Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Facebook as fodder for fiction

[This is the second in what may be an ongoing series on Facebook for writers].

"It's complicated."

When someone's relationship status on Facebook changes from "In a relationship"(or, perhaps more tragically, "Married"), there is a short story there, both obvious and hidden. I'm surprised that friends bare themselves so nakedly in this way, even more surprised when strangers do.

I'm sure I'm not the only person who has gone through Facebook looking for the open-to-the-universe pages of people I barely know or don't know at all. The excuse I have at-ready is that I am a writer—I am plumbing the depths and superficialities of modern life and romance, as well as seeing:
  • what people do in their spare time;
  • what they believe in or don't believe in, who they voted for;
  • what books or concerts they consider the most important;
  • what old TV shows people are watching on DVD.
And to display some of my own honesty, of course, I'm also seeing what old boyfriends and classmates have done with themselves and/or what they look like now.

But the thought occurred to me the other day: Facebook is a fabulous tool for fiction writers because there are a million names there with pictures attached to them, and sometimes there are life summaries, freely available to all.

For instance, if you were writing a short story set in Oklahoma City and you wanted to name your main character "Chris Palmer," you can search for Chris Palmer of Oklahoma City (as I did just now), and there he is. I suppose you could still name your character "Chris Palmer" but you might want to switch cities, or you might at least make him look different than the young man with a crewcut I happened to find in FB just now.

Or, what if you want to include in your story a 30ish woman with black hair and blue eyes. By hyperlinking through friends' or random Facebook pages, you should be able to find someone who looks like what you imagine who is telling the world her taste in music, movies, etc. She could enter your short story, with some of her real-life personality intact (but don't use her real name), or mixed in with aspects of other people, perhaps also randomly chosen.

But—and there is almost always a but on the Internet—FB is both a potential idea-generating wonderland, and a labyrinth of links, updates and invitations. On one's Home page, especially when you have more than 100 friends or your friends frequently update, a cacophony of voices rises daily, which a writer might drown in. Writing is lonely work and it's seductive to have so many "friends" trying to talk to you, making themselves available to read what you write without fear of rejection, or having to wait months for a response. And, like other web sites, accessing FB on the same computer you use to write means that it is sometimes hard to pull away, to make the transition from absorbing text to producing it.

So, I offer a cautious endorsement of FB as a tool for writers. Like wine, it can be beneficial in small doses, but detrimental if you drink too much.


1. Choose a day at random; write down, or cut and paste, the descriptions in the status lines of all of your friends. Rearrange and use to compose a poem, or make each status line the start of a paragraph in a short-short story.

2. Random FB short story: Take 3 friends. Hyperlink 3 times away from their FB pages (click on the third friend on their FB page; then click on their third friend; then click on their third friend). Use the first and/or last names of the people you find as characters in a short story. Use real life personalities or descriptions of their appearance (but mix up so the first person's description matches the second person's name, etc., and no real person's name is linked with a real person's looks or hobbies).

3. Write a short story titled "It's Complicated." Base it on any non-friend's FB page you find with that in the status line, or just make up something. Write it in the form of reverse chronological FB status lines.

P.S. If there are writers already producing FB-based work that has gotten the attention of serious publications, please let me know by writing me at: thebethblevinsATgmailDOTcom. I might mention/examine it in a future post.

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