” and “Magic Mike” was, as of the writing of this post, 90 tweets into his Twitter novella, “Glue,” which seems to chronicle (in an abstract, disjointed, 140-character kind of way) the movements of two unnamed spies in France. It’s a first for Soderbergh, who has stuck to directing, producing and screenwriting in the past. But it’s an increasingly common application for Twitter, which actually hosted its own literary festival in November.

In fact, in the past year, Twitter literature—Twitterature?—has popped up everywhere from academia to The Guardian to the hallowed pages of The New Yorker. Teju Cole, one of the pioneers of the genre, recently wrapped up a two-year project in which he tweeted — in sparse, merciless, lyrical prose — the fantastical true crime stories of Lagos, Nigeria.



Jennifer Egan wrote her New Yorker story “Black Box” as a series of tweets. In a separate piece for the New Yorker describing her process, Egan lauded the genre “because of the intimacy of reaching people through their phones, and because of the odd poetry that can happen in a hundred and forty characters.”




Further afield, inventive writers have created entire characters (or caricatures) and given them Twitter life. D.C. novelist Elliot Holt created fake accounts for several fictional characters to weave a story of death at a rooftop party. Karl Welzein—not a real person—has captivated tens of thousands. Dan Sinker turned @MayorEmanuel, his hilarious, expletive-laden parody of the Chicago mayor, into a book—which Wired called Twitter’s “first truly great piece of literature.”

Twitter lit is defined by the 140-character length of each installment, even as the genre borrows conventions from around the short-form world, including from flash fiction and six-word stories. The prose are brief and often witty. The genre thrives on wordplay, syllogism, abstraction and hyperbole. If this sounds like poetry, that’s because each entry, if not the entire story being told, often is.

“The space of 140 characters is a membrane or chrysalis that allows the identity of the story to safely form,” Jessica Otto, the founder of online Twitter lit mag “Trapeze,” wrote in 2011. “An author can create abstraction out of a concrete plot … and ignore realities that are enforced by long fiction.”

Will Soderbergh’s “Glue” aspire to those heights? If his clunky first seven “chapters” are any indicator, probably not. But the story is young, and the genre endlessly flexible—and Soderbergh, it appears, has many tweets to go.

His latest reads only, ominously: “END OF CHAPTER SEVEN.”

Caitlin Dewey is The Post’s digital culture critic. Follow her on Twitter @caitlindewey or subscribe to her daily newsletter on all things Internet. (

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments

Sign up for email updates from the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

You have signed up for the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

Thank you for signing up
You'll receive e-mail when new stories are published in this series.
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.