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By C. Jai Ferry
On December 30, the high temperature in my neck of the global woods was a whopping -21 degrees Fahrenheit (-29 Celsius). That didn’t take into account the wind chill, which even today, with our balmy 2 degrees (-16 Celsius), makes my toes curl up in icy protest just thinking about. Needless to say, I am not a fan of winter. Oh sure, a scene of giant, feathery snowflakes drifting down to blanket a cottage with a fire in the hearth and steamed up windows looks all nice and cozy from the outside, but anyone who has had to take a dog out to do his business in sub-zero temperatures knows that blanket of snow brings with it a chill that settles into your bones.
But, if we’re being honest, I must admit that I do like one aspect of snow-filled days: They give me the perfect opportunity to hunker down and write without any distractions. When the roads are covered with white fluff, no one expects me to run errands or meet them for lunch. During this time, I spend hours and hours trapped in my own little worlds without having to come up with an excuse about why I so rarely leave the house. Living an excuse-free life—even if only for a season—translates into my writing process, as the words flow on to the page, taking on a life of their own.
So why am I talking about beautiful but bitterly cold snow when this is our first Twitterflash post of 2018? Because social media is a lot like snow: It can be a cold, unforgiving environment despite all the crowds oohing and ahhing over how a handful of people have used social media to create a cozy and warm home in their neck of the woods. Many people who have much lower socialization needs cringe at the thought of using social media, especially when all the people “in the know” are telling them they must do this or that—activities so far beyond their wheelhouse that they immediately set up all sorts of roadblocks that prevent them from ever using social media.
Let’s get one roadblock out of the immediately. There is no right or wrong way to use social media. Just because one writer got a book deal or sold a million books or was crowned The Greatest Writer Ever by tweeting or posting on Facebook doesn’t mean that you will have the same results if you follow his “9-step foolproof plan to mastering social media.”
A writer friend likes to remind me that the Universe rewards those who speak to it, responding with exactly what you are asking for. I tend to think of social media, and especially Twitter, as a megaphone to the Universe. If you share stories and insights on potentially flaming content, you will likely attract flamers in epic proportion (flame is slang for sharing angry, critical, or disparaging comments online). If your tweets focus on bursts of microfiction related to today’s social injustices, you will probably still attract a flamer or two (they’re ubiquitous, unfortunately), but you will also attract followers interested in those injustices, who will read your tweets and, over time, build a relationship with you. You may never realize the power of your tweets for others, but powerful they will be—whether you’re writing about a fictionalized account of a refugee separated from her family, a story about surprising your child with a puppy, or a scene about herding cattle during a snowstorm.
The idea behind Twitterflash at the Carrot Ranch is to help writers find their voice on Twitter. I’m not going to tell you what to say or how to say it. Rather, I am going to help you explore Twitter’s tools, take them for a test run, then ask you to come back here at the end of the month and share your discoveries. How you use the monthly challenges is completely up to you, but if you want to take some risks, I will be there to support you as best I can.
Now, before we jump into this month’s challenge, I have to offer a few words of wisdom from my own less-than-successful experiences on Twitter. I’m trying not to overwhelm you, so just offering a few tidbits for now. If you have specific questions about anything, drop them in the comments on this post and I will do my best to find an answer for you.
- Unlike other social media platforms, Twitter’s power is in its public nature. People do not need your approval to follow you on Twitter (unless you set your account to private, which defeats the whole purpose and power). If you want to control who sees what you share, don’t use social media. Seriously. On any social media platform, even you put in place every security gatekeeper that exists, you still cannot stop your friends and followers from showing your content to others. Privacy does not exist in social media. Assume that everyone in the world will read what you post.
- Because anybody can (and will) follow you on Twitter, make sure you visit their Twitter page before you automatically follow them back. Many users think it’s an unwritten rule to follow those who follow you. Not so, although you do want to follow a variety of people. Some followers you will immediately recognize as not worth following (e.g., accounts that offer to “sell” you new followers). Others might not be as obvious. When you get a new follower, click on their profile and go explore. Read some of their tweets and look at what they retweet. Some accounts you will need to block (which is done from their profile page) right from the get-go. Trust me. You’ll know what I mean when you see them. Others, you might not see anything negative, but also nothing that makes you want to follow that person. But what if the person’s tweets are ho-hum, but they’re someone you think maybe you should follow (e.g., an acquisitions manager). That’s where lists come into play.
- Start using lists as soon as possible. Lists are Twitter’s way of organizing your followers so that you don’t go insane. They don’t explain it that way, but really, that’s what lists are for. According to Twitter: “A list is a curated group of Twitter accounts. You can create your own lists or subscribe to lists created by others. Viewing a list timeline will show you a stream of Tweets from only the accounts on that list.” (Twitter’s information on setting up lists.) Note: List titles are public. So don’t do what I did and create a list entitled “Book scammers & spammers” because the people added to that list will not be happy. But you can create lists for writers, publishing industry, and new friends (which could mean new people you meet online or your secret code for “they seem nice, but let’s keep them at arm’s length for a while…just in case”).
Okay, feeling like you might have just been crushed by an avalanche? Before we wade any deeper into the Twitterverse, let’s grab our security blankets and cozy up to the fire in the hearth. It’s time for this month’s Twitterflash challenge.
Content rules on Twitter.
You can have all the sparkly emojis and flashing GIFs you want attached to your tweet, but if the content doesn’t live up to the hype, people will just scroll on by. So for this first challenge, focus on creating content.
Twitter users have a lightning-fast attention span. If the first few words in a post don’t grab users, they scroll to the next tweet in their feeds. Twitter users are also merciless when it comes to keeping their attention. You can have the most amazing first five words in a tweet, but if words six and seven are meh, time to scroll. When you are writing your Twitterflashes this month, try to create as many powerful word/phrase/sentence/idea combinations in your stories as possible. Subtlety can be powerful too, but if you choose this route, create your subtleties in layers rather than textual combinations (e.g., the kind of story that, the more the reader thinks about it, the more meaning they find in it).
The good news is that Twitter users are fairly forgiving when it comes to following grammar rules. Abbreviations are the norm, especially when you’re pushing that character limit. As long as the reader can understand the abbreviation, it’s all good. So don’t shy away from abbreviations and shortcuts; they will not impede your storytelling on Twitter. (Check out this resource for a comprehensive list of shortcuts used on Twitter.)
Don’t change your writing voice. Rather, push your limits.
Think of Twitterflash as an espresso version of your writing. You’ve got a month to practice and tinker. You can try a couple of different approaches with the same story or write several different stories. Engage your Twitter followers in the process. Ask them to recommend a title for your story or to choose between two options in the plot (remember the Choose Your Own Adventure stories?). And if your followers don’t want to engage, that’s okay too. Remember: Even if they don’t engage, someone is always reading your tweets.
Ok, ready to dive in?
January #Twitterflash: In a single tweet (which is 280 characters, or in the ballpark of 50 words), write a story about seeing coldness in a new light. It can be physical cold, psychological cold, emotional cold…wherever you want to go with it. Tweet your story (or stories), including the hashtag #Twitterflash. Tweet them all month long. Tweet the same story more than once. Tweet at different times during the day (or night). Notice anything different in your approach or the reception? If so, make a note of it and share with the group.
On the last Friday in January, we’ll ask you to come back to the ranch to share your favorite Twitterflashes. I’ll also ask you to share one Twitter account that you think other Rough Writers would enjoy and/or benefit from.
Drop your questions/comments/concerns in the comments below, but save your Twitterflashes until January 26, when we’ll gather around the hearth to share here at Carrot Ranch. C. Jai Ferry is a flash fiction freak, human trafficking warrior, and Master Ninja at novellaninjas.com, an online space promoting published short stories and novellas to readers. Her titles include Unraveled, a collection of microfiction and flash fiction stories, and “Skeleton Dance,” 2014 winner of the Vermillion Literary Project Short Story Contest, which was turned into a film and included in the 2016 Nebraska Noir collection. She tweets from @CJaiFerry
Carrot Ranch’s Twitterflash 2018 is a monthly challenge focused on expanding writers’ use of Twitter as a tool for writing. Throughout the year, writers will experiment with storytelling via tweets using the following areas of focus (in no particular order):
- Visual Aids
- Multiple tweets
Have an area you’d like included in this year’s Twitterflash project? Drop me a line.
By C. Jai. Ferry
In Challenge 5 of the Carrot Ranch Rodeo, writers were tasked with writing a complete 99-word story using Twitter. Of course, we couldn’t make it that simple. Every #Twitterflash story also had to be 11 sentences with exactly 9 words each. We included a ridiculously long set of rules, but everyone #rosetothechallenge and the results were amazing. In fact, the judges’ scoring sheets all had multiple sets of high-scoring ties. So without further ado…
Winner: D. Avery @daveryshiftn
On his fourth birthday his dad went to prison.
Shortly before his eighth birthday his dad was paroled.
His mom and dad partied together until she od’d.
The man called dad left her, left him, again.
He searched the house in vain for hidden presents.
He found needles, empty bottles and some uneaten oreos.
He ate in silence, imagining that she only slept.
Twisting each oreo apart, licking the filling, he knew.
This wasn’t birthday cake and his mom wasn’t asleep.
On TV, 911 calls bring action, help, and noise.
He would call but after the oreos were gone.
Our #Twitterguru judge Mardra Sikora (@MardraSikora) summed up this Twitterflash quite succinctly:
“This story rang innocent, true, and cynical all at once. Like many good flash stories, the emotions twisted and revealed in a quick, short space.”
Wallace Peach @Dwallacepeach
A mermaid’s sequined tail lures me to the sea
Gulls shrill a warning, I’m headed to a drowning
Lulled by a sirens song, footprints forsake the sand
Wash away my castles when love sings me home
She is my nixie, nymph of an airless death
Bare toes sink, swallowed by the sea’s lapping tongue
Fingers caress my ankles, beckoning me farther from shore
Entangled am I in floating whorls of unbound hair
Her silver arms are the surge embracing my surrender
A life forlorn abandoned for her wild blue beauty
Yielding to the tides, breathless in my seamaid’s kiss
Judge Lisa Kovanda (@lisa_kovanda) explained:
“This story made use of lyrical sentences and commas to create poetic lines that have rhythm. This use of poetic pacing made each line tweetworthy. If I read one tweet out of the middle, I would be intrigued to read more. Overall, it has a wild beauty, even though the overall tone is dark, which made for a nice juxtaposition.”
Murder, My Tweet by Bill Engleson @billmelaterplea
As the night choked me, my bowels cut loose.
Taking the case, trusting the blonde, was a mistake.
I made a baker’s dozen of mistakes back then.
My cheating husband owns Dolly’s Delicious Do-Nuts, she said.
Every little hole-in-the-wall tramp has been licking his icing.
So, I said, you want a photograph incriminating him?
She says, screw incriminating, I want to incinerate him.
I followed him 24/7 though a thousand do-nut joints.
Every franchise told a story of cholesterol and infidelity.
My pathetic yearning for sweet, greasy fat overwhelmed me.
I lost my soul going down the donut hole.
According to Mardra Sikora (@MardraSikora):
“I loved the title and it captured a balance of twisted humor, which is particularly difficult in flash. As tweetable lines go, this one particularly amused me: ‘Every little hole-in-the-wall tramp has been licking his icing.’ #Clever”
Is anyone else seeing what I’m seeing out there?
If this is how things end I’m getting drunk!
Apparently they come in peace, but my mate Jed’s disappeared!
How drunk am I because I think Im #insideaspaceship
I’ve managed to evade them, is anyone reading this?
Ive found Jed, watching him from an air vent.
Sweet Jesus, they seem to be probing him now!
How the dickens did they fit that in there!?!?.
I think the bloody things are laughing you know.
Oh bloody hell they’ve spotted me, PLEASE SEND HELP!
The visitors are our friends and come in peace.
C. Jai Ferry (@CJaiFerry) commented:
“#PickALineAnyLine! If I had seen any of these lines on Twitter, I would have immediately clicked to read more. Each line is a story in itself, and I had to read faster and faster to see how it all worked out.”
Thanks for coming out to play with us and congratulations to everyone for embracing the challenge and writing superb #Twitterflash stories (seriously, the scores were #superclose).
NOTE FROM CARROT RANCH:
Congratulations to all the writers who entered! You dared to stretch your writing and braved the first Rodeo at Carrot Ranch. Each participant has earned the following badge, which you may copy and post on your blog, social media or print out and frame. It’s a badge of honor. And now you can say, you have had your first rodeo! You wrote well. And you braved twitter!
We want to share all the contest entries in a collection. We’ll be contacting each of our contestants and challengers to seek interest and permission to publish a digital collection in January. Writers retain all copyrights to their work.
We’d appreciate your feedback! We want to make this an annual event that is fun, engaging and supportive of literary art. Please take a few minutes for a brief 5 question survey. Thank you!
By C. Jai Ferry
We’ve Passed the Halfway Mark!
We’ve made it to Challenge #5, and we’re still alive and writing, so for this challenge, let’s see how you do with some rather unnatural constraints.
Carrot Ranch writers are used to the challenges inherent in writing a 99-word story. Flash fiction requires a delicate balance between brevity of words and richness of story. Becky Tuch at The Review Review offers the following perspective on flash fiction:
Part poetry, part narrative, flash fiction—also known as sudden fiction, micro fiction, short short stories, and quick fiction—is a genre that is deceptively complex. […] Distilling experience into a few pages or, in some cases a few paragraphs, forces writers to pay close attention to every loaded conversation, every cruel action, every tender gesture, and every last syllable in every single word.
[The link above also offers some great insights from experts in flash fiction on how to write these stories]
The current challenge embraces the idea that every word matters by using a medium where every character matters: Twitter. Twitter gives you just 140 characters to convey your message (unless you’re one of the lucky few to have been granted the new 280-character limit), but of course adding hashtags (e.g., #FFRodeo) to enable people to find your tweets limits the number of characters even further.
The Challenge: #Twitterflash
In this challenge, you are tasked with writing a complete 99-word story using Twitter. The story—real or imagined (or anywhere in between)—can be on any topic and in any genre, as long as it is exactly 99 words (not including a title, if you choose to use one). Easy peasy, right?
Not so fast…
We do have some additional parameters:
- Every story must be made up of 11 sentences of exactly 9 words each.
- Each individual sentence should be tweeted, one at a time, for a total of 11 tweets (plus one tweet with the title, if you choose to use one).
- Just to add some kick to the rodeo, every tweet must include two hashtags: #FFRodeo and #Twitterflash
Social media has become a finicky friend for the modern-day writer, and we hope you use this challenge to generate engagement with and amongst your followers and fellow writers. Although the judging will not consider the number of likes/retweets you generate (#itsnotapopularitycontest), we will be looking at how effectively you combine your wordsmithing skills with the Twitter platform—namely, we want every tweet to be truly tweet-worthy*. #MakeEveryWordCount!
*How the judges define tweet-worthy: Does the tweet make you pause (in a good “hey-this-is-cool” way)? Would you be curious? Would you want to read more? Would you retweet it? Would you follow the author in Twitter based only on this tweet? Would you read other (past) tweets by this author?
You’ve got 10 whole days to work on this challenge, which ends on Sunday, October 29 at 11:59 pm EST. Not a tweeter yet? Now’s your chance to join Twitter and gain some friendly and supportive followers. Not convinced? You can take this as a challenge instead and forgo the Twitter platform.
The Rules (#pleasebearwithus)
- To participate, start tweeting your story.
- The complete story must be exactly 99 words (not counting the title): 11 sentences with 9 words in each sentence (from first word to concluding punctuation mark, expressed or implied).
- Every tweeted sentence of the story must include both #FFRodeo and #Twitterflash in the body of the tweet. Additional hashtags can be included, space permitting.
- Sentences cannot be changed or adjusted once tweeted (i.e., no do-overs), but feel free to get feedback on where your story should go next from followers, friends, postal workers, your half-sister’s ex-in-laws’ dog trainer… Twitter is social media, so #besocial and #havefun.
- Because the Twitter timestamp only shows hour/minutes, please wait at least two minutes between each tweet (#veryimportantrule) to ensure that the judges read your story in the correct order (note rule 6 for exceptions). Other than the 2-minute rule, sentences can be tweeted in a short time span or spread out however the author prefers within the challenge timeframe.
- The numbering of sentences within the tweets is not required, but if you have enough free characters, please number your sentences (#savethejudgessanity). If numbering is included in every one of your tweeted sentences, you can ignore rule 5.
- Abbreviated words (e.g., 2 for to, bc for because) can be used as long as the meaning remains clear; these words still count toward the 9-word requirement.
- Entrants are encouraged to include any punctuation necessary for clarity; punctuation can be omitted to save Twitter characters if necessary, but the meaning must remain clear to judges/readers.
- Sentences must be in the actual tweet, not in a graphic attached to the tweet. Of course, feel free to attach graphics to any of your tweets because we humans like eye candy, but the judges will only consider the text within the actual tweet.
- Do not attach any “buy links” (i.e., links to places where people can buy your work) to the 11 sentences tweeted for the story, but feel free to share such links outside the challenge parameters (e.g., sharing buy links as a twelfth tweet for people who have enjoyed your challenge writing). #wesupportwriters
- Although there are absolutely no theme or genre restrictions, Twitter is a public forum, so tweet accordingly. Please write responsibly. We don’t want anyone to get banned (or worse) from Twitter. #dontwakethetrolls
- Multiple entries are allowed, but the entrant is responsible for ensuring that multiple entries are clearly marked as such.
- The nature of this challenge means that judging will not be completely blind. That being said, all entries will be copied in their entirety (as a story) into a master list and stripped of identifying information before being shared among the judges for evaluation purposes.
- Judges (and fellow Carrot Ranch writers and wranglers) may like/retweet your sentences and stories. These interactions are purely promotional and social in nature and in no way indicate, suggest, or imply that the judges endorse your story as a winning story. Judging will not begin until after the submission window closes.
- All decisions by the judges are final, and neither the judges nor anyone associated with Carrot Ranch are responsible for what happens on Twitter, including but not limited to delays, data errors, missing tweets, and trolls.
- Finally, if you’ve been bestowed with the new 280-character limit on Twitter, we kindly ask that you use only 140 characters for this challenge. #pleaseandthankyou
CHALLENGE OPTION: If you don’t feel up to entering a contest or signing up for Twitter, please feel free to respond to the challenge in the comments section of this post: 11 sentences of 9 words each for a 99-word story. Weekly Flash Fiction Challenges resume November 2.
- Stories include exactly 11 nine-word sentences. If judges disagree on the number of words included, Microsoft Word will be used as the final word count.
- All 11 tweets per story include both hashtags (#FFRodeo #Twitterflash) and are tweeted before the deadline.
- Stories include a complete arc (i.e., beginning, middle, and end).
- Individual sentences are tweet-worthy and contribute to the story as a whole in a meaningful way.
About the Judges
- C. Jai Ferry has published several collections of short stories. Her narrators are often described as brutally honest and likely needing some form of professional help.
- Mardra Sikora (#Twitterguru) is an author, speaker, and advocate who believes in the power of words and uses both fiction and non-fiction to advocate for and with her adult son, Marcus.
- Lisa Kovanda writes fiction and non-fiction books, stories, and screenplays in urban fantasy, horror, paranormal, historical, and biographical genres. She is also a paranormal investigator.
Next up: Buckin’ Bull Go-Round by D. Avery on Tuesday, October 24.
Announcement of Winners
Winners will be announced on Twitter and Carrot Ranch on December 5, 2017.
About Carrot Ranch
Carrot Ranch is a literary community committed to providing all writers access to literary art regardless of backgrounds, genres, goals and locations. Common ground is found through the writing, reading and discussion of flash fiction. The weekly online flash fiction challenges promote community through process, craft and exploration, and regular participants form a literary group called The Congress of Rough Writers. Their first anthology, Vol. 1 publishes in 2017. Carrot Ranch offers an adult-learning program called Wrangling Words, available to all communities where Rough Writers reside.