I am focusing on clichés in flash recently and would like to know how you avoid clichés?
The best way I know for a writer to even become aware of clichés is to read slush for awhile. It’s amazing the sorts of stories and situations, even characters and images that are extremely overplayed. But you don’t know, really, until you see it over and over again. And there is always a way to bring a fresh approach of course. But that helps you see what editors see too much of and tend to reject.
Always try to bring something new or unexpected to the story. That takes digging. Be prepared to dig a little.
Your pieces have such strong images, and some of them are very short like “Dalmatian” and “Warrior.” I would love you know your thoughts on what makes them flash fiction as opposed to prose poetry?
I actually think those pieces are closer to prose poetry than flash. Flash requires an arc, even if it’s only a very subtle arc. “Dalmatian” and “Warrior” are driven by language and image, voice and tone, whereas story is very, very secondary. I guess my answer is that flash fiction purists would say those pieces are not flash. A whole lot of what I write is a hybrid of flash and prose poetry.
How do you approach a story? Do you start with an image, character, situation etc.?
Usually it’s an image. When I wrote “Tenderoni,” I was working with some prompt words. I can’t remember what they were now. Oh, except tenderoni was one of the words. Maybe rain was another because I began with this image in my head of two teenagers riding bikes in a deluge, wearing bright orange rain ponchos. I just saw that and began writing. The characters and the conflict grew from there.
The few times I have started with a situation or a plot, the story has fallen flat. I think it’s that I feel too beholden to the “idea” then and too restricted.
Your images are often strange, exciting, and extremely original such as in “Sweep” when you liken clouds to rolling in “like indigestion.” What process do you go through in order to come up with such unique language?
Oh thank you! I think it is mostly that I have a strange mind in the first place, ha. Well, a strange way of looking at things anyway. And if the writing is going well there is no external process in which I formulate images, they just happen. This is probably true of most writers. I do love strange, uncommon words and when I’m reading I file them away in my head and on a good day, when I’ve had enough sleep and the dog isn’t pestering me, they come back to me unbidden just when I need them. I love it when that happens. Also, I write for sound, a lot. I just love the way “roiling like indigestion” sounds.
I have been struggling with endings while writing my flash pieces. Do you have any advice on how to wrap up a piece without sounding abrupt to the reader?
It’s so hard to stick an ending. I still struggle with that. I think the answer may lie in your question here. To “wrap up” a story is to tie up all loose ends, to conclude, neatly. That may feel too contrived and well, neat endings almost never happen in life. Yet you want the reader to feel satisfied.
Speaking only from my own aesthetic here, I would say to always leave your reader with the emotion you intend for them to feel when they come to the end of your story. And hopefully, you’ve done the job of building toward that emotional shift or change. Ask yourself, what is that one single emotional note you want to end on? And don’t give it to the reader, actually make her feel it. So, think: strong image or gesture. Something odd or resonant or moving. Think of it as your parting gift to your reader. Make it live past the story. Make it lift off the page.
FF.Net Author’s Note
Maranda Stewart holds a Bachelors of Arts in English Literature from Kutztown University. She is currently attending Rosemont College for her MFA in Creative writing with a concentration in poetry. She has won the Raymond Ford Award for poetry and is enjoying exploring the flash fiction genre. She agrees with William Carlos Williams who said, “It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there,” and believes that the same can be said about flash.