Southeast Student Pens a Novella via Text Messaging Service


Photo of Sara Schmidt

Sara Schmidt with her daughter Sage.

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Oct. 30, 2006 – Sara Schmidt, a general studies major who is completing her degree entirely online at Southeast Missouri State University, has had a rare opportunity to demonstrate her talent for writing young adult fiction.

Since 2003, Schmidt, of Hillsboro, Mo., has been writing for YouthNoise, a Web site whose mission is to inspire and empower young people everywhere to catapult their passion and idealism into bettering the planet. Schmidt said her boss asked her to write a text novella as a part of RE*Generation, a movement designed by YouthNoise and Virgin Mobile USA to call attention to teen and young adult issues.

“Ghost Town” is RE*Generation’s first major project. The episodes, written in text message slang and delivered to users twice a day, focus on the issue of teenage homelessness. 

“At first I was really excited, but then I panicked. After interviewing homeless kids and Rick Koca, the founder of StandUp for Kids, I was sure I wouldn’t be able to do these kids justice and my writing wouldn’t be authentic enough,” said Schmidt.

“Ghost Town” is about a homeless high school football player named Ghost. The novella focuses on his adventures with his friends. Each of the eight characters in the novella has a back story written by Schmidt about them on the YouthNoise Web site, as well as individual profiles on MySpace.

Only those with Virgin Mobile phones could get the text message episodes for “Ghost Town” sent twice a day. Users had to sign up for it by texting “Ghost” to a certain number and then paid for the messages. Ariel Rosen, director of pro-social initiatives for Virgin Mobile USA, said that standard charges applied, typically five cents per message or just one cent a message if the user was on a special promotional plan that charges $9.99 a month for text messaging. The company is donating part of the proceeds to YouthNoise and StandUp for Kids.

Each scene is about 160 characters long, enough to fit into one text message. Those who signed up for the novella received the messages through Sept. 15. The majority of subscribers were young adults and teenagers, totaling around 10,000. In addition to receiving two episodes of “Ghost Town” a day, subscribers were also invited to participate in polls over the phone, visit characters’ MySpace profiles and read the characters’ blogs.

“Using the language of text messages was the biggest writing challenge,” said Schmidt. “We had to keep cutting and cutting and cutting. We had to work our way backwards. Then we had to put it in text-speak.”