March 27, 2010 Nashville novelist Ann Patchett has written probably a million words in her own career, but brevity is the soul of her new endeavor: Patchett will judge the fourth round of National Public Radio’s “Three Minute Fiction” contest. As in the past, contestants must write a story that can be read aloud in less than three minutes without forcing Guy Raz to transform himself into an auctioneer. (That’s about 600 words, tops.) But this year Patchett has introduced a new wrinkle: all stories must contain the words, “plant,” “button,” “trick,” and “fly.”
“It’s really nice to have little markers to go by, something to sort of occupy one side of your brain while the other side of your brain is being very creative,” she explains. “I think of these four words as the splint that will hold the story together.” Patchett offers more advice to would-be writers—and NPR lists the formal rules of engagement—here.