Three-Minute Fiction Round Five: Starts And Stops

Three-Minute Fiction is back, and it's time for Round Five!

Our contest has a simple premise: Listeners send in original short stories that can be read in three minutes or less. We're looking for original work no longer than 600 words.

Each round, our judges throw out a challenge. This time, your story must begin with the line, "Some people swore that the house was haunted." It must end with, "Nothing was ever the same again after that."

Round Five Rules

Your story must begin with the following line:

"Some people swore that the house was haunted."

Plus, your story must end with this line:

"Nothing was ever the same again after that."

Including these lines, your story must be 600 words or less. One entry per person. Your deadline is 11:59 p.m., EDT, on Sept. 26.

Those lines were written by the judge for this round, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Cunningham. He tells NPR's Guy Raz that he wrote the opening line because he's a huge fan of ghost stories.

"Though I don't expect everyone to write a literal ghost story," he cautions. "There are all sorts of hauntings, many of which do not necessarily involve the spirits of the dead."

The last line was inspired by the great Russian writer Nikolai Gogol. Cunningham says Gogol "didn't actually use that line, but said that every good story should come to such a definitive conclusion that its true, unwritten last line is 'Nothing was ever the same again after that.' I want my writers to use it literally."

Cunningham admits to agonizing over first lines himself. "It is so important and so indicative of the book to come," he says. "I can take up to three months coming up with that first line."

Cunningham will read the winning story on air, and the winner will receive signed copies of his books, The Hours and By Nightfall, to be released in October.

Remember, your story, including the first and last lines, can't total more than 600 words. Only one entry per person, and your story must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. ET on Sept. 26. Check the official rules for more details.

Our friends at the Iowa Writers Workshop will help us read each and every story, and as Round Five progresses, we'll post some of our favorites right here at npr.org/threeminutefiction.

Before you get started, Cunningham offers some final advice: "Please amuse me. Amaze me. Let's go."

About Our Judge, Michael Cunningham

Author Michael Cunningham. Courtesy Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Courtesy Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Michael Cunningham is the author of the novels A Home at the End of the World, Flesh and Blood, The Hours (winner of a PEN/Faulkner Award and the Pulitzer Prize) and Specimen Days. He lives in New York. Farrar, Straus and Giroux will publish his latest novel, By Nightfall, on Oct. 5.

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