Humor, point of view, endings; They’re all important in flash fiction
(Second in a two-part series)
“Look at me and my cat Miss Priss. They put us down on a planet named ‘Betty.’ It was a stupid joke at first, but nobody could think of anything better.”
This line from flash fiction writer Doug Mathewson’s quirky sci fi story, Planet Betty, The New World, provides a glimpse into the style of the Connecticut poet/flash fiction writer. Recently, he says, his stories have tended to include bittersweet humor.
What flash fiction writers write about and why, are two of several issues examined in recent email interviews with Mathewson and two other writers. Jim McCormick of Nevada says he likes to let a story or idea sit overnight to give him a fresh perspective. Madeline Mora-Summonte, a Florida FF writer, says she never knows where a story idea will come from.
“In On Writing, Stephen King says he believes ‘…stories are found things, like fossils in the ground.’ That’s what it feels like for me,” says Mora-Summonte. “I just never know what’s going to strike me–a news story, an overheard conversation, a stack of old postcards–and make me start digging for the whole story.”
“The sources of many of my FF pieces are rooted in past experience,” says McCormick, a retired art professor. “It may be an old pet peeve like accordions,” he says alluding to one of his a recent stories. “I took lessons on that dreaded instrument of destruction in my early teens, and have never recovered from them.”
Funerals are another topic for McCormick’s humorous, macabre (or both) stories, related he says, to his long association with a funeral consumers alliance.
Flash fiction topics sometimes come from feelings, says Mathewson. “You write about what you’re thinking about, what you’re feeling, what you’re doing.
“A lot of times I will write about something going on in my head that I have to resolve. I have to decide how I feel about it.”
Humor as a purpose or device characterizes many of McCormick’s and Mathewson’s works. Mathewson’s The New Job is a good example. His work includes both first- and third-person stories.
The New Job
by Doug Mathewson
Everybody had photos in the cubicles of loved ones, pets, and friends.
Having none of the above I cut out an old magazine picture of Courtney Love and put it in a cheap frame. She looked great in this smokey live concert shot. Her hair whacked-out, lipstick badly smeared, cigarette upthrust like FDR, and mayhem in her eyes. She had ripped the broken-strapped tacky sequin bra far from one shoulder, slick with sweat her bare breast exposed, nipple defiant.
The department supervisor made his courtesy visit, saw the photo, and conversationally inquired, “So, ah… is that the Mrs.?”
An elderly protagonist’s third-person point of view has been a feature in some of Mora-Summonte’s recent work. “Many people have told me that my best characters are older folks or children,” she says.
Older people and children, “are more on the outside looking in,” she says, “and to me, the outsider’s point of view–however you want to define outsider–is usually the most interesting.”
In addition to point of view, other traditional elements of fiction generally apply to flash fiction. For example, Mathewson believes a story, no matter how short, should have a beginning, a middle and an end. Mora-Summonte says she likes her stories to have a sense of those elements plus other features of fiction.
“I might choose the element I think is most important to the story,” she says, “the one that will get center stage–the setting? the protagonist?– but I try not to sacrifice any of them.”
And how does a flash fiction writer know when her or his story is finished?
“I know it when I feel I am straining for something more to say,” McCormick says. “When a piece seems tired to me, increasingly lacks punch. Time to get out.”
Hyperlinks to stories. In some of the links below you will need to scroll down to find the stories.