Since the middle of March I've been following Brent Spiner on Twitter. Trekkies know him as Lieutenant Commander Data, a Soong type android serving aboard the Enterprise. At first I was following because I was already following Wil Wheaton. They had a dialog between them that all of us Hollywood outsiders could eavesdrop on. They totally sounded normal and geeky in a famous people way. Spiner had just finished "Man from LaMancha" & auctioning his 500th tweet. Then things got strange.
Wondering how to jump start/restart/reboot his career he put himself into an imaginary world only two steps into the pale beyond the reality that we know. Spiner pulled a Serling and went somewhere dark and desperate that could have been real. After only a few posts I was hooked. I've been obsessively signing into Twitter to see where we were going with him. In turns humorous, poignant and puzzling, Spiner's saga was always captivating with its minimalism. Twitter only allows post of 140 characters at a time. Thus an author must be evocative, making the most of this stringent limit.
Spiner gives us dialog, direction and emotion in each post. For a while it seemed as though he were living the life any actor uncertain of his future and frustrated with his agent would live. Events of his life seemed to unfold with the steady pacing each of us see in our lives, a convincing reality where nothing but everything could happen. After the initial joke about kick starting his career with an unnecessary rehab stint and ping pong with James Woods, days ticked away with the kind of everyman updates we had become accustomed to with Wheaton.
But if you know anything about his life you would have to wonder why there were no more posts about events with his son. And why didn't he mention the home cooked dinner Gates McFadden made for the next Generation family as reported by LeVar Burton? The plot isn't interrupted with his Denver convention experience of last week. If there was ever a doubt that he was writing fiction on Twitter these omissions remove all doubt.
Because his tweets were infrequent, irregular and organic his fiction had the feeling of reality. This might account for the confusion among his followers that manifested in a flurry of replies to Spiner's twitterstream on Sunday. The plot twisted. I started thinking.
What makes this so compelling? What does this experimental medium mean for fiction? And the answer is surprising: the audience. Spiner's readership can do with Twitter something that no audience has been able to do before. That is that they can make the author aware of their thoughts as the story is being written. This medium offers opportunity for critique, commentary and community in realtime. In the past an author had to wait for a story to be published to find out how it is recieved through reviews and placement on the New York Times Bestseller List or the dread booksigning. In the past a book club or the book signing was the only way that the audience connected with each other. This is no longer true.
The audience can critque the work in progress, within seconds of the words being printed. And they do, with color and intensity. For the first time in history the author can "hear" the audience's commentary. The audience can tell the scary movie character not to open the door; or in Spiner's case we were yelling at him to get out while the getting was good. I believe I encouraged him to run for his life. I only hope I neglected to add that the Tasmanian Devil was on the lose. Of course just because the author/actor can hear us doesn't mean they listen any better than the canned actors. But the comments are varied and do go off on tangents. The author got to see what was going through the audiences' mind. Fortunately, our author is used to dealing with strange new worlds and packs a phaser... just in case. The author can also see how and why the audience connects. In this case it is obviously the Star Trek stuff. As this is the first time anyone has written a novel/treatment/script using Twitter (that I know off) it is hard to say exactly how this will all play out.
As for what it means for fiction, I can't say. I fear what it says for performance art is the same thing that VHS movies said to the cinema: everyday is casual Friday. I hope that people going to see live performances of any kind remember that they aren't supposed to interact with the cast on stage and that the place to make friends is not in their seats while they are watching but in the cafe afterwards.
In general this has been a fun ride. As of this post it is not over. There is the conclusion yet. Will he? Won't he? I don't know. All I know is that Earl Stanley Gardner would have thrown the book at the audience instead of the defendents on the witness stand.