“Two households, totally unalike in dignity…” by Lydia K. '14, MEng '16
On picking majors and following your dreams, Romeo and Juliet, Twitter, Sherlock, and the future of television.
Juliet Capulet, portrayed by Chelsea R. ‘15 and photographed by Emily K.-L. ‘16.
About a week ago I sat down with one my best friends Chelsea R. ‘15 to talk about one of her favorite classes, Writing for Social Media, and the universe it comes from. I deeply respect Chelsea for building a career out of her true passions, even though the road hasn’t been paved, and I wish I’d known older her when I was a younger me. I’m excited to be able to share some of her insights with you. I also hope her online work can be a helpful distraction for those of you who are waiting on more college admissions decisions (and/or maybe happen to like Sherlock).
Lydia: Okay. Who are you and what are you doing in my house?
Chelsea: Um, well, I’m Chelsea. I’m a junior in course 21E. 21E is something that not a lot of people know exists. 21E (Humanities and Engineering) and 21S (Humanities and Science) are the joint majors; they’re the majors where you squish humanities and science disciplines together. My joint major is between comparative media studies (CMS) and course 6, computer science. I am in your house because you, uh, invited me here.
L: Tell me about your Writing for Social Media class.
C: Writing for Social Media (CMS.613/21W.751) is—I
don’t know where else you could find a class like it. It’s about social media strategy as well as producing stuff for social media—and “stuff” is all kinds of stuff.
The first portion of the class focused on projecting an image out into the Internet. The focus was looking at how other people personalized their social media images and how brands did it. Then we had to create our own goals and tweet at least five times a day to project some kind of image. I made one focusing more on my goals of eating healthy and keeping fit during a stressful semester. We’re all figuring out how to project a consistent image online. The posting has to be regular, which is really important when it comes to social media.
The second phase of the class is adaptive Internet stuff. We are doing group projects that adapt some kind of—I think all three of the groups are adapting some kind of extant thing and making it into a Twitter, uh, thing. One group is doing the first season of Battlestar Gallactica. The characters of Battlestar Gallactica are going to be tweeting as if they are going through the first season of Battlestar Gallactica—but with Twitters. It’ll sound very, very familiar if you’ve ever heard of fanfiction. In a way, it is fanfiction, but there are constraints that Twitter offers as a medium for storytelling that make it a very different environment.
And then in the third phase we get to do whatever kind of creative project we want but—again—Twitter.
Right now we’re all hard at work on our adaptive projects. Those will post throughout March and through the first week of April.
L: Tell me about your particular adaptation and the creative work that you are putting into it.
C: It’s a group project, so it’s me and it’s two other students, Gustavo and Taylor. And they’re both wonderful. We decided to adapt Romeo and Juliet for Twitter. Immediately you go, “Oh, Romeo and Juliet, everyone knows that story!” But there is a reason it’s still around and we’re still talking about it, and we continue to study it in school. We are bringing it to Twitter.
We tossed around a couple of ideas. There’s one kind of Twitter adaptation that was exemplified by, like, Mad Men roleplayers on Twitter. Mad Men is set in the sixties, and in the sixties you don’t have Twitter. That doesn’t really matter! They’re tweeting, from the sixties.
We considered doing that with Romeo and Juliet but then we decided to sort of update it instead. Of course there have been updates of Romeo and Juliet. We wanted to do something different, so we changed the conflict around a little bit. And the way we’re going to tweet—the way we’re going to treat—L: [laughter]—C: their Twitters is as if they’re actual people going about their actual lives. They tweet about their days and they tweet about what’s happening to them and if some super-dramatic thing is happening in the plot they will not be online to tweet about it. Because that’s not how real life necessarily works. (Um, it does work that way for some people.) The fight scene between Tybalt and Mercutio? If Romeo’s trying to get in the middle of them to stop them from fighting, he’s not going to be tweeting about it—“OMG guys, cut it out!”—he’s going to be conspicuously absent for a period of a couple of hours. If he is being accused of murder he is going to be conspicuously absent for a very long time because he does not want anyone to find him.
One of the questions that we sat down and we asked ourselves was, why Twitter? Of course the obvious
answer is because we have to use Twitter for this project. But there should be another reason behind doing any kind of storytelling on any social media platform. Why this platform? What affordances does this platform have and what limitations does it have that make it ideal for telling this story this way? We wanted to get the Internet involved. The thing about Romeo and Juliet is obviously it’s a very secret relationship: it’s kept from parents, it’s kept from the eyes of authority. Where do teenagers keep things from other people? The Internet, right? So that’s the direction we decided to go.
Of course we also made a few other changes. We aged up Juliet. She is now a high school senior. Applying to college! Well, she’s waiting to hear back from colleges. Her parents want her to go abroad to the University of Paris. She’s not sure about it. But she is actually growing up in a college town, fair Verona City, USA. The university in the town is Montague State University. They have a lot of frats and rowdy frat boys. One of the rowdy frat boys is Romeo.
If these two people met in real life—first of all, they wouldn’t. Juliet’s father is the mayor and he does not want her hanging around these college boys. He doesn’t like them very much. They cause a lot of public disturbances. L: As college boys do. C: As college boys do. But online, if they find each other and start talking, there are no limitations…especially if their names aren’t on their profiles. Well, their last names. And their fraternity affiliations. You understand. There’s nothing to get in the way of that relationship blossoming online, whereas real life factors would have kept them from ever even meeting.
L: I think it’s beautiful that in the same way that Twitter facilitates the relationship of Romeo and Juliet in this adaptation, Twitter and social media facilitate the storytelling and the connection between fans and these stories.
C: The thing about telling a story on any form of social media is that it allows the potential for interactivity. The characters in Romeo and Juliet in this adaptation are not just going to be following each other. They’re going to be citizens of the world. If people talk to them, they might talk back. No promises, but it’s possible! You know, um, Mercutio, who is, a crazy character, is gonna follow, like, Kim Kardashian—L: [laughter]—C: and Miley Cyrus, you know.
L: I follow Miley Cyrus and Kim Kardashian.
C: You follow Miley Cyrus and Kim Kardashian. Um.
His profile is really funny, by the way. His, um, profile picture is a little bit inappropriate. His display name is Mercuti-YOOOO. L: [laughter] C: So, uh, definitely check that one out. That is probably my favorite of the bunch. And Taylor, who’s primarily responsible for writing tweets for him, is very funny.
Not only can people talk to the characters, we as writers have to dig into what they do on a day to day basis because people don’t only tweet when dramatic things are happening to them. Hopefully that should flesh out the characters and make them more relatable to a wider audience.
L: How did you arrive at CMS? How did you find yourself gravitating toward it?
C: CMS as a department has an incredible amount of variance in it.
A lot of people gravitate towards CMS because there’s a lot of things in there about video games—writing for video games, making video games. What I’m interested in is fan cultures, Internet studies, and things like that: writing for the Internet.
It’s definitely a department that I recommend people check out. People aren’t necessary aware of their options when it comes to picking a good concentration or even a minor. There’s a lot of opportunity at MIT to open up and explore things you haven’t explored yet. I think CMS is a great department for that. I wish I’d realized it existed when I was a freshman.
When I came to MIT I was determined to be course 6, which was so silly in retrospect because I always wanted to write and I kind of wanted to be a novelist. But I was a very practical 18-year-old and I also wanted to make sure I could feed myself. I came to MIT with the intention of majoring in in 6-3, graduating, finding a programming job somewhere. And coding during the day and writing at night and being able to feed myself and never having to really worry about that. L: Still kind of my plan. C: Yeah. L: [laughter]
C: The thing that I realized as I took my GIRs my freshman year and I took 6.01 (Introduction to Electrical Engineering and Computer Science I) was I couldn’t really envision a future for myself that was structured like that. I looked at the writing department and, you know, the writing department here is stellar, but there was still a part of me that was, like, “Oh, don’t you want to make sure that you can eat?” Of course there are plenty of people who graduate with creative writing degrees who can feed themselves, so I started to look at the other things that MIT had to offer and I came across comparative media studies and the class list and the major structure. I was looking at the classes, and I just said, “Wow, this is everything I like to do for fun! but as a major! I can study the things I like to do for fun!”
Something that I would recommend to everyone is to pursue something that you really love, because it will make your life so much more meaningful.
L: Could you tell me about how this connects to some
of the work you’ve been doing outside of your classes?
C: Since it’s a relatively new thing that I’m pursuing, I’ve only done a couple of internships. I did two internships in LA this summer. One for a PR company, one for a production company, both in their digital departments. I came into that fresh off of taking Fans and Fan Cultures (CMS.621/CMS.821), which is another excellent CMS
class that I really recommend.
L: What did you do there?
C: I worked a little bit on transmedia stuff for the production company. Transmedia is telling stories across different platforms. I ended up doing tie-in stuff for one of the series they were helping produce. For the PR company I did a lot involving developing digital strategies for the company’s clients. They were two very different experiences; they were very different work environments. But I learned a lot there, I made a lot of connections, and it actually led directly to the internship I did last semester and which I’m continuing to do this semester.
It was different from what my course 6 friends did over the summer. Most of them were at, you know—one of my friends was up in Seattle at Microsoft, and living in a house and getting paid an exorbitant amount of money working at Microsoft and I was sleeping on an air mattress on my cousin’s floor in her one-bedroom apartment, in Hollywood. Um, and—L: Sounds so romantic.—C: living off of my savings—so romantic—and money I’d won in a writing contest at MIT the previous semester. Uh, super romantic. Definitely. I feel like it’s one of those typical East Coast girl goes to Hollywood, tries to make it experiences except I wasn’t trying to become an actress.
L: Could you tell me a little about the internship that you’re continuing this semester?
C: I’m working for this company called The Alchemists. They work on transmedia production, transmedia strategy. They’ve done stuff for Coke and they did a series of commercials for Marvel Comics. They’re currently working on a Hulu exclusive series called East Los High about teenagers in LA.
I’m mostly helping them with their social media outreach right now. Their company’s all about expanding properties onto other platforms and they’re trying to get more of themselves online, too. I’m kind of the Tumblr intern. Tumblr is the platform I probably use the most. (Or it was, at least until I had to start using Twitter at least five times a day for Writing for Social Media this semester.) I’ve been writing, I’ve been helping them update their Tumblr, I’ve been writing blog posts for the Tumblr, generally about fans, fan cultures, social media, and how the powers that be—as we call them—interact with social media. I did one last week about the show Hannibal, and how Hannibal’s Tumblr is just so on point.
It’s exciting. I’m learning a lot. And it’s generally pretty manageable with all of my other responsibilities this semester.
L: Could you tell me about storytelling through social media and how it’s
C: Fans have been telling stories online for a very long time. I’d say even some of your casual readers probably know about FanFiction.net—that would sound familiar. Archive of Our Own is the current, uh, quality archive out there. Roleplaying has also always been a big thing. Forums, LiveJournal, uh, and you could call those I guess media facilitated storylines because I think of roleplaying as interactive writing that’s kind of more on the spot.
I run a blog with a co-author, Seth—who is amazing—that is a work of fanfiction but it’s interactive because it’s on Tumblr and the plot is moved forward by question answering. So people submit questions to the characters, the characters will answer, and sometimes they’ll just answer in a way that’s funny or meaningful, and sometimes they’ll say something and it opens up a whole new door into a plotline. And it’s awesome!
When you’re chronicling characters’ daily lives it’s a lot easier to fill in the gaps. On a TV show that’s a crime procedural you mostly only see crime procedural stuff. You’ll sometimes get a few minutes of character backstory and looks into what they do every day but not much. Now if the show completely changed course and became, you know, focused on the domestic lives of characters, obviously that would not be what that show would want to do. Through social media it’s possible to get more of a look into the gaps that the original story doesn’t fill in.
Fans do this, but like, official powers can also do this. Like, it’s—it’s very effective. It makes your characters seem like they’re actual people living in the modern world. I know that for East Los High one of the characters had a vlog and one of the characters who cooked had their recipes posted online. That makes the world seem real: by bringing it onto the Internet, or onto whatever other platform, you’re forced to expand the world. And it forces you to expand your characters, too.
L: Could you tell me about some of the successful uses of social media by companies that do storytelling?
C: Go look at The Alchemists. They’re awesome.
Also, one of the primary examples of this is of course The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Are you familiar with The Lizzie Bennet Diaries? L: No. C: Okay, so The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is a little bit—we drew a little bit of inspiration from this for our Romeo and Juliet Twitter project. It’s an updating and an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. The main medium through which the story was communicated was YouTube vlogs. Lizzie Bennet had a YouTube channel, and she would do vlogs, and she would invite other people from her life to come on to the vlogs, and, you know, updated versions of the events from Pride and Prejudice started happening.
You could just follow the YouTube account and it would totally be fine. You would get a complete story. If you wanted a more complete story, all of the characters had social media accounts. Some of them had Twitters, some of them had Tumblrs, and they interacted with each other. So it wasn’t just the vlogs, which I believe came out twice weekly, that told the story. You could watch the vlogs and you would get a complete story. But for a more complete story you could go and read Elizabeth Bennet’s Twitter. You know? Casual.
There are some other properties that have successfully expanded into social media, not from a storytelling perspective but from a fan galvanization perspective. Whether or not you’re interested in telling stories online, I think everybody should be getting on that train. Online presences are so important, especially when you’re trying to reach the key demographic that most movies and TV shows want to reach (young people).
The traditional television format and traditional movies, the way we’re used to them, is not always the way that it’s going to be. More and more things are ending up online and things that would have been indie are ending up with wider audiences. As things get progressively disseminated, it’s going to be increasingly important to draw people in. Again, online storytelling is a really good way to do this. It’s something that makes you stand out to fans. I think that more and more storytelling is going to move online. Not necessarily through social media but, you already know, binge watching through Netflix is a thing. Amazon Prime and Netflix and Hulu and all their exclusive online series. I think they’re only the beginning of the trend.
L: Tell me about your dreams and plans for the future.
C: They’re a little undecided as of yet. I have an idea, and the idea is that I really want to go into this stuff. I’m passionate about storytelling, I’m passionate about the digital, and so digital storytelling is really about the best of both worlds. I do want to tell my own stories. I love writing. I would love to write a novel.
L: It really feels like you’ve already written several.
C: Doesn’t it? It does to me, a little bit.
The answer is yes. I feel like they wouldn’t be considered novels because a lot of them are either published online or they’re derivative works—fanfiction—or they’re both. I undertook an extremely expansive project with Seth to fill in the gaps of the TV show Sherlock. That was the question and answer blog that I mentioned. People would come in and they would ask questions to Watson and Holmes, and I would respond as Watson and Seth would respond as Holmes and we would shoot the response out there into the world. And sometimes if that wasn’t enough to explain what was going on with them we would write thousands and thousands and thousands of words to fill in the scenes.
L: The blog’s actually gotten very popular, hasn’t it?
C: Yeah, the blog has a lot of followers. I don’t want to brag.
L: You can brag. It’s okay.
C: The blog has—we hit 14,000 a few days ago. It’s really exciting. It’s sad because I’m also having a little bit of trouble finding time to update regularly with my crazy semester schedule but we’re working on it still. Because the new season of Sherlock came out, that means there is new stuff to explore—L: New gaps to fill in. So many gaps!—C: Let’s not get into that! But we did give the entire second season of Sherlock this treatment. And I don’t even know how many thousands of words we wrote in total. We had probably something like 800 questions and answers, along with a number of prose interludes, and the prose interludes could run thousands of words long. There were 16 what we would call interludes. There were four or five flashbacks, which could be about the same length. There were several transcripts from telephone conversations. All this, um, it’s basically an insane amount of writing. And it was collaborative between Seth and me, and also between us and the fans. Because the people who read the blog submit questions—you know, one of them submitted a question from a character we had not even considered incorporating into the story but who became a major player just because someone sent an ask.
L: You don’t usually have the power to change the story as you’re reading it. That’s really special.
C: I think it’s a way to give back to the people who read. Because they can make a huge difference. I think that a lot of successful people have already sort of figured that out. You know, be good to your fans and they’ll be good to you. But this takes it to a whole new level. It’s okay to not have 300% control. You can still have a vision. You can still follow that vision. But your vision always has room for alterations. And improvisation. And that’s what makes it fun.
That’s what we’re hoping to do with the Romeo and Juliet project. We do have a general outline for how the events are going to go and be adapted. But if someone starts talking to Juliet about physics class, you know, they can talk to Juliet about physics class. She’s in AP Physics. L: Can you help me with my physics homework, Juliet? C: Yeah. You know, and then Juliet can talk to someone about Gauss’s Law. It could happen! It’s not bound. It’s a flexible storytelling environment.
You guys should all read! You should all read Romeo and Juliet. You know, follow the blog! Read the story. If it’s not your thing, just drop the story. If it is your thing, you know, ask Juliet about your physics homework. Tell Romeo he’s being silly mooning
over a girl he hasn’t met in real life. Uh. Recommend some music to Mercutio. Send him pictures of big booties. Don’t—don’t publish that. He likes the booty. I mean, but they’re—they’re here to be followed but they’re also here to be talked to. And you never know! They might reply.
Follow and interact with the characters’ Twitters here:
- @swansongjuliet Juliet: living in ruins of a palace within my dreams
- @dontcallmenurse Rachel Nurse: my name is rachel nurse and i’m not a nurse. if you need a nurse don’t even talk to me. call an ambulance.
- @RomeoDreamsBig Romeo: A lover, not a fighter.
- @merctwerk Mercuti-YOOOO: Mu Omicron Nu brother. Only twerkin sometimes but always stealin yo girl.
- @BenVolioIV Benjamin Volio IV: The only sane Mu Omicron Nu brother you will ever meet.
- @MayorCapulet Mayor Capulet: The official Twitter of Peter Capulet, Mayor of Verona City.
- @MontagueStateU Montague State: The official Twitter of Montague State University.
Alternatively, follow the syndicated list here or a daily digest of tweets on the Tumblr. Have fun!