11:59pm

Fri January 7, 2011
Three-Minute Fiction

Three-Minute Fiction Round 6: Laughing And Crying

It's back! Three-Minute Fiction has returned to weekends on All Things Considered. We're bringing you a new judge and a new challenge to start off this new year.

Our contest has a simple premise. We're looking for original, short fiction that can be read in less than three minutes -- that's no more than 600 words.

Our judge for Round 6 is novelist and short-story writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She's the author of the critically acclaimed books Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun.

Our Round 6 Challenge
Each round, our judge throws out a challenge for our writers, and Adichie has a good one: At some point in your story, one character must tell a joke. And, one character must cry.

To be clear, the character who tells the joke can also be the character who cries, and the crying does not have to be in reference to the joke. Just at some point within your 600-word story, those two actions have to happen, Adichie says.

"In fact, I'd say if the crying came from the joke, that joke might not be very funny," Adichie tells All Things Considered host Guy Raz. "But hey, if the writer can make it work!"

Adichie is hoping the stories she reads will be entertaining, but she's really looking for a story that grapples with human emotion.

"I am interested in character and in emotion," she says. "I think that's really for me, what fiction is about, and I think the ability to cry and the ability to laugh, for me, is in some ways what defines humanity."

"It would be lovely if there was an inventive use of language," she adds. Nailing character, emotion and inventive language in no more than 600 words would be fantastic, she says, but that's a pretty tough thing to do.

But getting down to just what matters is what short stories can do best. Writing very brief fiction "forces you to go down to the essentials," Adichie says. "Sometimes you find that stories have a lot of padding."

Some Rules

We're accepting submissions until 11:59 p.m. ET on Sunday, Jan. 23. We must be able to read your stories aloud in three minutes or less, so again, the maximum is 600 words.

Only one entry per person. Send in your story by clicking on the "Send Us Your Original Short Story" link on the Three-Minute Fiction page.

Each and every story will be read. This time around, the faculty and students from NYU's creative writing graduate program will be helping us judge.

And, as in previous rounds, we'll post some of our favorites on NPR.org each week as we begin to narrow it down. We'll check in with Adichie every few weeks on-air as well, to find out which stories have caught her eye.

The winning story will be read on-air in its entirety, and the winner will receive a signed copy of Chimamanda's book The Thing Around Your Neck.

Finally, Adichie says to just have fun writing your story. "Sometimes the best fiction comes out from a very light touch." Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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