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Margaret Atwood talks Twitter Fiction and near-genius hashtags

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Marta Iwanek/Toronto Star via Getty Images

To commemorate the 2015 #TwitterFictionFestival—which celebrates short stories written in really, really short sentences—EW talked to the most celebrated author taking part, Margaret Atwood.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You have a huge presence on Twitter. Why does it appeal to you?

MARGARET ATWOOD: I’m hosting something like a little radio show: I invite guests, engage in the equivalent of phone-ins, include news items, and promote worthy causes. Also I can post visuals. The appeal? It’s very short. And my Followers—a self-selected bunch—send me things they think will appeal to me.

What’s the hardest part about writing Twitter fiction?

Writing fiction of any length on Twitter would most likely be beyond me. Proust, with his sentences that sometimes go on for a page, would have a hard time on Twitter. But some people are very good at short, succinct sentences, with enough suspense or mystery in them to keep their readers waiting for the next burst of syllables. Jennifer Egan’s brilliant story “Black Box”—later published in The New Yorker—remains the gold standard

What’s the most fun thing about Twitter?

Twitter is inherently fun for me, but then, I’m easily amused. Also interested in the history of epigrams and parables—short forms—and I always read the messages written on washroom walls and so forth. That kind of thing goes way back. The Romans did it, the Vikings … often similar sentiments. Kilroy Was Here, little poems (usually vulgar), little insults (also vulgar), yum-yum stuff about women (and, in these days, men, by women). I also read graveyard inscriptions, which occasionally display similar wit. 

Once in a while the Twitterati will start a hashtag chain of book-title alterations with a theme such as food (The Handmaid’s Table, The Handmaid’s Ale). These can approach genius.

What can you do with Twitter fiction that you can’t in a novel?

Nothing, I expect, except string out the suspense. The novel in itself has always escaped confining definitions. It’s been very polymorphous perverse.

Read Atwood’s Twitter Fiction piece below:

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