Advice on how to use Twitter to write, network with other writers, and learn about the writing business.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

How to Tweet a Character

My name is Jeanette Bennett aka @Scablander. I was a recovering writer who fell off the wagon fall of 2007 and have been on a writing binge ever since. Out of this dazed state came a series of novels I hope to some day publish. In the mean time I am polishing them. I’ve been told the best time to promote them is before you even go to a publisher. If they know you can promote, they are more likely to look at you.

February of 2009, my husband brow beat me into getting on Twitter to promote myself. One problem--I’m boring! After a couple of months, I decided instead to Tweet as one of my characters. I chose Dr. Wendell Howe, a Temporal Anthropologist from the 27th century. He is trained to fit into the Victorian Age he studies. A bit too well, since he no longer fits in his own time period.

I decided to pick four years before the events of the first novel. I would show how dull and lonely Wendell’s life was before he ran off with Dr. Serendipity Brown, the Mother of Time Travel to be her Time Travel Consultant. It backfired. Wendell know has thousands of friends and everyone wants to run off with him.

People like my idea and I keep threatening to put up a blog with advise on how to Twitter a character. So here it is. I’ll tell you what I did right--and what I did wrong.

I came up with this idea on my own--but so did several other people. If you think tweeting as your character is a lame idea, check out @WriteRCastle. This is a Twitter site started by ABC to promote the television series “Castle”. It’s a nice bit of soft sell, rather than just tweeting “watch the show”. It let’s the audience interact with the character.

Decide Exactly What You Are Going to Do
Wendell was already an established character. I had written over two novels with him, so I knew exactly how he was going to react and all his background. In fact one blogsite suggested filling out the Proust Questionnaire on your character. I wasn’t sure how I myself would answer some of those question, but I knew exactly how Wendell would answer them.

I’ve noticed some people Tweet as their character, some write a story, and some tweet facts. I’m doing all three at @Wendell_Howe. This is either really brilliant, or incredibly stupid--I’m leaning toward the latter. Not only do I answer tweets, but I have to do research into Victorian history to know exactly what was going on when and where Wendell is that day. I also have to figure out what is going to happen next in the storyline. The Twitter site is eating up a lot of my time I could be working on my novels. Plus that “daydreaming” in the off hours, I’m not plotting where the next book goes, but where the twitter site is going.

I think @LordLikely has a saner approach. He mostly banters with followers, makes clever quips and saves the writing mostly for his blogsite. Also his character isn’t a history scholar. @LordLikely is a good one to study. He’s character is--well, a bit naughty (PG-13). Yet I’ve noticed he never gets any more suggestive than the person he is tweeting with. He has an uncanny gift there.

Watch what others are doing. Learn from their mistakes and great ideas. I have a couple of lists on my site that are not complete, but I keep adding to them. See “Twitter-Fiction” and “Original Character” lists at @Wendell_Howe. Follow them and learn.

Stay in Character
Always stay in character. No fair typing “OOC” (out of Character). Setup another twitter site to do that. It’s a good idea to have a separate account for YOU anyway, in case someone wants to talk to the author.

People like a character that interacts with them, so answering tweets, is not a bad idea. Not to mention it is fun and can give you story ideas. If you don’t want to mess up your carefully composed feed with gabbing, get another account for your character to talk to others.

Yes, I know, there’s Direct Messages. A Direct Message is only seen by the person you send it to, and not the whole world It’s still a way to send some one your email. But spammers took over and what was once a special spot is overflowing with junk mail. Hackers were using some of those messages to trick people into giving their passwords to them . Some people are afraid to look in the D.M.s anymore.

If you set up a second account for your character, you can go to @Wendell_A_Howe for an example. I wish I had thought of the idea sooner. I use the same avatar as @Wendell_Howe as well as his photo in the background.
The profile reads:
Name: Wendell Howe
Location: @Wendell_Howe
Bio: Account for private correspondence. No need to follow.
I didn’t want there to be any question as to who this is. So far no one has been upset about Wendell talking to them there.

You can have more than one twitter site, but each one will need a separate email. To get another email google “Free email service” and pick one. If you don’t plan on using it again, pick the worst looking one. I found it’s nice to have a second email account to give out to sites that are just going to send you junk mail.

The Avatar is the little icon on your profile to replace the generic twitter logo you were given. It is your “face” to the world. For an avatar you can use a drawing, a photo, or a symbol. Don’t use some actors picture or people will think you are role playing. And don’t use your photo, or people will think you based the character on yourself.

For Wendell I originally used a photo I took of a pocket watch sitting on an old pocket Bible. (These are two tools he uses. The Bible is a disguised computer.) Then I found an old photo in an antique store that looked very much what I had imagined Wendell looked like. I’m not sure who the fellow was, but he has been recruited as a Temporal Anthropologist. I’m not sure if anyone could sue me. They tossed Uncle John Doe’s photo away. And Wendell is a nice chap.

Background Design
You can change the background on your Twitter site. There are free Twitter backgrounds you can get, or design your own. Or just stick a photo in the back ground. Myself I put up a background that goes along with where Wendell is. When he was in Australia, I had a herd of kangaroos. When he was in London for Christmas, I had an old photo of children singing carols in front of a Christmas tree. And when he’s home, I have a photo from the University of Cambridge campus. I found it usually works better if I use a small photo and tile it. People can see the details easier that way. You don’t have to get this crazy, but try to pick a background that fits your character or story.

Get a Blog or Web Site
There is only so much you can put in 140 characters. If you find yourself answering the same complicated questions over and over--you need a blogsite! Look at mine at Wendell Howe blogspot

I’ve been using Blogger which is free. It’s also simple to use. It’s also far more versatile than it first appears. I noticed a lot of people use WordPress (also free). I haven’t had a chance to learn it and give you a fair appraisal, but I don’t remember any tweets of people cussing it out. People do cuss out Live Journal and Facebook though.

If nothing else you can give a little background on your character, for few followers will be there from the beginning. You can also archive your tweets (which I’m attempting to do.) Most importantly, if you have a novel you have published or hope to publish, be sure to put your photo and information about yourself on the page. It can be in the corner or at the bottom, but have it there. Otherwise this will all be for naught.

One thing about Blogger is it will let you set up more than one blogsite (and I think WordPress will let you do this, too.) So I not only have a blog for Wendell, but one for me, too. There I talk about my books and have excerpts of my novels. I have links to all my other blogs on all of these blogs. I also have a blog for sources on Victorian history I have stumbled across. And of course this blog. There is no limit. Just make sure they are connected and not scattered to the wind.

Be Nice
I know this sounds like a no brainer, but be nice to people. Luckily I’m tweeting a character who might be a bit geeky and socially awkward, but he is a polite gentleman. For Wendell to be mean, would be out of character. Apologize if you step on toes. Stepping on toes is easy when people can’t read your body language. It’s why people on Twitter, to show they are just kidding, use “LOL” and J a lot. Unfortunately I can’t see Wendell using either. So he has to apologize a lot.

Don’t get into fights with people. Literally everyone in the world can see it. Wendell almost got into a fight with another inventor of time travel. Wendell pointed out that Dr. Serendipity Brown invented time travel in his universe and he did not doubt that the other fellow invented it in his. Also since he invented time travel in the 19th century, he in fact beat Serendipity by nearly 500 years. He was cool with that. Keep in mind Twitter is a conduit to a “multiverse” and we can all live in our own little worlds.

If someone corrects Wendell and they are right, I will retweet them, so everyone can see--unless it messes up my story. In which case I will DM them and let them know they are right. Problem with history is not all the sources agree sometimes. I have a lot of historians and anthropologists following me, with real PhDs. Did I mention I had to spend a lot of time researching? That’s why.

Remember everyone in the world can see your tweets so don’t use profanity or derogatories. Even if it’s part of the story, people may only see one tweet and take it out of context. I had an episode where Wendell was dealing with slave owners. The overseer commented. “These [people] are just plain stupid.” First off, I couldn’t see Wendell repeating a racial slur. And secondly, anyone following the story knew what the word was. And I didn’t have to worry about some poor old lady who had lived through Jim Crow seeing that word on Twitter and ruining her day.

Also don’t be afraid to promote someone else who is following you. However try to do it in character if you can. Your character can tweet about what he’s reading. It’s not dog eat dog. If someone follows your followers they aren’t taking away from you. Maybe they will remember you and pay back the favor. Maybe they will buy the book. If nothing else, it’s good karma.

Remember your Twitter etiquette. Always thank people for #FollowFridays. Wendell thanks people on his second site for retweets, recommending him to others and compliments. In fact he tries to acknowledge everyone that tweets him. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to talk to someone on Twitter and being ignored.

If you pass along something in the feed, hit the retweet button, or put RT with a @ in front of their name. If you need to rewrite their message, put “via” and their name. If someone retweets you and doesn’t follow these rules, assume they are just unaware of protocol and not trying to rip you off.

And here's a secret. If you reply to someone, and you want everyone to see it no matter what, put a period in front of the @ sign. ( .@JohnDoe ) People may or may not see it if the tweet starts out @JohnDoe.

I have over 8,000 followers, and have only run into a couple of jerks. Ignore them or placate them, but don’t fight with them. This is Twitter. You can always unfollow or even block if it gets too bad. 99% of the people on Twitter are nice people. Be nice to them. You might even make some friends.

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