Could you write a short story in only three hours? What if you had to include a random phrase such as, “frozen fish sticks,” “dead hamster,” or “jumper cables?”

That’s what students in Grade 11 and 12, and those attending Okanagan College can expect when competing in the College’s Annual Short Story Contest on Oct. 19.

This year marks the 10th year of the contest, where students will compete to win tuition vouchers. By the time the hourglass runs out and this year’s winners are chosen, 40 students will have received a total of $15,000.

“I absolutely recommend the competition,” says last year’s overall winner Daniel Bergg. “I think it's an awesome format. Forcing oneself to focus on one thing for three hours is a pretty eye-opening experience. It's just enough time to create something special, yet not enough time to overthink the details, or in my case catch all the grammar mistakes.”

Bergg is a second-year student in OC’s Writing and Publishing program, a program he decided to enrol in after participating in the contest.

“At the time I was taking a lot of different classes and exploring some options. I've wanted to be a writer since I was little but I'd never been too serious about it, maybe due to a lack of confidence. Competing and winning gave me a lot of new confidence in my abilities. I might not be quite where I am today, studying writing academically if I didn't take the leap and compete.”

And while the time constraints on participants are tight, the impact is vast, reflects Dr. Sean Johnston, contest organizer and Chair of the English Department at OC.

“More than 500 high school and college students have competed in the contest over the last 10 years,” says Johnston. “Each and every year the judges have been impressed with the creativity and depth writers are able to achieve in such a short time frame. We hope everyone has a great experience this year and that everyone who has participated over the last decade came away inspired to keep writing.”

The Three-Hour Short Story Contest takes place from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 19 at the College’s Salmon Arm, Vernon, Kelowna and Penticton campuses. Writers will work on College computers and will not be able to access any pre-written materials or outside sources – print or online.

Four prizes of a $250 tuition voucher will be awarded, one for each campus winner. From the four winners, a grand prize winner will be chosen to receive an additional $500 tuition voucher. The grand prize winner will also have their story published in a limited fine-print edition by the Kalamalka Press.

The contest is free to participate in but can only accommodate a limited number of entrants. Those interested are encouraged to register online early. The deadline to register is 11:59 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 18.

To sign up or to view works by previous years’ winners visit okanagan.bc.ca/3hourwriting.