The Challenge: Write a story about a U.S. president in 600 words or less

© Georgios Kollidas -

Every few months, All Things Considered on NPR hosts a wildly popular writing contest called Three-Minute Fiction. It starts with a simple prompt, created by a respected writer who’s invited to serve as the judge. It ignites listeners, who feverishly write stories that must be 600 words or less (so they can be read out loud within three minutes).

Then the waiting game begins… entrants post obsessively on the 3MF Facebook page, where they find support for horrifying realizations like, “My story actually came out to 601 words…. !!!” Finally, the finalists’ stories are posted online and read on-air — but weeks later, only one lucky writer is named the winner.

Round 9 is currently underway, and submissions are due on September 23rd by 11:59pm ET. This year’s prompt? “Story entries must revolve around a U.S. president, who can be real or fictional.”

So what makes the U.S. president such a compelling character to write about? Well, from the birth of a nation and the New Deal to Watergate and the Monica Lewinsky scandal, presidents give writers the kind of meaty material you just can’t make up.

Bestselling novelist Brad Meltzer (who also happens to be the judge for round 9) put it this way for NPR: “There is nothing like meeting the president of the United States,” he says. “Anytime you even see the president, you have a story to tell for the rest of your life.”

From The West Wing to Air Force One to pretty much every Tom Clancy novel ever written, works of fiction about the American president have a way of capturing our imaginations. (Even works based on history that might not sound all that riveting — you know, like an HBO miniseries on John Adams — end up being mind-blowingly fascinating.)

If writing fiction is something you’ve always wanted to try (or something you love to do, but let too many “buts” get in the way), then this is a great project for you to crank out in the remaining 6 days before the deadline. Just don’t let the word length fool you into a false sense of complacency — writing short isn’t always easier. Remember that famous quote often attributed to Mark Twain: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

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