NPR's Three-Minute Fiction contest: Round Three

More than 9,000 entries later, NPR urges a new group of listeners to try their hands at very short fiction.

Do you have an "inner author" just waiting – time willing – to emerge? This maybe your moment. Check out Round Three of National Public Radio's Three-Minute Fiction contest, which begins Friday, Feb. 12, and lasts through Feb. 28.

In this case, "three minutes" refers to the approximate amount of time it would take to read the story aloud. "We asked ourselves, 'Why not see if we can't get people to write three-minute fiction (about 500 to 600 words),' " says Guy Raz, weekend host of NPR news program All Things Considered. It seemed potentially a good way to engage listeners and three minutes is about the length of the program's typical commentary pieces.

Round One of the contest kicked off last summer. The goal was "a narrative that can be worked out quickly," says Raz. "You don't have time for literary flourishes and self-indulgence."

The result was a flood of more than 9,000 stories, stretching out over Rounds One and Two of the contest. New Yorker book critic James Wood served as judge and proclaimed himself delighted with the quality of the entries. "Some of these people should go find agents," Wood told Raz after looking at the work of the finalists.

Interestingly, says Raz, few of the finalists were professional writers – or even aspiring professional writers. "It really challenges your assumptions about who a writer is," he says.

Round Three asks writers to use a photograph as a jumping-off point for the story. (Round Two asked writers to begin with the sentence, "The nurse left work at five o'clock; Round One had no restrictions.)

The judge for the Round Three entries will be NPR book critic Alan Cheuse. And if should you miss Round Three? Not to worry. Round Four will be following soon, with novelist Ann Patchett serving as judge.

There is no excuse for not taking a stab at the contest, says Raz. "Everybody has a story in them," he insists. And anyway, he adds, "I think a three-minute story isn't insurmountable."

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.

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