Where do you get your ideas? Stop! Read "Snippet: Love" first if you're going to read this one.
...which is the under-two-hundred-word flash fiction (snippet) that I submitted to the Banshee studios contest (see April 17th). The theme of the contest for flash fiction is "journeys." I decided not to go for the obvious choices, like the cross-country road trip to "find yourself," travels back to the hometown, travels into the past, future, or alternate timelines, etc.
Hm. For some reason, I'm thinking about dreams that I had during my college years. There was one in which my self and a couple of other people ended up in an amusement park that was going to be sabotaged by the Grey Man, a character that ran through a bunch of my dreams for reasons that I won't go into now. I wrote a story about it, "Eleven Dreams, Remembered" that I liked then but would probably groan over now. I haven't thought about the story or about the Grey Man in years. Hm, hm, and more hmmmmm...
So. I'm thinking about 1) a journey, 1a) but not an obvious journey. Some subtext running around in the back of my mind is 1b) clowns. I've talked to people about their fear of clowns. I wonder if there are more people who are afraid of clowns or spiders. If you were afraid of both clowns and spiders, and you were trapped in a room filling with a deadly poisonous gas, and there were two exits, one guarded by a clown and the other guarded by spiders, which would you pick? Anyway, Clowns.
The story at this point centers on the daughter, who wanders off into the amusement park, gets lost, is chased by clowns, etc., etc., and finally finds her mother, who doesn't love the kid anyway. Bleah. Besides, the mother is much more interesting. How about from the mother's point of view? Blah, blah, blah, feeling sorry for herself, she finally notices that her daughter has disappeared, and has to go looking for her. Does she find her daughter? Does something change? Is there a happily ever after?
At this point I'm hit by idea no. 2: "And then she woke up."
LIke other writing cliches (mirrors, for example) you shouldn't use them unless you're doing something significant with them. A mirror isn't just an excuse to give a character description. Likewise, a dream isn't a deus ex machina that makes everything OK, like that whole dang season of "Dallas" and "Who shot JR?"
(Tangent: there are people out there, seemingly adult, who were Too Young For Dallas. The spiral of aging has begun. Soon, songs like "Friday I'm in Love" and "Personal Jesus" will be golden oldies.)
(If they haven't already.)
Voila, the story. So I wrote it.
While I was dicking around with the word count, I started to notice that everything for the mother-character related back to her resentment for the requirements of "love." I decided that she had a weird idea about love, having never felt it before, and was obsessed with it the way a virgin's obsessed with sex. I decided that she was going to see herself in a funhouse mirror dressed as a clown, and having to walk through her image in order to escape the amusement park, a confrontational thing. The clown symbolized the fakery of her "love" in relationships, you see. She was going to have to admit that she was a fake, that she had no justification for her actions, etc.
Well, I decided that that was a little more hokey and overdone than I liked.
And it was way over 200 hundred words, anyway.
So I made a couple of changes: the character doesn't get to look in a mirror, but she finds out what she's become anyway, and the character doesn't really get to escape the amusement park.
I left the ending open because...well, because I ran out of words, to tell you the truth. But I think I like it better this way. It's like I've written my own little Rorshach blob, and just because I see the ending in a particular way (and I do) doesn't mean anyone else has to. I have to wonder what the people that design actual Rorschach blobs see when they do them. You can't just drop ink on paper and fold it over: some ink blobs are going to be unsatisfactory, either blobbing in uninteresting ways (such as a circle) or not blobbing at all, merely soaking through too strongly in one spot, with perhaps a single streak where the ink dripped onto the floor. You have to select the blobs, you know...
So what did I think the ending meant?
Some part of the character never wakes up. This is, to the character, a recurrent nightmare that she'll keep having over and over again until...she doesn't, for whatever reason. For some reason, I keep thinking that when you don't resolve issues like this, when you live out a lie, part of your personality becomes trapped in a terrible fantasy world, isolated from reality, time, and the rest of the personality. The character has made a journey into her own soul, and she isn't coming back.
But if you want to see it as a little Tales from the Crypt horror comic, go right ahead. Is free country, comrade.