James Whitman

Author, playwright and creative writing tutor, based in Sunderland.

Writing Workshops

Disrupting Your Muse: Twitter Storming (Part 2 of 2)

This term at Hendon Writers, we’re shaking up what and how we write. These workshops are ideal for writers stuck in a rut, writing stories about the same old themes, with the same old characters doing the same old stuff.

Last week, we created a social media profile for one of your characters. This week, we’re gonna dunk that character into a steaming vat of Twitter sauce, and see what they taste like.

Exercise #1: Create a Twitter thread

A Twitter thread is basically a linked chain of tweets, all on the same topic. People use them to expound on topics close to their heart, usually (but certainly not always) in a measured and thoughtful way.

This exercise will help you find your character’s voice. Do they favour incoherent blathering, or meticulously constructed and sourced argument? Are they sweary? Do they (or can they) spell correctly? Do they hashtag to high heck and back? The answers to these questions will help you to show off your character, how they think, and how they express themselves.

  1. Make a list of things your character cares about. These might be a topics they know a lot about, through study or experience, but they don’t have to be (uninformed and blatantly prejudiced opinion is rampant on social media). Topics could be anything from the character’s hot take on Avenger’s Infinity War to their thoughts on how to chat up women without being a creep. Most importantly, your list should include very specific topics about which your character has a lot to say. (If you’re not a Twitteroo in real life, you should read a few threads before you start.)
  2. Next, compose a linked series of tweets on one of these topics, in the voice of your character. You can look at each tweet in a thread as a paragraph in an argument, steadily building towards a devastating conclusion. (Or a carriage in the character’s train of thought that has veered wildly off the rails and desperately needs to be stopped before it plummets of a cliff and explodes.)

While Twitter always gives the impression of immediacy, threads are often written and polished in their entirety before they are posted. This gives your character room to think, allowing you to present them at their most coherent. That said, your character could be in his pyjamas, rage tweeting about his noisy neighbour’s weekly karaoke and craic session.

Exercise #2: Get into some Twitter beef

Next, introduce some opposition. Up to now, your character has been free to speak their mind without challenge. But that’s not how Twitter works. The second you peek over the parapet, you can expect to get your whole head blown off, whether you’re talking about trans rights or toilet roll alignment.

  1. Create a list of topics. From this list, pick a topic where positions can easily become polarised. This can be as serious or trivial as you like — Doctor Who is just as polarising as Brexit, depending on who you talk to. As you consider your chosen topic, think about how one position views the other, and the language they might use to refer to each other.
  2. Next, put your character in the camp that makes most sense to them, and pit them against someone from another faction. Write an exchange of tweets between these two characters, without worrying too much about how the argument might conclude. This is just practice, after all, and Twitter rows often end purely because one party had to go to bed.

This exercise lets you demonstrate several things about your character. How do they handle conflict? How passionate are they, and how do they manage their emotions? Can they walk away from a row? What are their buttons, and what might provoke them to get personal (if anything)?

What next?

Twitter beef is great for creating the incidental dialogue that makes characters seem human. Think about the tipping scene in Reservoir Dogs or Badger’s legendary Star Trek script from Breaking Bad. Each character’s craic in these scenes shows us a little about who they are, their values, their status amongst their peers, etc. So, one thing you could do with these exercises is use them as a source of off-topic banter for your own scenes.

Alternatively, these exercises can give you a read on which stories your character can help you to tell. By focusing on what your characters care about, and why, you can find the stories in which these characters belong. So, let’s say your character ranted about bad parenting. You might develop a plot in which that character’s parenting is put to the test, or in which that character’s flawed relationship with their own children (or parents) is brutally exposed.

Until next time… toodle-oo!

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