Three-Minute Fiction: Countdown To Deadline

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We visit the National Book Festival on Washington's National Mall to ask authors: What's the key to a great short story? Their answers may give you some 11th-hour inspiration for your entry to our Three-Minute Fiction contest. The deadline is Sunday, Sept. 26, at 11:59 p.m. ET.

GUY RAZ, host:

(Soundbite of clock ticking)

It's getting close to midnight. You have just about one day left to submit your entry into our Three Minute Fiction contest. All the details are at our website, npr.org/threeminutefiction.

Now, thousands of stories have already come in, and in case you need some 11th hour inspiration, we popped out at the National Book Festival on the National Mall here in Washington today to ask the question: what makes a good short story?

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. NORTON JUSTER (Author, "The Phantom Tollbooth," "The Odious Ogre"): I'm Norton Juster. I wrote "The Phantom Tollbooth," and my new book is called "The Odious Ogre." You can't develop characters at any great length. You can't develop a situation. But what you can do, I think, in a short story is find surprise, find a way to look at something different from the way people expect it to be.

Ms. JANE SMILEY (Author, "The Georges and the Jewels"): My name is Jane Smiley. I have written "The Georges and the Jewels."

Mr. SCOTT TUROW (Author, "Innocent"): I'm Scott Turow, the author most recently of "Innocent."

Ms. REBECCA STEAD (Author, "When You Reach Me"): I'm Rebecca Stead, and I'm the author of "When You Reach Me."

Ms. SMILEY: The short stories that I remember are the ones with sudden reversal.

Mr. TUROW: I still like the beginning, middle and end kind of thing. I like the rise and fall.

Ms. STEAD: And some kind of emotional beat.

Mr. TUROW: I think that still can make a good story.

Ms. STEAD: A moment that makes your heart pause and then just a kick-ass ending.

Ms. ROSEMARY WELLS, (Author, "Max and Ruby"): Hello. My name is Rosemary Wells. And yes, I did write "Max and Ruby," but I'm also a novelist. I had a high school English teacher named Marie E. O'Connor. What she would do is give us an assignment at the beginning of the week - a question, and she would ask us to answer the question and write a three-paragraph essay. And then as the days progressed, she would ask us to knock one sentence off that essay every single day until we came to the nut-meat - as she called it - of the idea without losing a single important thing.

Mr. KEN FOLLETT (Author, "Fall of Giants"): For me, the greatest thing in a short story is a light touch. If it just tells a story glancingly in the manner of (unintelligible), wonderful writer of deeply moving short stories but with a light touch. That's what I like.

RAZ: The last voice there belongs to novelist Ken Follett who will return to the program tomorrow to talk about his new World War I epic, "Fall of Giants."

Now, to find out more about Three Minute Fiction and to enter, visit npr.org/threeminutefiction. You've got until 11:59 p.m. Eastern time tomorrow. And good luck.

(Soundbite of clock ticking)

RAZ: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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