On Sunday evening, I entered my first writing contest. It's short...literally. "Three-Minute Fiction", put on by National Public Radio (NPR), has a simple premise: tell a story in 600 words or less.
The very notion of being forced to squish my writing style down like that makes me want to start chewing my nails. It is not unlike - as my mother tells it - when I was punished as a child. My mother knew better than to send me to stand in a corner...there I would simply daydream, perfectly content. Having come up with a much better world in my head, I would become completely disinterested in this one, especially whatever it was I got in trouble for in the first place. No, she knew better than that. The best way, it turned out, was to make me sit still. Just sit there, not moving from my seat. According to her, I would crawl right out of my skin in frustration.
Which is exactly why I chose this contest.
I wanted a challenge. I wanted to stretch my abilities and see what I could come up with when made to step away from the habits which sometimes work for me, but just as often steal my wallet and fly to Vegas...metaphorically speaking, of course. I wanted to crawl out of my skin.
The contest, however, was not going to be that easy. There are other strictures each round. For this one, the story had to begin with the line "Some people swore that the house was haunted", and end with the line "Nothing was ever the same again after that."
Here's the explanation for the choice from NPR:
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."
The winner will be declared on November 30. I won't post the piece until after it's over and they announce the winner. I'll let you know how it turns out, or you can go to the site and follow along.
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