IM Netspeak L33t Fiction

Texting and Netspeak, or its phreaky (ph5e@k) kin leet (l33t), have been sneaking into schools and various narrative forms for quite some time. Here’s a Slashdot post from 2002 about its entry without a hall pass. Since instant messaging and texting is such a dominant part of youth culture, where else would it go? (According to Mobile Youth, 3.2 billion text messages were sent in the UK in March 2006.)  Of course, it was just a matter of time before it showed up in fiction, though not always how you’d expect.

TTFN.gifTTYL (2004), TTFN (2006)
By Lauren Myracle

This is a pair of best-selling print-based, teen-oriented epistolary novelsl written entirely in texting.  They are, to my knowledge, the only novels written entiely in this format.  Author Myracle, of course, has  a MySpace page for all her fans to post their messages of luv, sending their own netspeak messages back.  Her next outing: l8r, g8r

The Amazon review offers:

Grownups (and even teenage boys) might feel as if they’ve intercepted a raw feed from Girl Secret Headquarters

Girl Secret Headquarters!! And here are some of the transmisions:

SnowAngel: hey, mads! 1st day of 10th grade down the tube–wh-hoo!
mad maddie: hiyas, angela. Wh-hoo to u 2.
SnowAngel: did you get the daisy i put in your locker?
mad maddie: I did mad maddie: What’s the story?
SnowAngel: i just know that the end of the summer always throws u into a funk so I wanted to do something to defunkify u. (1)

Clearly this is a watered-down and standardized netspeak (a translation that perhaps makes it not netspeak at all).

sueellen.gifYet, the IM narrative is above all readable. The layout of the book uses color-coded Georgia, The Sans 9-Black, and Comic Sans (what better for performing teenage girlspeak?)! Each page is framed in a grey scroll-window with large square “send” and “cancel” buttons at the bottom. A black pointer hovers to the right, but never seems to cancel. Curiously, the layout looks looks quite a bit like Sue-Ellen Case’s 1996 text Domain-Matrix: Performing Lesbian at the End of Print Culture. (See image right).  Not that TTYL avoids the topic of homosexuality:

mad maddie: what about when margaret called u a lesbo?
zoegirl: margaret called janna lesbo?
mad maddie: i wasn’t there, but apprarently it was after PE one day last week. jana was strutting around in the locker room, i guess she was naked, and margaret asked if she was a lesbian…[jana’s face] got hard and she said, “oh, sweet, coming from u. ur the biggest lesbo around, always staring at me and laffing at everything i say”
zoegirl: ouch. (156-157)

Ah, tenth grade. But i did buy the book (mostly for the promise of fiction with emoticons). Stacey Johnson of Oceanside Middleschool writes a review that says it all:

This book is enjoyable to read because it is written in instant messaging format, and that’s how many young teenagers communicate today. The strengths of the content are: the format, and the realistic ways of a teenager’s life. The weakness of the content is that it is very predictable.

Publishers weekly covered some of the marketing to teens, including updates on their phones. There are also the cult sites, like the one for those famous nomadic pants.

Nixing Netspeak

But just because there is a novel of netspeak does not mean that this truncated prose is welcome in all fiction or even is all that novel. In the online fan fiction world, sites routinely prohibit the submission of stories using netspeak. This warning from the SVU Fiction Archive is typical of the genre:

Anything written entirely in netspeak or all caps is expressly forbidden.

Here is a whole genre of writing that has been plagued by the novelty of this gr8 little shorthand.  (Needless to say, English teachRs R also not u-niversally embracing the gnu slang.)

iStories of IM-ing in iBunk

In the iBunk issue of Bunk Magazine,Encrypted Lovers” takes up the copyfight battle, but its form is the Instant Messaging exchange. (Of course, you can only read about the chat on your iPod, which can’t currently text, but will not doubt soon double as a videophone.)

Also, in iBunk, Remmy’s “Your Songs in Stalk” features a one-sideded epistolary novel along the lines of an SMS Screwtape Letters

L33tl3 Comics

The Comixpedia cites Fred Gallagaher’s Megatokyo as a heavy influence on the mainstream spread of l33t speak.

Phreaky tales

Phreak-speak features prominantly in “Accountant: Life on the Streets” by Bryn Sparks, published in Best of Apex 2005, Vol 1.

IM Remixes
Trevor Smith speculated about a tool that would remix novels and “reformat them to look like instant messaging among the characters.” Here’s a link to a few pages of “Everyone in Silico” by Jim Munroe.

Epistolary Email Novels

Of course, I would be remiss not to include a mention of a few novels written in emails:

Rob Wittig’s Blue Company 2002 and Scott Rettberg’s Kind of Blue.


As a chatbot-advocate, I should perhaps be arguing that such chatbots as V-Girl offer another source of instant-messaging/texting fiction, but I shall save that argument for another day.

With link to the the collaborative audio/visual public performance piece simpleTEXT, Jeremy is onto some other more exciting uses of texting in digital character art that I look forward ot hearing about soon. (Keep an eye on the feed, Jeremy’s been keeping it hopping).

Related links

Bibliography of tech texts for teens (by Traci Gardiner) online content developer on NCTE’s Read Write Think.

No doubt, other novels and tales feature IM-ing, l33t, or netspeak prominently. Writers Respond Thus: send examples.

1 Response to “IM Netspeak L33t Fiction”

  1. 1 Jeremy Douglass

    Mark, I stumbled into talking about 1337 aesthetics in the middle of a symposium talk on password aesthetics this summer. That is, corporate-enforced password creation (required number and symbol mix-in) has a number of similar aesthetics to 1337, and it is interesting to think about why:

    1337 aesthetics are particular and requires extra interpretation to process. This makes it hard for people who don’t get it to read, which is why subcultures like it. It is also hard to remember, which is most why password users would rather not use it.

    Free letter-number and letter-symbol substitution combinatorially expands the possible number of ways of saying the same word, so a subculture discourse becomes less search-engine searchable: many people are spelling “owned” in a dozen or a hundred slightly different ways, occasionally using a consistent misspelling based on their specific message board / forum / niche. For an insular or underground subculture, this is a feature of 1337 - it opens up language to regional inflection and accent, which brings with it the potential for more shibboleth’s that expose outsiders. For password memorizers, of course, tiny seemingly-insignificant variations in the basic sense of a word or phrase are pure poison - they exploit the gap between what a symbol string is remembered for (its sense) and what it actually is, leading to more forgetting and failure.

    I’ll go on at some other time, but you get the idea. I think IM often gets represented purely as a kind of subversive misspelling, the way people discuss the politics of ebonics grammar patterns. Efficiency is also part of the picture, but I wonder whether or not privacy and security aren’t at least as important - and in that sense, whether the culture of 13375p34|< and corporate mainframe security best practices might be mirrors rather than antitheses.

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