Classic novels pitched in 140 characters: Welcome to Quick Lit

Aspiring writer? Why slog your way through sample chapters when some literary agents are inviting social-media pitches in only 140 characters? John Walsh starts practising

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The Independent Culture

So you've always fancied writing a novel, but you're not sure if it would be publishable? And you aren't prepared to spend a year or two working out the plot and baring your soul in 100,000 words if the resulting book isn't going to reach an audience? Well, now there's a speedy, super-modern way to test the water and see if your proposed masterpiece will pass muster with the people who make the decisions: tweet them a pitch.

No, it's true. Curtis Brown, the distinguished and venerable literary agency, along with another agency, Conville & Walsh, has started an "online project" asking potential authors to send them ideas for novels or non-fiction books in 140 characters or less, with the hashtag @PitchCB. The agents responsible for this initiative, Rebecca Ritchie and Richard Pike, will welcome them on the fourth Friday of every month, and get in touch directly with tweeters whose suggestions excite them.

The project was launched last Friday. "We've had hundreds of pitches," Ms Ritchie reports. "Lots of innovative fantasy and sci-fi ideas, psychological thrillers, some commercial women's fiction, some darker crime and speculative fiction." All of it in tweet-length encapsulation. It's a far cry from the traditional author's pitch to an agent, which means sending three chapters of the proposed work plus a detailed synopsis of how the rest of the book would resolve itself.

Some sceptics might observe that, between a one-line idea and a finished book, there's a whole world of hard work, daily graft, creative stamina, verbal stitching and unstitching, not to mention frustration, chewed nails, weeping and chronic alcohol abuse.

At 140 characters, these book tweets have more in common with high-concept Hollywood movie pitches, where utter simplicity is key. The shortest successful pitch for a movie is probably that for Alien: "Jaws in space." It was enough to get producers waving their chequebooks. And it's said that Wedding Crashers and Snakes on a Plane required even fewer words, and were accepted for their titles alone.

It's a good game, though, to imagine how classic novels of the past might have been pitched along twitter lines.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens: Rustic urchin Pip meets scary convict, nutjob abandoned bride and frigid playmate, but lucks out with mystery fortune #hesagentleman

Hamlet by William Shakespeare: Emo Danish prince finds father's been murdered by uncle who's married mother. Spurned g/f goes mad & drowns. Her old man stabbed thro arras. Every1 dies #tragic

Ulysses by James Joyce: Thoughtful cuckolded Jewish adman, wiggy intellectual orphan and blowsy sexpot chanteuse wander round Dublin on 16 June 1904 #ithelpsifyouveread Homer

Emma by Jane Austen: Perky teen tries to micromanage love lives of galpals until ticked off by elderly suitor after rude episode (not that kind) on Box Hill #sameplotasClueless

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: Alabama kids Scout & Jem torment reclusive Boo Radley for 100 pages. Then liberal dad, Atticus, defends black man on rape charge. Loses. #butwinsmoralargument

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown: Renowned cryptographer runs around Paris w/ foxy babe trying 2 evade albino monk hitman & find truth about @JChrist's family connections #notendorsedbyVatican

Beowulf by Anonymous: Geats tribal gathering gatecrashed by gross monster Grendel. Brave Beowulf belabours him with blows. Then his Mum marauds with murderous mayhem. #acresofalliteration

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville: Uni-legged, monomaniacal Cap'n Ahab of the Pequod pursues white whale that smashed us his ship (& leg.) Fascinating digressions on blubber & whale-oil extraction. #Starbucks

Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka: Luckless Prague dweller Gregor Samsa wakes up to find he's turned into cockroach/beetle/whatever. Tries 2 conceal it from parents w/ mixed results. #not4insectophobes

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: Plain virgin governess & chronic victim falls for walking phallic symbol with mad arsonist wife in attic and flash g/f in sitting-room. But e/thing okay when he goes blind. #spoiler #toolate