The Hippo


Jul 16, 2019








Three-Minute Fiction Slam

New Hampshire Institute of Art: 148 Concord St., Manchester, Thursday, March 3, at 7:30 p.m.
Portsmouth Book & Bar: 40 Pleasant St., Portsmouth, Monday, March 7, at 7 p.m.
Final: Tuesday, April 5

Flash fiction season
Writers’ Project gears up for Three Minute Fiction Slam

By Kelly Sennott

 Writers come out of the woodwork for the now-annual Three Minute Fiction Slam, hosted by the New Hampshire Writers’ Project.

John Herman, who spearheads and organizes the statewide competition, said you get a range of people onstage, high schoolers to senior citizens, who come in with a variety of writing and life experiences. At the time of his phone interview, he’d just come off hosting a Newmarket semi-final match, which was crowded with people, even in the midst of a snowstorm. It also had a substantial waiting list, which prompted Herman to plan another Seacoast event, at the Portsmouth Book & Bar March 7. 
“I showed up early. I expected a couple people,” Herman said. “But we got a full roster of writers. … Some people have published stories, some people haven’t. The competitors represent such a range of New Hampshire writers.”
The winner, Herman said, was a Scottish meditation leader  who had the room in full laughter during his performance.
“The audience really knows when someone’s done it. It’s quite hard to pull off — to have a story that’s satisfying and entertaining and memorable in just three minutes,” Herman said.
The Three Minute Fiction Slam has become a staple in the New Hampshire writing community, and throughout the next two months, there are a variety of semifinal events in schools, bars and public places, full of writers taking a stab at the flash fiction genre. 
Organizers say it’s like literary American Idol. The only rule: Your piece must be read aloud in three minutes, which is about 600 words. Three judges will critique writers decide a winner.
Those semifinal winners will compete for the title at the final, held at the New Hampshire Institute of Art the first week of April, for a cash prize, free ticket to Writers’ Day and chance to read the piece during lunchtime at Writers’ Day.
It used to be that winners were chosen by “applause-o-meters,” and that if you went over the time limit you were squirted with tiny water pistols, but Herman said the NHWP has moved away from that as people have become more serious about it. He’d love to get more libraries involved to draw another class of writer, but the challenge is finding potential organizers in communities farther out. At the time of the call, he was trying to set up more semifinal contests, as many as possible before the final, because there’s a lot of value even if you don’t win.
“[The judges] are professionals, and they give the writer instant feedback, which a lot of writers never get,” Herman said.
NHIA writing faculty member Monica Bilson said she’s seeing more community turnout at the school’s semifinal event — this year’s is March 3.
“The first year [NHIA] did semifinals, it was just NHIA students. Last year especially we got more people from the community to compete,” Bilson said via phone. “And every year, for the state finals, there’s a really good crowd. The French auditorium fills up.”
Bilson said the flash fiction genre has grown in popularity in the last 10 or 20 years, perhaps because of the number of online forums available now; she pointed to Brevity, an online journal of “concise, literary nonfiction.” She doesn’t mind. 
“From a teacher’s standpoint, we love to teach flash fiction because it makes students pay attention to every word choice, and exactly how their plots are paced. Every word is on trial for its life,” Bilson said.
Some tips for prospective writers?  Play with structure. Bilson pointed to Ed Ting’s piece two years ago, which was told through a marinara recipe. Another piece by a former student told a tale backward in time. 
“Typically, flash pieces don’t follow your traditional plot — beginning, middle, end,” Bilson said. “And there’s usually a little epiphany that happens. … The biggest mistake readers make is that they read too quickly and not loud enough.”
She said she likes the opportunity the competition provides writers.
“People are coming out of the woodwork,” Bilson said. “It’s another outlet for New Hampshire writers to be heard.” 

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