Flash fiction and the challenge of "Candice"

I feel as though I should clear something up. I wrote "HI MY NAME IS Candice" as a way to explore the puncturing of a balloon. I wanted to take take someone to whom image and status is very important and make sure sure the audience knew he was a pompous, condescending snob. Then, I wanted to not only make him partially sympathetic, but to put him in a situation where he would become VERY sympathetic.

It's not an unusual plot arc to have a disagreeable character become a form of anti-hero, but it was an exercise I thought would be instructive. I wanted to show some vulnerability beneath an MBA exterior, to show that real human connection is something that money and status can't buy. Actually, my real intention was to interlace a lot of erotic imagery as the key to forcing a basal, carnal attraction. That would slice through all the confounding layers of civilized distancing that keeps him from making connections with people, even people he VERY MUCH wants to connect with.

However, the slapstick with the splashing Coke Zero seems to have drawn everyone's attention away from the erotic images I put in. More importantly, a funny thing happened with that story. The overwhelming majority of comments said, "Oh, he's blown it with her now, too bad". I don't know why this reaction surprised me. True, I'd been thinking of connection in purely sexual terms, not in romantic terms. In the unfocused back of my mind, I saw this as a way to bridge the divide between them. For almost all of the readers to think otherwise made me wonder if it that was really possible.

I mean, ANYTHING is possible - as the author, I'm the shaper of this world. But is it likely? Is it believable? Once you write the scene out, the nebulous ideas about characters and situations become the reality of that world, the details become set in concrete. The people in there now have to actually deal with a cotton-poly uniform shirt soaked in Coke Zero and adhering closely enough to show off every piece of lace on Candice's bra.

Given this guy, with his specific flaws and personality traits, and given this woman, with an as yet only hinted-at character, was it really possible to get them back to a point that an amicable relationship was possible? True fact: I once deliberately dumped a cup of ice water down the front of a girl's prom dress, then talked my way back into her good graces before the end of the night. Was there any way to let Christopher recover his chances with Candice?

So I wrote "Candice on the Couch" as a way to explore that very thing. The big thing I would have loved to hear from people is whether they thought this was at all believable. Even with the cock-up by Blogger and the splattered nature of the reading and commenting of Friday Flash in general, I'm pleased that some folks thought it all worked, and even to the extent that they were hooked by these two.

That is really great news to hear, since this was a tricky thing to pull off, especially since I played around with the chronology pretty extensively. A straight narrative going from A to B to C in chronological order would have been impossibly ponderous and lurching into the unbelievable. I felt that if you already knew that they're together, it would trick you into seeing the various stages as being reasonable, when you might not see them that way if they came on in sequence. A few people took issue with the different tone of this story than the previous, but not really with the plot arc. As scenes in a novel, this would be disastrous, but since they're two different stories, they can have different tones.

However, a funny thing happened with this story, too. It's my own damned fault, of course, and I should have seen it coming. People started asking if this is the start of a serial. They were hooked by the characters, they love Candice, mistrust Candice's motives, see Christopher as on the verge of something great, just know that Christopher is going to blow it with a ham-handed move when the movie is over...

I suck and I'm unintentionally mean, because I didn't intend this as the start of a serial. Having teased you, I'm going to disappoint you. I already have one serial I had to put in moth balls, and I still have people mad at me for leaving Patricia Lonnigan in the lurch. Odds are, I'd have to do the same to Candice. It seems I have time to write blog posts and some poetry, work on my novel and do Friday Flash. I don't wish to suborn my Friday Flash time for he sake of a serial, since experimental writing is a good way for me to grow as a writer.

Still, I don't want to leave you completely on edge. Candice is using him. She's the check-out clerk at his supermarket. She sees the high-end groceries he buys, always in single-serve portions. She sees the Patek Phillippe on his wrist, the BMW he drives and the expensive clothes he wears. He's babe in the woods, and she knows it. Despite the somewhat opportunistic way she'll date him for his money, she does come to like him and they both start to feel real love, grown outward from the infatuation on the one hand and the gold-glitter on the other. Money can't buy love, but it needn't stand in the way of it, either.

However, after one of his co-workers sees him "slumming" with a check-out girl, Christopher will revert to his social-climbing ways and dump Candice. Then, after an unsatisfying fling with a woman at work, who is just as superficial and distant as he used to be, he tries to go back to Candice. She refuses him, and he has to prove that he's not just another rich jerk. In the end, he encourages her to get an accounting degree at the community college, and she gets a job as a claims adjuster for an insurance company. They live happily ever after.

What do you think?

===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.


  1. I think sometimes it's best not to know how these things end. Better to think of the situation they are currently in than to be depressed at the futility of their future relationship. Frankly, Candice is the better character here. When she growls at him at the end of the first story - that's a thing of beauty. You can't help but love this woman. You root for her. She's real. Christopher, on the other hand, not so much. But maybe it's his boringness that makes Candice shine. Without her as contrast, he would likely never find himself starring in a story of any kind.
    More serial? nah.... you talked me out of it. But more Candice? In any kind of situation? Now you're talking!

  2. Like I said on Twitter, I always enjoy these "peek behind the curtain" type of things. In this case, even more so because you highlight the dichotomy of what you were aiming for and what everyone else saw. That's art sometimes! ;-)

    As far as a serial goes, I think you could have wrapped it up with one or (at most) two more installments. You've thought farther along than that, as you've described, but I do that too & don't write all the way through sometimes. My aim, so to speak, is to move them in that direction, wrap it up at a good place, and let the readers take it from there.

    Sometimes, I wonder if the "more! more!" I get is because people get so involved with the story (flattering) or because I left them hanging (not so flattering).

    But Cathy has a point: Candice is too good a character to not find a role for later.

  3. Those darned endings ... they always get me too. I have two serials in mothballs at the moment, one in particular has the potential to be at least a novella if not a novel. I hope to resurrect them if i can figure them out. Regarding our friends Candice and Christopher ... I think it is a totally believable storyline. I've seen relationships like this work. A friend of ours with an MBA from one of the top-ranked schools in the country, soon to inherit the top position at his family's (large) construction company meets a gal who's a barista at Starbucks. Their personalities clicked and voila, they're living in the suburbs, just had their third kid, she's completed nursing school and happily ever after. So, I hope that helps with the believability aspect. In terms of continuing? Yeah, I like the characters and sure you could continue it if you feel inspired to do so. But is this really your genre? your niche? It's more of an in-depth character study if you continue it and, dare i say, a romance. If it's where your muse is leading you, I say go for it, but if not, then you can consider it an interesting experiment and move on from there.

  4. @ Cathy: I hope I didn't ruin it for you. Both of them are interesting people - it's just that Candice is more obviously so.

    @ FAR: I wonder if the "more! more!" I get is because people get so involved with the story (flattering) or because I left them hanging (not so flattering). On the contrary, I'd regard them both as complimentary to your writing. If the characters weren't compelling, people wouldn't care what happens next.

    @ PJ: I have so many more ideas and half-finished projects than I do time to devote to them. 8-( Romance isn't really my strong suit, anyway. I'd be too likely to have someone pull a gun and light the place up.


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