Your Twitter bio can be a lot of things. Sardonic. Straight up. Cheesy. Scary. Yawnsville. But one thing it has to be is short: 160 characters short.
Get it right, you get followed. Get it wrong, tumbleweed…
Most agree on the main things your Twitter bio should say:
Your profession – Marketer. Biologist. Comedian. These things help potential followers instantly know what you do.
Accomplishments – Books. Trophies. Number of super yachts. These things help potential followers think that what you say might be worth hearing.
And personal stuff – Grandfather. TV addict. Hedgehog hotelier. These things engage potential followers on more than just a professional level.
These guides also include advice on what not to say:
Don’t lie: If you’re a successful comedian with a fleet of super yachts and make oak timber framed retreats for hibernating hedgehogs, good on you. If not, stick to the facts, ma’am.
And don’t try to be funny: Unless you’re that comedian who loves spikey critters. (This compilation of funny Twitter bios will tickle you.)
But there is a profession that employs the same rapid-fire, staccato style to describe people: the screenwriting profession.
And the tricks the best Hollywood screenwriters use to craft evocative, memorable, ultra concise character descriptions are wonderful sources of inspiration for your Twitter bio.
What are Character Descriptions?
Screenwriting has rules. Here are a few:
Length: Most scripts are under 120 pages, 1 page representing 1 minute of screentime
Tone of voice: Present tense only, people
Format: Scene headings, action, and dialogue only
Screenwriters are also only supposed to write about what we see on screen. But that is the one rule they routinely break when they introduce their main characters (heroes and villains) – and one broken rule that their readers – producers, directors, actors – happily overlook.
Let’s look at an example from L.A. Confidential (1997) by Brian Helgeland & Curtis Hanson:
Note how short this is (most character descriptions are two or three lines tops). We get the character’s name in ALL CAPS. Though this isn’t a rule, their age too. And anything they wear that stands out (in this case, spectacles to indicate that Ed is bookish).
Now, your name and photo should take care of telling people who you are and what you look like, even your age.
We are interested in what’s left. In the unfilmable moral insights and backstory stuff that screenwriters sprinkle over their character descriptions to bring those characters to life.
Probably the coolest 75-year-old on the planet
In the script for Children of Men (2006) by Alfonso Cuarón, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby, this is the character description of Jasper Palmer, played by Michael Caine:
Instantly you can visualise the die-hard, erudite hippie. And you can use this ‘Probably the X Y on the planet’ technique in a number of ways on your Twitter bio.
Here are two (made up) examples:
Probably the worst tweeter on the planet.
Probably the coolest peg salesman on the planet.
Is there something ‘cool’ or ‘uncool’ about you that you could mention in your Twitter bio? Probably.
You’d never want to hang out with him back on Earth
Here’s another great character description by Alfonso Cuarón and his son, Jonás, for the 2013 hit Gravity (Cuarón writes great character descriptions):
Matt is great at his job, but not quite such a great human being. And most of us have areas where we excel (at work or as human beings); and areas where we are sadly lacking (at work or as human beings).
And using this contrast – with sincerity or humour – is a neat way to frame your Twitter bio.
Here are a two totally fictional examples to get you thinking:
Dog sitter. I’m the best guy to call when your best friend needs company, but you’d never want me to hang out with your budgie.
Accountant. Awe-inspiring with numbers. Awe-full with words.
Rock ‘n roll arsonist
Most of the advice you read on writing your Twitter bio urges you to fill up the 160 character limit to the brim.
But some of the best – meaning followerable and memorable – Twitter bios are just a few words. And some of the best – and most followerable and memorable – character descriptions have been equally succinct.
And none have had such an impact on budding writers as the character description of Teddy Laursen in Lawrence Kasdan’s Body Heat (1981). (Kasdan also wrote or co-wrote some other mildly popular films including The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.).
Here is how the script Jedi introduced Teddy:
Kasdan didn’t need anymore. He nailed it with ‘rock ‘n roll arsonist’. And here’s one way you can use the same approach in your Twitter bio.
A lot of people on Twitter like to tell the world what their favourite music is.
But instead of:
Gardener. Likes grooving to techno. Why not: Digs techno.
Dentist. Loves listening to folk music. Why not: Folk dentist.
And you don’t have to just pair your profession with your taste in music. You can match your profession to a hobby too: Base jumping engineer.
A thousand neckties
This is how Marty Bach is introduced in Michael Clayton (2007) by Tony Gilroy:
‘Velvet switchblade’, very Kasdan-esque, stands out. But focus on the ‘thousand neckties’ phrase. This implies that Marty is vain (and rich). Something you probably don’t want to use in your Twitter bio.
But most people collect things. In my case, I have 6 dogs. Not 1 or 2 or even 3 – 6. I also collect books about my fav philosopher, Nietzsche, whose ideas are increasingly used in movies and TV series (remember Heath Ledger’s Joker: ‘whatever doesn’t kill you, simply makes you…’stranger’? Nolan knows his Nietzsche).
So in my Twitter bio I could say:
Freelance Copywriter. Owns a thousand books about Nietzsche. And six Dandie Dinmont terriers. What doesn’t bark makes you keep your leg down.
Which is much more interesting than:
Freelance Copywriter. Collects books about Nietzsche. Dog owner.
If you collect things (maybe not a thousand, but feel free to exaggerate) show me the numbers.
Polyester was made for this man
As you’d expect from the best comedy writers on the planet, most writers of comedy movies use humour to introduce their main characters.
Here are two examples, first from an action movie that had moments of great hilarity.
This is the brilliant introduction to Thelma’s pathetic husband, Darryl Dickinson, in Thelma & Louise (1990) by Callie Khouri:
Khouri fleshes Darryl’s selfish and vain character out a little further in the script, but the phrase ‘Polyester was made for this man’ summed him up perfectly – and had a huge influence on screenwriters the world over.
Now, I know you don’t want the world to think you’re like Darryl. But is there something – a favourite fashion item, favourite food, even a place – that could have been made just for you?
Here are a few examples to get you thinking:
Blancmange was invented just for me.
Cornwall was made for me.
Snake belts were made for me.
Next up we have the short and sweet one line introduction to Laura Pickler from the 2011 movie Butter written by Jason A. Micallef:
Now, you already have your name writ large on your Twitter page. Your age can probably (unless you use an avatar) be discerned by your photo. But you can use ‘x is none of your business’ in your Twitter bio.
Here are two fictional examples:
Freelance designer. What I do when not creating great websites for my clients is none of your business.
Wedding florist. What I do when not obsessing over what makes the perfect bouquet is none of your business.
He’d be JFK to her Jackie O… if he gave a shit.
Taken from another comedy script, this is how Dan Fogelman introduced us to not one but two characters in Crazy Stupid Love (2011):
Obviously, what makes this great is the line ‘He’d be JFK to her Jackie O… if he gave a shit.’ But a lot of people on Twitter are married or best friends as well as being business partners.
And a lot of those name and link to their business partner, wife or husband, or best pal in their Twitter bios. If that’s you, why not emphasise the differences that make your double act successful?
All you need to do is agree which historical or cultural couple you’d like to be associated with and ensure both Twitter bios stay on message.
Oh, you don’t have to add the ‘if I gave a shit’ bit. But you could make an inside joke about each other in this way.
Here’s an example:
Mad inventor at Awesome Fireworks. My @wife is the calm and sensible marketer. She’d buy me out… if she could find the key to the garden shed.
Sun-battered veteran of the Afghanistan campaigns
A lot of movies involve characters that have been there, seen it, and done it. This is the action packed intro to Dr Watson in Sherlock Holmes (2009) by Mike Johnson:
Now, a lot of people on Twitter use their Twitter bio to showcase their experience. And when they do, they often just say, ‘experienced in X or Y for Z years’ etc. Which is, well, boring!
If you’ve been knee-deep in the trenches and lived to tell the tale, saying you have ‘a lot of experience’ is one way to really undersell yourself.
How about this fictional Twitter bio for an ‘experienced’ publisher:
Battle-scarred survivor of a thousand and one book launches. Itching for number one thousand and two.
You can flip this too. Here’s an example, this time for a fictional swimming instructor who is just starting out:
Swimming instructor. Newly qualified. Wet behind the ears but ready to dive right in when you are.
Whether you’re just starting out or already there, don’t be shy.
A man who knows more about living inside a computer than outside one
Few movies move cinema in a new direction; for me, The Matrix back in 1999 was one of those films. And as you’d expect, the screenplay written by The Wachowski Brothers is as great to read as the movie was to watch.
In the script for The Matrix, the Wachowski brothers could have introduced Neo to us as just ‘a computer expert’. They didn’t.
Here’s how they announced Neo to the world:
Now, when it comes to telling the world your expertise, you could say, ‘expert in X’. Or you could express how much more of an expert you are than anyone else and indicate the level of your obsessive commitment to your work.
As well as knowing a lot about copywriting (and a little about screenwriting), as I’ve mentioned earlier I’ve read a lot of Nietzsche.
So I could say:
Freelance copywriter. Knows more about Nietzsche than can possibly be good for anyone.
If you’re the best at something or obsessed with something, don’t say ‘expert in X’ or ‘loves Y’ – make us believe you’re the expert in X or totally love Y.
That way, we will want to follow you.
This time next year I’ll be dead
In American Beauty (1999) by Alan Ball, the main character is revealed in dialogue, in this case in a voice over:
Notice how casually this reads. This is me. This is where I live. This is my age. By the way, I’m going to die next year. Boom.
Hopefully you’re not dying (I know we all are, but you know what I mean). But can you drip feed humdrum details about yourself then smash your readers out of the park with something totally unexpected?
Here’s an example to get you thinking:
HR Director. Tea-addict. Happily married. A year from now, I’ll be singing show tunes from the summit of Mount Everest.
Wait, what? Really? Wow. Definitely following you.
Epilogue: You’re the star of your Twitter bio
Imagine condensing the name, age, backstory, appearance, skills, occupation, fears, hopes, dreams, and moral character of Hermione Granger, Indiana Jones, Scarlett O’Hara, Forrest Gump, even Yoda – in two or three lines.
That’s what screenwriters do when they introduce the main characters in their screenplays. And they bend or even break the rules to do so.
You’re the hero of your (brand) story. When you introduce yourself to the world (on Twitter or anywhere else), everything you say about who you are and what makes you unique is vital.
And even if you’re not a great writer, you can certainly learn a trick from some of the most imaginative and successful writers on the planet.
Here’s one final idea. Actually, two. Think of a movie character that you identify with. They might be an historical figure, a superhero, even a cartoon character.
Find the script you want and search for the character description (the first time your character is introduced, so usually early on in the script).
Now see if it can inspire the character description of your Twitter bio.
Finally, if you do rewrite your Twitter bio, you might also want to rethink your profile imagery. If the character you’re now describing doesn’t fit with the mugshot you’re using, change it.
And when you’re all done, feel free to share the results with me.