420 chars #1

This is a genre I’ve just named. I didn’t invent it, since it consists only of the limitation on the size of a Facebook status (hence the name). I just decided “420 chars” needed to name a genre of ultracondensed prose, when you have a big thought and a ridiculously short space to say it in. It makes a writer cull the crap out of his or her prose, re-examine punctuation, search for Anglo-Saxon synonyms for Latinate words (obfuscateblur), sacrifice modifiers, conflate ideas, and so on. When I hit Share and FB tells me—

Status updates must be less than 420 characters. You have entered 504 characters here. Notes can be much longer. Would you like to edit and post your update as a Note instead?

…instead of giving up, I move the prose to a text editor and start working. The result usually calls for a lot more interpretive work on the reader’s part, but that’s okay too. Here’s my first one (409 characters):

If art isn’t the purpose of life, it’s the only mirror of purpose we have, the glass through which we see darkly. This side of art is biological necessity. Beyond art is nothing we can understand. Art is either sacred or the only face of the sacred. So when we are driven to destroy something in service of what we think is our purpose in life, we had better make sure before we destroy it that it is not art.

© 2011 Greg Bryant under the Creative Commons


About Greg Bryant

I teach writing and literature at Highland Community College in northeast Kansas.
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4 Responses to 420 chars #1

  1. bryon says:

    You’ve taken conciseness a step further than I have; I just work on the level of word counts. Character counts are an increasingly common measure, though, and the ability to express something important and to do so beautifully within a specified character limit will become increasingly important. You’ve given us two good examples in these posts of how that can work.

  2. Cletis says:

    Greg, I recently signed up for Twitter and, actually, like the constraints which are imposed. This 420 chars is a great idea and I will gladly contribute. You have set a high standard with this beautiful creation regarding art. Perhaps the finest piece I have read on this subject. Amazing really. If you like, we can post this for Creative Sunday and go from there.

    • Greg Bryant says:

      Cletis, I’d be pleased if you used it for Creative Sunday. Can you cut and paste it from this blog, or do I need to send you another format?

      Oh, and what does “…and go from there” mean? Did you mean issue the 420 chars challenge to your readers? In that case you’re welcome to post the entire entry with the rationale in it.

      How many characters are you limited to in Twitter?

  3. Pingback: Author’s Note: 420 Chars |

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