There have been a few articles produced since Facebook went mainstream with examples of what not to post on social media. One of my favourite bloggers, peopleiwanttopunchinthethroat.com, not long ago posted this gem, which suggests those who post pictures of their dinner, ‘check-in’, or use their Facebook and Twitter as combined accounts are annoying.
I completely agree with her rant that the false sentiment on Facebook can over whelm a feed and distract from other more interesting posts, such as UpWorthy videos, articles from the Guardian, and academic cartoons. However, I also think that we, as writers, can learn from the over-share that is Facebook.
PeopleIWantToPunchInTheThroat states that one of the posts she dislikes is:
People who kiss ass. I don’t know how to explain this one very easily. I have a friend on FB who posts the most annoying shit like, Taking in another gorgeous sunset on my patio with my even more gorgeous wife. She is my all. And then his friends will comment on his bullshit musings with stuff like:
- Well said, partner.
- You have an amazing woman there, lucky guy.
- Cherish this time together.
- You have such a gift with words, Horace.
Seriously? I get it on my wall too – but I am a genius with my musings and I deserve all the ass kissing I get, this guy is just a hack.
This is where you, as a writer, can use your intuition into the nature of character to understand what these posts are really saying.
- Multiples photos from sick friend with a ‘brave face’, could actually mean ‘I’m in pain, afraid and I need sympathy. Please comment.’
- Multiple inspirational quotations, could actually mean ‘I’m going through a hard time, so I’m posting this to remind myself to be stronger.’
- Multiple photos of expensive items such as extortionately priced designer handbags or million pound homes, could actually mean ‘I’m having financial problems, and sometimes it feels good to shop for things I could never afford.’
- Multiple links to ‘conspiracy’ theories, could actually mean ‘I’m terrified of the world I live in, and I’m searching for meaning.’ (The same could be said for multiple posts of religious quotations.)
- Finally, as stated above, posts from people who ‘kiss ass’, may actually mean, ‘My partner and I aren’t getting on right now. These posts are to remind me that I love him/her, and that he/she once loved me.’
As a writer, you should be able to pick up on the nuances that hide between the ‘likes’. But, what do you do with this information?
Take it as an example of how to write. The phrase ‘Show Don’t Tell’ gets thrown out to writing students far too often, and — in my opinion — the phrase is usually used by writing teachers who don’t know how to teach. (But that’s a post for another day, but I broach it briefly in this ShortbreadStories post.)
So, I’d like to replace ‘Show Don’t Tell’ with ‘Tell Your Story with Facebook’. I’m not advocating an experimental narrative through social media (it’s been done), I’m suggesting you provide enough information to tell your story, but leave enough out so your reader can interpret its meaning.
For example, which has more punch?
The oncologist was the only human contact she’d had for months. Occasionally, she would cross an acquaintance in the waiting room and hide the fear that was wearing her down. Despite her outward appearance, she longed for sympathy.
Waiting for the oncologist, she noted not to be overly familiar. ‘He is Doctor Barnard, not John,’ she told her self.
‘Is that you, Beatrice?’ said a woman from behind.
She recognised the voice as an old coworker. Beatrice straightened her back and put on a smile. ‘Oh, yes. Hi Amanda. Good to see you.’
Amanda’s face changed from pleasant to concern. The severe weight loss and bad wig dominated Beatrice’s appearance.
‘Cancer. One day at a time. Makes you grateful for the small things. I’m a survivor not a victim,’ she said as she reached out to touch Amanda’s hand.
Amanda pulled away.
When you feel like your story is losing its punch, think about how your protagonist would tell the story on Facebook. If you go from there, you’ll have a stronger narrative.