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Three-Minute Fiction Round Four: The Winner Is ...

You submitted nearly 4,000 original short stories for Round Four of our Three-Minute Fiction contest, and our judge, the acclaimed author Ann Patchett, has picked a winner.

As always, the stories had to be 600 words or fewer -- fiction that can be read in roughly three minutes. This round, however, the stories had to include four words: "plant," "button," "trick" and "fly."

We had students from the Iowa Writers' Workshop help us select about 200 stories for Patchett to read. Patchett tells NPR's Guy Raz that even though she picked more finalists than she was supposed to, in the end there was no contest. "I knew who the winner was going to be."

That winner is Yoav Ben Yosef, who wrote the short story, "Not Calling Attention to Ourselves."

"The way he used all four of the words," Patchett says, "I didn't see anyone else use the words in these ways. And aside from that, it's just a great piece of writing."

In Ben Yosef's story, two men spend a hot, static afternoon in an Astoria apartment. Their lazy dialogue masks an underlying tension as the ex-lovers redefine their relationship.

"What I think constitutes a good short story is something where they use a small amount of time to capture a moment where things are shifting." Patchett explains.

"This is a very small moment. It takes place in real time, it's one conversation, but you really feel the subtle shift in their relationship. They don't quite know where they're going, but they're going forward in some way in the end of this story, and I love that."

"Boy, Yoav, if you haven't been writing, time to get back to work," Patchett tells Ben Yosef. "Because this is what you should be doing."

The irony, Ben Yosef says, is that most of his writing lately has been more about giving up writing. After finishing an MFA program in creative writing, "I was sort of was having a little bit of an identity crisis for a year."

"Every writer worth their salt needs to have a year of an identity crisis," Patchett laughs. "You wouldn't be a writer without one."

"Just the fact that you pulled this really hard thing off makes me have a lot of confidence in you," she tells him. "I hope that what the prize ultimately will be is that it will give you a lot of confidence in yourself."

In the meantime, Ben Yosef will receive signed copies of Patchett's books Truth and Beauty and What now?.

We're taking a break from Three-Minute Fiction for just a little while. But we'll be back with new judges, new challenges -- and, of course, new stories from you.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.