#Fic140: Can you write a short story in 140 Twitter characters?

To celebrate the start of The Open University’s free online course, “Start Writing Fiction,” we’re challenging authors to try their hand at writing Twitter fiction and we’d love you to join in too. The course has started, but you can still join in!

A man in a cafe jots down ideas in his writer's notebook

Creating a writer’s notebook – one of ten tips for helping you write Twitter fiction.

From 12 to 16 May, authors and aspiring writers will be challenged to write a flash fiction story using just 140 Twitter characters, including the hashtag #Fic140.

Writing a complete story in just 140 characters is no mean feat, so we’ve collated ten top tips on how to write and create characters using a variety of ideas from the course.

You won’t be able to incorporate every single tip into your #Fic140 challenge, but some of them are sure to help you prepare or spark inspiration.

And don’t worry if you’re not a Twitter user – you can write your 140 character story in the comments below instead.

1. Create a “writer’s notebook”

Take in the world around you by collecting quotes, facts, people and ideas from everyday life, so that you can revisit it for inspiration. On the importance of a notebook, Will Self said:

“Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever.”

2. Understand who you are as a writer

Discover what works best for you when it comes to writing. Where do you write best? What time of the day? What inspires you to write?

 

3. Be original

Often as a writer, you can worry about not being original enough so feel the need to use gratuitous language. But you can still be original by using plain language. Collect words from the dictionary or that you hear in conversation and everyday life.

Also, use words that are personal to you and that you like. Author Kurt Vonnegut said:

“Remember that two great masters of language, William Shakespeare and James Joyce, wrote sentences which were almost childlike when their subjects were most profound. ‘To be or not to be?’ asks Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The longest word is three letters long.”

4. Preparation is key

A blank page can seem daunting. Prepare by taking time to do some research. Review your writer’s notebook, ask yourself if you know your character fully, and consider the shape and length of your story before you begin.

 

5. Don’t wait until you have the perfect first line

Set yourself goals and give yourself a deadline. Author, Ben Dolnick, said:

“Get a kitchen timer. Writers are ingenious at redefining what qualifies as doing work (‘If I just spend this morning cleaning my desk…’). A kitchen timer tolerates no such nonsense. Set yourself a daily writing quota (as little as a half hour is fine at first), set the clock and get to work.”

6. Draft and then rewrite

Focus on getting that first draft down. Then you can think about perfecting. Take advice from J K Rowling – she rewrote the opening chapter of her first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, a total of fifteen times, until it was just right.

 

7. Develop characters

To help you arrive at your story and flesh out your characters, to really get under their skin and know them fully – think of their physical description, their thoughts, their personality, where they’re located, their back-story and how they act. Who are their friends? What’s their favourite food? Do they like dancing? Consider everything.

Author, Mike Burns, said:

“I believe you should be emotionally bonded to the people you write about, whether they be real or fictional. Feel sad for their hardships and happy for their triumphs.”

8. Consider how to use detail

Detail can be used to keep the story going in the direction you want it to and the amount you use can control the speed of the story. Talking of detail, Anton Chekhov said:

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

9. Ask yourself why? And what if?

Think about what causes your character to do things or act the way they do. Adding a dilemma, challenge or conflict will help you create the plot. But even though you know what’s going to happen next, your readers shouldn’t. They need to have a sense of excitement and uncertainty as the plot unfolds.

 

10. Edit

Interrogate your writing and learn how to self criticise. Understand when to look at the big picture and when to look at the detail. Joyce Carol Oates said:

“Be your own editor/critic. Sympathetic but merciless!”

Follow @FutureLearn and look out for #Fic140 on Twitter to take part in the challenge. Or if you don’t use Twitter, write your 140 character story in the comments below – we’ll tweet some of the best.

You can also join “Start Writing Fiction” now – the course has already started, but there’s still time to join. It will get your creativity flowing with writing tips, discussions with other budding writers and advice from published authors.

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Comments (106)

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  • Zelda

    Pretty revealing….looking forward to coming back.

  • Lua

    Son: ‘we don’t need a nuclear deterrent’. ‘We’d never use it’. Father: ‘we use it every minute of every day son’ Boom!

  • Adam Essack

    A happy soul with Alex. Another girl wins him over. Caroline knows the future can be bright, but is petrified to face life’s splendours.

  • Naser Abbas

    On the first day of school, my daughter did not let my hand to enter her school, so her teacher came with a flower and gave it to her and she accepted to get in her school.

  • Mark Williams

    Cafe. Their eyes meet. Shy, he looks away. He thinks. Courageous, he turns. She giggles. He laughs. She points. “You stepped in dog shit.”

  • Liz

    Yellow Lilly fringed with mystery. The rain lashed the branches above till the sun shone hot and fierce. And she pined away as the wind blew cold. Then sleep.

  • Michael Connolly

    Little pig busy street motorcar,sausage meat.

  • Andy Cooke

    What once was is left behind, only time ahead is for them now. Hearts beat with fear; irrational. Joyful bells proclaim their wedded bliss!

  • Lynda O'Gorman

    THUMP. Amy pulled in, got out, knelt and touched the mangled dog. Pain in his eyes collided with her guilt. He licked her wrist. Forgiven.

  • Meriel steele

    Tangled fluffballs play absurdly. “This cute one wants me Dad”. Payment is made until pups disappear. The whining runt now cringes alone.

  • Real Happiness

    Your perfect things such as good environment, your wealth and your beauty are a part of happiness but they don’t give happiness forever. The persons who live around you can give real happiness indeed.

  • Eyes in the dark

    Tonight when you’re about to sleep and look those two lights out your window you’ll wonder what they are. Don’t worry my friend, its just me

  • Robert A

    Surrounded by water but thirsty. Land but stateless. Watchers but lonely. Boats but drowning. Homesickness but fearful of Myanmar.

  • Hilary

    Prof Cox tightened the last wire then switched on the time machine. Machine time the on switched then wire last the tightened Cox Prof.

  • Michael Rourke

    The rug lay still. As did Eve. In the dancing shadows of an unkempt fuscia I sat, weighed down and weightless, dreaming of a tidy life.

  • Margret

    In January, he lit a fire to keep her warm. By April the fire had died. For 6 months, she went without. In October, she lit a new fire.

  • Lewis Little

    Lift off, escaping a dying world. Looking into a vast expanding universe, they travel on, they dream, they hope. For the future.

  • mark

    I shook as the Head stood over me; it wasn’t me, but shall I tell? The cane bit hard, I cried within. I still wonder if I was right.

  • Grant Kleinert

    He saw her glaring under the table. Scratching-bathroom. 45 ready, torch around corner. Scales, wings, fangs. Shots fired, missed, escaped

  • Susan Cook

    The light came from up and very far.
    “I see it, and it is the Sun!”
    “I see it, and it is a Star!”
    The time of darkness had begun.

  • Ellie

    I began working in the local supermarket 10 minutes ago, I’m already stacking shelves. It’s very tedious work so I took to dancing… fired.

  • Steven Bloy

    Woke up. Wanted cereal. Angrily killed a man. Police came. Arrested. Given life for killing late milkman. Got cereal in jail. Every cloud.

  • Jonny

    As one stumbles upon this beast pondering it’s freedom it’s ruthlessness and vile, I ask why does this black dog innocently gaze back at me ?

  • Tinakb

    Squiggling and writhing on the bed, her head nudged my hand, “not now” I said exhausted, she looked at me imploringly. “I just can’t, aargh!

  • shiekh

    When I’m remember the past, that is increased my future hopes .And when I see to the future and removes me this illusion. How is beautiful to remember your past to becomes the past and hope your memory opposite type.

  • Annette Littler

    #Fic140
    Nice house. Victorian? Gothic, dark. Gate’s creaking. A bit spooky in here… Wow, comes with ghosts! Look, lovely lady in white – noooo

  • Henrietta Monye

    Clueless I yearned for that elusive thread. I watch as slowly but surely, like a spider’s web, these words turn to stories, for writer I am.

  • denis

    I will,she’d said.But she hadn’t.And now here he was.Cold.Wet.Lost.
    A 747 flew over.He waved madly,in vain.Was that her face in the window?

  • Nick Stinton

    Death’s door, they said. Let’s marry, he said. So we did. 2 blue lines on the test. A baby. He’s elated. But it’s not his…#Fic140

  • Nick Stinton

    He eases into bed, Anna’s arm slipping over his waist, her breath on his neck as she hugs close. The door opens – and there is Anna. #Fic140

  • Nick Stinton

    His face so close she can smell his fetid breath. ‘You stupid? Gimme a coffee!’ She makes it, adds exlax. Rushing? He will be.#Fic140

  • Nick Stinton

    His face so close she can smell his fetid breath. ‘You stupid? Gimme a coffee!’ She makes it, adds exlax. In a rush? Oh yes, he will be..

  • Nick Stinton

    On the cliff top tour, I dawdle, split you from the rest. You lean over the edge. One push, and it’s over. No more beatings for Mum and me.

  • Nick Stinton

    He eases into bed, Anna’s arm slipping over his waist, her breath on his neck as she hugs close. The door opens – and there is Anna.

  • Nick Stinton

    He eases into bed, his wife’s arm slipping over his waist, her breath on his neck as she hugs close. The door opens – and there is his wife.

  • Nick Stinton

    Death’s door, they said. Let’s marry, he said. So we did. 2 blue lines on the test. A baby. He’s elated. But it’s not his…

  • Amy Wilhelm

    #fic140
    The halls. Go with me? Where? Blushing Steady? Blushing Yes.
    Hold hands!
    Known 4ever!
    Dead b4 graduation.
    Shock Darkness 4ever

  • Lel

    Amelia punctuated the blank page in triumph. The principal character was at the tip of her pen. Loved-up Ben was ready to show and tell…

  • David Rosenfeld

    Vi sobbed in pebbles. From rifleman to grandfather, his ashes now stood in a mosaic urn with a wink of gold. “We ‘ad a laff, Joe and me”.

  • David Hayward

    Dogs chase runners. There is a man ahead with a vicious looking guard dog. I call out
    ‘I’m just coming past ,is the dog ok?’ ‘Sure’ says the man. ‘How fast do you want to run ?’

  • Lel

    Amelia punctuated the blank page in triumph. She held the principal character in the tip of her pen. William was head-over-heels in love and was ready to show and tell…

  • gillian bush

    “Come quickly I killed the snake.” Still writhing bloody glistening creature, “Give me the panga”, slashing its head bright red pearls sprayed our limbs. Birdsong resumes.

  • Ann Philcox

    Eyes open and stretch! Nose twitching, ah food. Rolling in grass, chasing sister. Loving Mum. Lick. Lick. So to sleep and start all over again. Bliss.

  • Anne Wheeldon

    Whale-blue waves washed a baby ashore. Lonely as an albatross I found him. My oyster heart opened,there lay the creamy pearl of love.#Fic140

  • Anne Wheeldon

    They washed some dirty linen in public. He took her to the cleaners and hung her out to dry. She shot him and got clean away. #Fic140

  • Chris Marcic

    A pair of booties, a plaster cast of tiny hands and feet, a framed photo, an empty cot in a nursery freshly finished and silence, silence.

  • C. Swift

    Perfect imperfect man; my love story silhouetted against the chaos of the night. Submit, you breathed: The Devil’s dare. So in the orange glow of your eyes I was yours.

  • Angelo Antoniou

    Knock on the window. I got up, looked outside and there it was. A little green thing speaking unintelligibly. Now I knew aliens existed.

  • laila

    His eyes on the watch ”Five minutes ,three minutes and one minute”. He have one question in his mind . My little boy ask “Where is my mother?

  • Angelo Antoniou

    There was a knock on the terrace window. I got up, looked outside and there it was. A little green thing speaking an unintelligible language. Now I knew that aliens existed.

  • Joy Cotterell

    A big crazy dog escaped from garden having ingested jelly kept lying mainly neath open platters quickly running straight to us voice wailing

  • Abeer

    Ahmad and Ail are friends.They meet in happy circumstances and wonderful.Ahmad is smart and successful man.Ail is a successful businessman.

  • Miguel Pire

    Metal twists as the plane falls to the ground. Cries of pain. Red blood on white snow. Alarm beeps. Time to wake up and go to the airport.

  • MOlsen

    She smiled at him from across the bar. He called his wife and left a message,”I’ll be home late. I have to work tonight”. #Fic140

  • Tom Spoors

    In rage Leo slammed the front door. Engine gunned, gravel sprayed, tyre flat.
    Car boot clicked, groan ensued with sad trudge home.

  • maz

    Pleased with her purchase of the antique urn, she removes the lid to polish, discovering at the bottom, someone’s ashes.

  • Lesley Quayle

    The broken doll found in an empty room, undamaged, mended. And on the walls, fresh painted chains of dolls, woad-blue, their edges sharp. A fingertip of ice on my spine.

  • Maggie Whitmore

    All in white save the pink gloves tucked under her hands, fully made up, serene, unwrinkled. The innocuous gloves, instruments of death, unmentioned by the mourners.

  • Urszula Domek

    Five minutes sooner, ten times better. This is the autobiography of a wannabe songwriter.

  • SILLAH KAMARA

    APEX OF WITCHCRAFT. Alligator climbs palm tree to catch Tapper. Tapper flies.” So man can fly,” Alligator wonders. ” Since, Alligators had started to climb palm trees,why not?” Tapper.

  • Wendy taylor

    Children flown husband gone, retired and redundant. Watching a busy world outside. A small act of kindness means that somebody cares.

  • ian douglas

    5am. Sleepy. Grumpy. Sneezy. Mirror mirror. Yuk. Doc’s. Bashful. Drugs. Dopey. Happy. Apple ever after. Wicked.

  • Ann Surgey

    Reminders in the reflections, the wrinkles, and grey.
    That night is coming; if life is a day.
    Dropping off pride, and discovering peace .

  • Caroline Vroonen

    The pain pierces me sharp as knives. The feeling of being ripped open is almost too much to bare! But there he is: my heart, my baby!#Fic140

  • Simon Williams

    Inhale, scream, feed, extend, widen, move, speak, feed, wonder, learn, love, fall, love, scream, nurture, feed, love, watch, exhale. #fic140

  • Holly Dumont

    I’m hungry. I’m laying on my back under my mother’s sewing table. The whir of her machine is comforting and I could sleep, but I’m hungry. Downstairs Gandalf has just called for cold chicken and pickles.

    The quilt my mother is sewing drapes over the table so only a bit of light enters my lair. Perhaps if I bite her leg she will get up and make me something to eat, after all Balin, Dwalin, Dori, Nori, Oin and Gloin were polishing off buttered scones, while anticipating pork pies, cheese and salad.

    The eggs, oatmeal, peaches, and bacon of my breakfast were forgotten. Elevenses had past hours ago and no second breakfast had been served. When she’s sewing, my mother passes into a different realm where meals matter not.

    She would sew till supper; so I pulled the electrical cord.

  • elisabeth guss

    My Fic 140

  • elisabeth guss

    “I commissioned this lampshade and chose the skin myself. More tea, Eva?” We were rivals and she’d made her point.

  • Mohammad Yahya

    My #Fic 140

    As usual I was waiting near the spring listening to the birds tweets, where she was coming for getting water. After a while I saw her come and started filling her pitcher. As I stood to go to her, she suddenly disappeared.

  • Allison Telfer

    Intruder – can’t breathe, can’t move, heart pounds panic rising. Senses explode in silence. Hands grip my throat, I slide into angry peace.

    • Allison Telfer

      Not on Twitter so character limit new to me – also forgot to include hashtag so hopefully fits now!

      Intruder – can’t breathe, can’t move, heart pounds panic rising. Senses explode in silence. Hands grip, I slide into angry peace. #Fic140.

  • Alessandro Cavalieri

    The baby opens his eyes, smiles and laughs like I used to do 90 years ago. The air is hot but I’m feeling cold and it’s time to go.

  • Harry Smith

    He had not moved,
    unseeing eyes fixed on dying embers,
    tea now cold, untouched at his side.
    A shawl lay on the floor.
    Mum had died last week,
    Dad is now fading fast.
    #Fic140

  • Nige Martin

    Taz:ByNM.B4U,LifeGotMeDown.YrLoyalHonest&FaithfulUAskNo?DemandsNoReply<3TheSimpleLife&RAlwaysThere4Me.URMyLife&4ThatIFeedWater&WalkU.URMyDog

  • Isabel U.

    Here’s my #Fic 140:
    It felt good to get rid of someone forever. Eliot had got it finally right. The power was in the writer ‘s pen.

  • Stanley Knill

    #Fic140
    Impossible, but yes, a concentration camp Commandant! The inmates the result of a huge mistake. They deserve the humane treatment he would pray for himself.

  • Maggie Moran

    Nudity and unpredictability of both temperament and weather weren’t the start she had hoped for, but she decided to embrace them all #Fic140

  • Georgie Wickham

    The king rose, stretched and gazed at his kingdom. “Mine too,” the beggar reminded him. “Yes,” said the king, thoughtfully. “Thank you.”

  • Kurangceret

    A straight white eludes the atmosphere with tranquil and serenity. A spot of red in those transparent flecks plagued the sight. Oh, my skin.

  • Melissa Barr

    Would he turn up? My coffee was getting cold. I looked up just then, and there he was! I smiled a warm welcome, we kissed and he sat down.

  • Christine Brenton

    I felt his moist lips, the kiss of death he’d mistaken for love. I twisted the knife into his dishonest heart, with our last embrace. #Fic140

  • Debra

    ‘Don’t even look at him’, she whispered as we were hustled past the small soda fountain in our local drug store. I always looked; I wanted to remember what I was supposed to avoid.

  • Anna Allford

    Ice cool skin breathless
    Silver sunlight drizzling down
    Grave earth clatters soft
    Swollen belly, seedpod empty
    Milky tears cry from my chest.

  • Adele Elia

    She met him, loved him, it was not to be. She waited all her life .life closed in on her. Alone waiting, she left life to find him again. Alone.

  • Cheryl Powell

    I’m cannon fodder: barricade of bone and muscle; barbed wire of HATE and LOVE – Black Sabbath reigns in blood. Then, sniper fire.

    I’m hurt.

  • Anne Wheeldon

    An old flame. They rekindled the fire.They burnt bridges The flames sank..Cold and alone they cursed the lust mistaken for love. # Fic140

    • Alison Furness

      Your writing style is creative and succint – all from you are fab (and I’m fussy). Keep at it if you are considering professional or already are then you have real talent!!!

      Sorry, if it comes up – clicked issue button by mistake

      • Anne Wheeldon

        Thank you Alison. It is very encouraging to receive positive feedback. I’ve really enjoyed doing these. Perhaps the micro-story is my niche! If only there were a market!

  • Anne Wheeldon

    When Jack died Jill was over the hill. In a tumbledown cottage she eventually died of thirst.
    #Fic140

  • Shirley Asquith

    Their perfect hands entwined slowly touching then recoiling as they know their love has to be a secret. He touches her swelling belly. Love.

  • khalid

    I went Laern Englsh

  • Ellen Grace

    He’s staring at me: a knowing look in his eyes, a smirk on his lips. That’s when I realise: I’m wearing the smile you gave me.
    #Fic140

  • Anne Wheeldon

    Joan lost a lot of weight but it found her again. It loved Joan and after a while the love was requited. An all round happy ending.
    #Fic140

  • Anne Wheeldon

    Hal hated breakfast.His wife loved it..Seeing her eating in the morning enraged him.She packed her bags.
    Hal,she said.You’re toast.
    #Fic140

  • Anne Wheeldon

    Our Beloved Leader selected himself to mate with the last fertile woman.
    He approached.
    Over my dead body she said.
    And so it was.
    #Fic140

  • LCWyche

    Two and two is four. This is where it starts. The Old Ones have got you now. Until you’re broken and useless you are their creature. #F140

  • LCWyche

    Buy. Dunno. Should. Afford? Terms. Wife. Shtum. Sign? Here. #Fic140

  • Anastasija Ropa

    Lovers and rivals. I love to kiss you.
    I have a husband and a son. You lost a son.
    Remember the hush in the stable? Horses – just animals?

  • Phyllis McKenna

    PARTY TIME!!!!

    Slowly he glided up the steps of the ancient church. Holding his majestic head high, he paused to savour that word. Church! He had waited many lifetimes for sweet revenge.
    “Vengeance is mine,” saith the Lord
    “Not this time,” the stranger cried “now your home is mine.” The neglected building beckoned, old oak doors creaked open, releasing the musty odours of candle wax and incense, a place to kneel in supplication to the Almighty.
    “I am the Almighty now.” The powerful voice reverberated around the desolate chamber, disturbing hymn books whose dusty pages trembled with fear. But one thing had been forgotten in those bygone years. No holy place this, no consecration ceremony held here. He could lie safely in state on his enemy’s altar. Marching triumphantly down the aisle, Dracul disdainfully glanced at the staring statues

  • Bill Baker

    love a challenge
    If I can make sense of Twitter I will have a go

  • Jo Saunders

    The dog was alerted. Damn. Maybe next time. Retrieving his sheet-rope he returned to bed – to dream of kicking that dog.

  • Mary-Ann Amiwero

    “..yes!but don’t worry.Its ok for you not to admit you are wrong and apologise,I will take it as part of the ‘normal’ recurrences in my every day life!” I retorted to my husband Mike, who,pretending he was not listening to me,undid his tie and flopped on the bed.
    I listened for a few minutes and heard a gentle snore. Exasperated,I flapped my hands on both sides and finally they found their way to my waist. I was ANGRY! I had just accused him of leaving the back door wide open before he left for work that morning therefore leaving ourselves open to hosts to an unwanted and uninvited neighbour’s dog who could have ventured into our kitchen and messed up the tiled floor which I so HAPPENED to have SCRUBBED before I left for work -and there he was, snoring away!
    I sighed as the anger suddenly seeped out of my being. I was SO tired, I could not be bothered about the back door, the dog..I tiptoed to the bed to where he lay and looked at him. So peaceful-looking, I thought, and yes! I loved him so!!

  • jonathan Vernon

    Love this. It’s a summary of Start Writing Fiction which I did last year and am revisiting now. Each of these ten points is a gem. It is a reminder though that learning to write is rather like learning to control a JCB digger with ten gears … get all these ten tips in your head while you write and it should lead to something.

    • Jo Saunders

      Agreed, Jonathan … also revisiting

  • Jan Ferrierr

    ‘I love you.’
    “Me too. I’m narcissistic!”

    A short love story

  • Maria H.

    This is something entirely random I came up with — took a long time to put together…wow. I don’t know if this is any good, but it’s just for fun. 🙂

    Thank you.

    Mr. Biggs walked down the street. He fell and awoke in the arms of his wife. As his son looked on, a smile bared his dad was finally happy.