Three-Minute Fiction: Send Us Your Stories
All Things Considered, June 20, 2009 · At NPR, we love to hear, and tell, your real-life stories every day. Now, we want to hear your fiction as well.
This summer, we're beginning a contest called "Three-Minute Fiction." The premise is simple: Listeners send in original short stories that can be read in three minutes or less — that's usually about 500-600 words long.
James Wood, literary critic forThe New Yorker and author of the book How Fiction Works, will serve as NPR's "Three-Minute Fiction" guide. Wood will appear on-air throughout the summer to read his favorite submissions, and we'll also post them here on NPR.org.
Wood tells NPR's Guy Raz that writing a 500-word story "strikes at the very heart of the short story as a project, which is to get something going rapidly." Writing three-minute fiction is good practice. Think, he says, of the masters of the short story, like Anton Chekhov, who began his career writing comic squibs for newspapers.
"This is something that interests all writers, not just short-story writers, but novelists, too," Woods says. "How do you get a character, as it were, into a room and up and going within a sentence or two?"
"One of the most effective ways to get a very short story vivid," he says, "is to think in terms of voice." Maybe the character narrates the story, for example, or perhaps the story is told within the consciousness of the character. "In other words," Wood says, "thinking in terms of the story as a dramatic monologue."
Woods offers a piece by Lydia Davis to show how powerful a very brief short story can be. "For Sixty Cents" is a terse story, just over 200 words, that brings a moment in a Brooklyn coffee shop to life. It's fragmentary and suggestive, like the pieces Wood expects to hear from listeners.
"I'm going to be looking at a writer's ability to suggest a world, rather than to fill it in and dot every i."
Wood's reading of "For Sixty Cents" clocks in at 1 minute, 3 seconds — proof that a good story can be told in three minutes or less.
Now, lend us your imagination.