NPR 3-Minute Fiction Story Contest: Charidy’s Case – Explained by Susanna Hartigan

The latest 3-minute fiction story contest by NPR had to have two elements: someone had to tell a joke and someone had to cry. It was a challenge to write it all in 600 words or less. The crying part was easy. It was the filling in the joke at an appropriate time that was most difficult for me.

How did I do it? I meditated and wrote some key words on my note pad. Random things came to me, but nothing that made sense to me at the time. All I knew was that these were the words given to me that I had to work with and somehow put them in a story: pickles, agitate, bark, eyeball, foul, bakers, field, fountain, hall, mustard, clicking, monarchy.

Monarchy? How in the world am I going to find a way to incorporate that into a story with pickles, mustard, and an eyeball? And then I started to write:

Seven hundred dollars.

Where was I going to go with $700? I wrote it more than once. Perhaps someone who lost their wallet? Got robbed? Perhaps someone who needed her medication or rent money? I jotted down some things that I wasn’t happy with, put it away, and later on it all came to me.

“Charidy’s Case” is not about a story about a homeless mentally ill person getting rescued. There is much deeper meaning to the story than that, and if anyone has witnessed a person in this condition, it is something unforgettable.

Symbolism is very important when I write, so I committed myself to the main character’s name being Charidy – purposely spelled incorrectly. I wanted a tree with bark that peeled like paper – and the symbolism of the birch tree seemed to be the perfect choice. The numbers used in the story – including the number of people – are all symbolic in “Charidy’s Case”. The bear is a protective, nurturing animal – at first as a teddy bear – but Charidy begins to see her as a threat. Even the words I initially jotted down had symbolic meaning, although to most readers they probably did not make sense when Charidy spoke them.

Since Charidy is a representation of the mentally ill that are forgotten, homeless, and helpless – I wanted to canonize her with the golden bark fluttering around her like angelic feathers.

Most likely Charidy will be taken to a place, dosed, shuffled through the system and sent back to the streets when her time is up. Does that mean she was really rescued?

Read here:
Charidy’s Case
by Susanna Hartigan

Listen here:
A Sampling Of Three Minute Fiction Entries


  1. Thank you both for your feedback. I know there are stories that I read myself and I have to go “Huhh????” I'm glad that I could help you understand.

    I do realize I often think differently than most people, so I'm told. lol

  2. Susanna: Thank you for explaining the background motivation for your story. It was a little difficult to wrap my mind around, at first. Yet I deal with similar people on the streets of the city I work in almost every day – sometimes they are gentle, harmless souls, and others scare the crap out of me. You've done them a service in writing this piece. Good luck in the contest, and keep writing…

  3. Congrats to you, Susanna. I loved your piece on NPR. I also enjoyed your recent post on rejection & 'getting your fiction groove back.' Inspiring, for sure.

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