A top-down view of several thread spools, most with colorful labels on top.

Thread Fics

A brick.

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #161. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.


Examining trends in fanfiction.


Twitter is slowly turning into the social media equivalent of a post-apocalyptic wasteland; a few people are still scavenging the ruins, growing mushrooms in damp, quiet places and generally holding onto what they can until they’re forced out. As a millennial, my life has been largely dominated by the deaths of social networks – quietly and slowly (MySpace), inexplicably Russian (LiveJournal) and now loudly, quickly and spearheaded by a capitalist asshole (Twitter).

Social networks are the frameworks of communication, and as someone who has watched so many forms of social network die ignobly, it’s interesting to watch happen, but it’s also a moment of sadness for the forms of communication and expression that will ultimately be lost in the fireworks. There are plenty of things that are going to be lost when Twitter dies, from the easy communication of journalists and their subjects to the comedy of Twitter bots. But the one that I’m the most attached to, the one whose disappearance will actually bring me a moment of real sadness, is the Twitter thread fic.

Thread fics are a very specific form of fanfiction that has popped up on the micro-blogging platform. They’re a strange sort of fiction, whose style and concept is baked with elements of casual engagement. A thread fic utilizes Twitter’s threading feature, wherein an author can respond to their own initial tweet with many, many more, in order. The casual nature of Twitter allows for a certain level of informality that even among fanfiction is incredibly loose. Frequently writers will abbreviate names of characters, or places – Lan Wangji is abbreviated down to lwj, or maybe given an additional tag to identify the type of character he is “dragonji” for a dragon shifter version of the character. The fics frequently start without intention; an initial tweet in a thread fic might begin with a phrase like “ok so what if . . .” and then spin out over a dozen, or sometimes hundreds of tweets. Not all thread fics begin that way – it’s just as common for a thread fic writer to begin by stating their intention, and then writing out from there. Generally told in 160-character chunks, these stories grow and morph, frequently depending on audience opinion.

A common trope of the thread fic is to stop at some point and ask the audience which direction they want the story to go. Sometimes with options written out, sometimes with emoji’s whose meaning is exclusively known to the writer. It’s a bit of a choose-your-own adventure style of content but written usually with immediacy.

A spool of red thread, just beginning to be unraveled.

Like all works in progress, thread fics have their own relationship with completion – some writers will take over a year to write a thread fic, coming back months in between to update the thread of content. Some will write the entire thing in one sitting. There is no rule, one way or the other.

The little brother of the thread fic, and still most commonly found on sites like Twitter, is the social media fic (or soc med) where the writer will recreate screens of text messages, fake social media accounts and more to show the story in an epistolary format. A reader will open a Tweet with four images and then click through to see the story progress over the images, like watching a conversation between characters through modern means. While these fics will sometimes have segments where the writer writes out traditional scenes – either in screenshotted notes or through a more traditional thread fic – large chunks of these works are exclusively told in this epistolary form. Over Twitter.

Some of these works have been saved over the years, using applications like threaderapp or other third-party services to export these fics from Twitter over to a central document, and then saved to an archive (like AO3) or a third place. But a lot of them aren’t. These fics are, by nature, casual. For a lot of writers, they’re basically expressions of headcanons and nothing more.

It’s possible that one of the many Twitter clones that have popped up and demand attention from fleeing users will be home to these works – maybe Cohost or Spout or Hive or Mastodon and its billion instances will be a home. But in a lot of ways, Twitter is the home of the thread fic and when it goes, so will they. This kind of thing is the actual loss of a social media network – the way that the communication that existed there in the past will die once the format does. This is the nature of changes in the standards of communication, though perhaps in Twitter’s case it’s sadder because of the expedited way in which the site is being graphically murdered in front of the user’s eyes. We can watch as a form of communication and expression is sacrificed brutally on the altar of one mans’ idiocy and do nothing about it.

There isn’t much else to say about it. There’s something incredibly sad about the whole situation, and while thread fics aren’t the biggest thing being lost, they’re a community and a style that is unlikely to be replicated. There’s no pithy rejoinder for something like that. So, like so many thread fics, I’m going to leave it on a cliffhanger.

Three empty wooden thread spools, haphazardly knocked about.


Amanda Hudgins is an occasional writer, former rugby player and wearer of incredibly tall shoes.


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