Question: Where would you find an organic farmer with a wicked sense of humour, a Carrie Bradshaw-esque art student, a NYC bike messenger with a penchant for poker, a fisherman with a sentimental streak, a Gone With the Wind loving mother of four and a self professed 19th Century flâneur awaiting his lift home all hanging out together?
Answer: Fourth Fiction!
Making its debut with YouTube aplomb on American Independence Day, the contest kicks off in earnest on August 4th. The month of July has been given over to a pre-contest build up on Twitter for the twelve contestants, who are restricted to four tweets a day to ensure equality for all. Penalties apply for those breaking the rules.
Creator and self appointed Host, Constantine Markides launched Fourth Fiction without any expectations of what would transpire once he unleashed his idea and the twelve contestants into cyber space.
I just wanted to see how it would play out. Starting it off with practically no guidelines does make for a chaotic opening but I thought that it might lead to a more interesting place than if I had planned it out. I can’t say I’ve been upset with how it’s gone so far. It’s quite a ride, but I’m having a great time.
So are the rest of us!
For the last ten days there’s been a microblogging meet and greet between contestants and readers – a chance for personas and personalities to rise and fall, to woo and kick you in the guts.
The twitter account, @fourthfiction, is shared by all twelve contestants and Markides (as host), with individuals identified by a four letter pseudonym. Using Twitter has been a sharp learning curve for some of the participants who had never ventured there prior to the competition kick off and sharing a twitterfeed has been interesting for those who are old hands.
It occurred to me as I was writing, the whole shared Twitter account has almost Mole-ish undertones – asking for integrity on one level but encouraging the opposite on a whole different one. After all a shared twitterfeed opens the potential for all manner of nefarious undertakings, as we saw when Tuck reposted a deleted tweet from Tess over the weekend.
While Fourth Fiction contestants are unable to rely on image to lure readers to their fan clubs, distinct personalities have emerged and were rounded out over the weekend with the inclusion of micro bios on the Fourth Night site. It is amazing how much you can learn about a person in 140 characters four times a day. I already have my most loved and hated list which will make the foray into fiction even more interesting.
Even before the writing has begun, there’s been interesting discussions between twitterers as to whether “a prick” styled contestant has the potential to make it beyond the first round, even with knock out writing, given the demographic following Fourth Fiction are not your run of the mill couch drones. While such antics attract attention (hell I’m writing about it aren’t I?) it does little to warm readers to the contestant going on the comments of WriteFromKaren and panderson1979.
Whatever you think about it personally, Markides has made good on his promise of “manipulation, voyeurism, backstabbing, exhibitionism, sexual gratuitousness, pettiness and exploitation” and that’s before the actual writing has even begun. One thing Fourth Fiction cannot be accused of is a dull Twitterfeed.
I made it very clear with all contestants in the beginning that this was a no-holds-barred style arena. And also that everyone should try to keep in mind that it’s going to be designed to create nasty kinds of conflict. It’s not pretty, but many things about our reality show culture are not pretty.
The twitter feed has been a pick and mix of the best and worst of human behaviour. We’ve seen Tuck infamously attack the Host, retweet Tess and have a go at followers too. We’ve seen numerous contestants whinge and moan about the absence of the Host, then about “interference” or “heavy handedness” when he steps up to take control. Like small children you can never get the balance just right to keep them happy all the time. We’ve had contestants reprimanded for exceeding the four tweet a day limit and Tess banned for an entire day. We’ve seen pettiness between a couple of female contestants – nitpicking at each other because at the moment there’s little else to do.
However we saw all the contestants band together over the weekend to support Omar who had his bag stolen along with his lap top and iPod – though there was a certain amount of outrage that Markides himself deleted Omar’s original tweet on the grounds it jeopardised his anonymity and retweeted an edited down version, leading Rhae to ask:
“I wonder, Host, whether the ruling that Tess forfeit today’s tweets is more a case of us serving the law than the law serving us … Laws that cannot bend to accommodate changing winds will eventually break.”
But change is a-coming, as several contestants contemplate making like enigmatic Fyor who has kept out of the Twitter fray.
Markides has promised a radical new direction and focus for the rest of the pre-contest, and a new set of guidelines and challenges as of the 15th (US time) with the release of another video later tonight.
Amid what we’ve come to expect from the worst of reality TV, we’ve seen organic farmer Utah rise to the creative fore with her colourful and humorous 140 character stories about fresh produce, reminding all this contest, at the end of the day, is about writing – not personalities.
“What do you see?” the shrink asked the sex addict, showing a sketch of a small curved oval and a banana. “Bean there, done that.”
Igor followed Utah’s lead yesterday with: He tweeted from morning to night, more than the others. But nobody said much when they found him one day, dead in his cage bringing it back home that this is an elimination style competition.
And that’s what all the followers of Fourth Fiction are baying for – writing! We want to know who is going to cut it and who is not. After all, Markides did not have a vetting process for the inclusion of contestants.
I didn’t have a selection process. It’s just people whom I approached about it and who said they’d be interested. That may be why some of them are rather nonchalant about it all (and also why some of them aren’t afraid to take shots at me). But I did also choose people whom I knew could write well.
For those reading who wish somehow their paths had crossed Markides’ and been invited to be part of the Fourth Fiction adventure all is not lost. Any interested writers are invited to contact Markides through the website to register to be involved as parallel participants in the twelve literary challenges.
While many of us had hoped an outside parallel participant may have been included in the official competition to spice things up, reality TV style, Markides confirmed yesterday that he is not currently leaning in that direction.
If this whole thing goes off successfully, then maybe next time around something more elaborate can be done.
Seth Godin believes the purpose of a book cover (which is what the month long twitter feed is if we’re all being totally honest about it) is to set the reader up for what happens on the pages – and that is definitely the case with Fourth Fiction’s pre-contest TwitFest. There are possibly going to be some insightful and entertaining explosions plus a whole lot of rethinking and adjusting of loyalties, once the words hit the page. Until then we’ll just wait and watch as the “book covers” flesh themselves out and continue to ramp up the anticipation.
And for those wanting to know if Markides will make live the outtakes from the Fourth Fiction videos – the answer is a definitive yes. You’ll just have to wait until December and the end of the comp.