Three-Minute Fiction: Send Us Your Stories This summer we're beginning a contest with a simple premise: Listeners send in original short stories that can be read in three minutes or less — that's about 500-600 words long.
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Three-Minute Fiction: Send Us Your Stories

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Three-Minute Fiction: Send Us Your Stories

Three-Minute Fiction: Send Us Your Stories

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GUY RAZ, host:

We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

Take a look at your bookshelf. You might have "Gone with the Wind," or rather 1,048 pages of it.

(Soundbite of rifling pages)

RAZ: Or maybe you have Tolstoy's "War and Peace" and its 1,456 pages.

(Soundbite of rifling pages)

RAZ: And don't even start with the "Harry Potter" series.

(Soundbite of crashing books)

RAZ: That's 17.6 pounds of prose from J.K. Rowling. But does fiction have to be weighty to have an impact? Try this out.

Mr. JAMES WOOD (Literary Critic, The New Yorker): (Reading) He had red whiskers and always went first through doorways.

RAZ: That's a piece of fiction, all 10 words of it, that writer Ford Madox Ford used to love to quote. And it's read to us by James Wood, literary critic for The New Yorker.

Now, James thinks a good story doesn't always need a lot of words, and he's here to briefly kick off our new summer series, it's called Three-Minute Fiction.

(Soundbite of a timer and alarm)

RAZ: The premise is simple. We want you, our listeners, to send in original short stories that can be read in three minutes or less, that's about 500 words or so, give or take. And every few weeks, James Wood will review those submissions and return throughout the summer to read his favorites on the air. And what you'll be doing is tapping into a tradition as old as books themselves.

Mr. WOOD: This is something that interests all writers, not just short story writers, but novelists, too. How do you get a character, as it were, into a room and up and going within a sentence or two?

RAZ: So, what will James be looking for?

Mr. WOOD: I would tend toward the fragmentary, the suggestive, and the anecdotal. 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.

RAZ: And here's an example.

Mr. WOOD: I've brought this very short story, one paragraph long, by a contemporary writer named Lydia Davis, and it's called "For Sixty Cents."

(Reading): You're in a Brooklyn coffee shop. You've ordered only one cup of coffee, and the coffee is 60 cents, which seems expensive to you. But it is not so expensive when you consider that for this same 60 cents, you're renting the use of one cup and saucer, one metal cream pitcher, one plastic glass, one small table, and two small benches.

Then to consume, if you want to, besides the coffee and the cream, you have water with ice cubes, and in their own dispensers: sugar, salt, pepper, napkins and ketchup. In addition, you can enjoy for an indefinite length of time the air conditioning that keeps the room at a perfectly cool temperature, the powerful white electric light that lights every corner of the room so that there are no shadows anywhere, the view of the people passing outside on the sidewalk in the hot sunlight and wind, and the company of the people inside, who are laughing and turning endless variations on one rather cruel joke at the expense of a little balding, redheaded woman, sitting at the counter and dangling her crossed feet from the stool, who tries to reach out with her short, white arm and slap the face of the man standing nearest to her.

RAZ: We clocked you in at just over a minute for that story. So, it does really prove that you can tell a story, you can have a piece of fiction in under three minutes.

Mr. WOOD: You can, indeed.

RAZ: And that was courtesy of author Lydia Davis, read by James Wood.

Thank you, James.

Mr. WOOD: Thank you.

RAZ: James Wood is literary critic for The New Yorker and author of the book "How Fiction Works."

If you want a chance at having James read your fiction on the air to millions of listeners and if you want to win a signed copy of his book, go to our series page at npr.org/threeminutefiction.

(Soundbite of a timer and alarm)

RAZ: That's npr.org/threeminutefiction, with Three Minute Fiction spelled out and no spaces. There, you'll find instructions on how to submit your work, and good luck.

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