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Why the row over Twitter #280characters is a storm in a flat white

For those of us who like playing with literary constraints, a lot of the fun will go too, says the author

Catherine WIlcox | The Conversation 

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

There was an almighty twittering in the dovecote this week when rolled out its new #280characters – doubling its previous limit of 140. According to JK Rowling: “Twitter’s destroyed its USP. The whole point, for me, was how inventive people could be within that concise framework.”
 

My own reaction was similar. I’ve always seen the strict character limit as the equivalent of the haiku. The very constraints were what liberated our elegant creativity. The pleasure of honing our wit down to netsuke proportions has now vanished. I was one of those users who was given 280 characters ahead of the crowd – there was no explanation, but maybe spotted that I’m a novelist and assumed I would enjoy twice as much space to elaborate on the flat white I’m about to drink.

 

As it happens, I seldom exceed the old limit – and on the rare occasions I do, it feels like submitting an unedited draft out of sheer laziness. I find I don’t like reading the new longer tweets, either. When I see one lurking in my timeline, my eye skims and discards. The sight seems to trigger my “too-much-effort” switch – like a recipe containing the words “six eggs, separated”.

Cutting remarks

It remains possible that I will be able to retrain my brain to enjoy this new experience, but it goes against my professional training. This may sound like a strange claim for a novelist – given that I generally require 100,000 words to express myself fully. But I can categorically say that if I were granted 200,000 words by an indulgent publisher, the resulting novel would not be twice as good.
 

First Published: Fri, November 10 2017. 10:05 IST
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