A Story in Tweets: The New Serial Novel

When I first read “Black Box” by Jennifer Egan, the thing that caught me the most off-guard was not the language or the rules of the world, but rather the story’s structure. I didn’t understand the way it was formatted; all of the individual boxes and almost fragmented sentences were not what I was used to when it came to short stories. Out of curiosity, I looked it up, and I found that the strange organization came from the fact that the story was originally written through a series of tweets from the author.

The whole thing made a lot more sense when I thought of it coming out in that context. Using Twitter to tell this story actually fits the plot very well, considering that it was told from the point of view of the “beauty’s” mental information log, which has a similar condensed style to a tweet. Although we had to read the story as the New Yorker published it, I could imagine reading it in real time, feeling like you were getting updates from the woman’s black box itself.

Aside from its application to the actual story, I thought the method Egan used was interesting because it reminded me of old serial novels. Many years ago, authors used to publish their stories in fragments in magazines or newspapers, almost like episodes of a TV show. It was a popular technique among science fiction writers, but it was also used by famed authors like Charles Dickens and Ernest Hemingway. The appeal back then was that it was more profitable for the authors than exclusively selling full novels, but it also allowed their stories to reach a wider audience, seeing as more people could afford to buy magazines than books.

While tweeting out “Black Box” may not have been more profitable for Egan, it did have the same effect as publishing serials did for the authors of the past in that it went out to one of the widest audiences in the world: social media. A vast majority of the world, regardless of social or economic status, participates in social media to some extent, and using it in this way allowed Egan to reach so many more people than she would have if she had published it in book form. And who knows, maybe this will lead to Twitter stories becoming the 21st-century form of serialization–though I’m not sure if I’d be willing to read a Harry Potter novel 280 characters at a time.

3 thoughts on “A Story in Tweets: The New Serial Novel

  1. JANE VACHON

    I hadn’t thought about how tweeting the story would limit Egan’s profits off the story. I think that is really cool that she decided that she wanted to reach a really large audience with the story. I wonder if this really is gonna be a new thing! I also wonder what it was like to read this story real time as it was released, I want to find another story like it.

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  2. Marissa K.

    I also think that tweeting out the story in small parts creates more suspense for the reader. Because tweets have a limit, the author had to be mindful of every single word, which makes the reader aware of every single word. There is no way to skim through this story because something will definitely be missed. The reader I constantly on edge, waiting for the next section to be released.

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  3. SONIA ZARTMAN

    I think this format is super interesting, especially because as we move into modern society people read less and less in print and more online. I think it was impactful of the author to choose to write this story in tweets, as the concept of technology, along with the shaded and mysterious nature of the story, related to the general idea of social media. It’s really interesting to see social media today evolve and play larger roles in art, activism, and more. It makes you wonder where it’s going to be in ten years.

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