CP150

Behind the @RodionTweets Curtain: the Nuts and Bolts of Twitterifying Dostoevsky

by Kristina McGuirk

Kristina McGuirk is a Master’s student in Library Studies and Archival Studies at the University of British Columbia and the #CP150 project Research Assistant. She previously worked as a writer and editor for Better Homes and Gardens special interest magazines. You can find her on Twitter at @kkmcguirk.

As the #CP150 research assistant, I provided social media and editing support for @RodionTweets. What this means in practice is that I collected the tweets from each scholar for their parts of the book, edited the tweets for consistency, voice, and style (more on that below), returned them with queries, and ultimately scheduled the section using Tweetdeck (Twitter’s free tweet management platform).

In the beginning, while the literary savvy people worked out who would tackle which parts of C&P, I put together a general “Twitter Style Guide” for the crew. This was largely to help those less comfortable with Twitter and to make sure we were all on the same page. Selfishly, it was also to make sure I wasn’t going to spend a lot of time on the more time-consuming/less impactful parts of editing tweets, such as cutting down the number of characters because of a photo, or turning long passages into multiple, numbered tweets (we learned on @YakovGolyadkin that style of conveyance was not particularly successful).

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@RodionTweets official style guide

While working on the project, I’ve talked about being true to the nature of Twitter a lot. It was probably annoying. But I’m going to give it one last go here. As Sarah Hudspith discussed in her post, I struggled with the idea of revealing the murder on Twitter. There’s no practicality to it. (Does everyone remember the drug dealer’s Twitter woes on season one of Mr. Robot?). But Sarah’s rationale that Twitter provides Raskolnikov a medium for talking to himself, however, was spot on, and, I was convinced. If you looked back at my own tweets in the month leading up to our July 7 launch, I was pretty much live-tweeting what annoyed me while working in coffee shops and libraries—not all that different from Rodion or the rest of Twitter (except that most of us aren’t plotting to #murder a #louse).

Suspending my disbelief, I moved on to really editing the tweets. Tweets coming from six different people resulted in six different products that had to turn into one person’s thoughts… on Twitter. It wasn’t easy, but luckily almost everyone enjoyed directly quoting the book when possible, so the tenor of the writing was not wildly different (thanks again, Dostoevsky, Oliver Ready, and Penguin!). The biggest differences were in how many tweets each person produced for their parts, and how they chose to convey the thoughts. Some of the scholars were more succinct in their tweets, while others offered pages and pages of tweets for their sections. My job wasn’t to really worry about the how or why of what was included, but to make sure that the tweets were telling Rodion’s story in an engaging way that felt like Twitter.

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Often Twitter is about randomly sharing what you’re thinking/seeing/doing; Rodion is great at cryptically oversharing!

I started by playing with punctuation, varying ?!?! and … and ? and . and sometimes—gasp—not even ending a tweet with anything, because Twitter is fast and loose like that.

I then made every effort to combine tweets. Repetition is a big part of C&P’s storytelling and Rodion’s thoughts, but using a lot of synonyms or adjectives in one sentence isn’t the most efficient way to get a tweet out. I was able to remove superfluous words and phrases pretty easily. (This was my journalism degree in action, while my English degree quietly stares at the wallpaper ignoring me.) Even certain tweets or parts of the novel were just disconnected enough from Rodion’s own narrative that I didn’t need to include them. The rest was a battle with between the 140-character limit on each tweet and the details and phrasing.

I also got tweets that were more narrative (natural as we were working from a novel): this happened, and then he said this, but what about that, and now he’s doing this, and I’m wondering about that. However, in Twitter, the direct narrative had to go away and the story had to be told through Rodion’s reactions. One way to do this was to edit for passive voice and narrative phrasing—Twitter is very much in-the-moment social media, so it definitely works for storytelling, but since each tweet comes at a different time, on a different line, you don’t need the textual cues. Sure, he was still tweeting some of what happened to give his interjections context, but we’re offering more of his thoughts than his retelling of what’s happening.

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This is an altered text that I felt worked particularly well transitioning to Twitter.

Something I wish I would have tried earlier in the editing processes was modernizing the text a bit. While I did add gifs and a silly hashtag here and there (as did Katia Bowers), there was definitely a limit to what was too contemporary. At one point, Sarah Hudspith said she had to fight the urge to write “Sh*t! Got blood on my iPhone! #murderproblems” But… I wish we had done that! I wish I’d suggested early on using Twitter for the platform it is–#trending hashtags, feuds, and cat gifs. Sarah Young is right that an epic trolling session at the Crystal Palace would have been hilarious, but I also understand that this would have been a different way of engaging than we’d planned. I think if I were to do it again, I’d give myself more time for reimagining.

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A missed opportunity! I desperately wanted to use this in Part 3, but it wasn’t appropriate for how we’d been using Twitter.

There are a couple lessons I learned regarding timing and characters (wouldn’t it have been more practical to refer to ‘Raz’ instead of Razumikhin the whole time?) but, ultimately, @RodionTweets was a success and really got me to think differently about a classic I hadn’t read since high school. It was such a creative way to engage with a text and I would encourage everyone to wonder what their favourite literary character’s Twitter looks like… except maybe Dickens’s Gong-Donkey, because I don’t know how to convey drunk braying with Twitter.


This is the last of a series of posts on the experience of creating @RodionTweets. You can follow the Twitter account here. The introduction to the series is here. Click here to read Part 6 or here to go all the way back to Part 1. More information about the #CP150 project can be found here.

This post has been cross-posted on All the Russias blog.

Author bloggerkaramazov

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