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Nancy Cavanaugh p2

Author Nancy Cavanaugh talks about getting an inspiration and winging it when writing stories, and humor as a twist.

READERSVOICE.COM: Your stories on My Flashy Words have a lot of different styles of story structure. Revenge plots like in Telling Revenge and No Regrets, problem and solution with a set-up of the solution earlier in the story eg. Mistakes in Cloning, puns in the punchline like in Heavenly Entrails. Can you give some pointers on plotting stories?

NANCY CAVANAUGH: I could give pointers on story plotting but I’m not a plotter. I am a ‘by the seat of my pants’ type writer, or pantser. When I get an idea for a story or am using story prompts, I tend to get a flash of inspiration that provides me with the basics of the story from start to finish. Sometimes I will start with a focus like the genre, but I have no idea where the story is going to go until I get there. Often times I’m as surprised by where the story goes as the reader is. You have to be willing to follow the flow and listen to your muse.

A good example of this is a story that I started writing for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) a few years ago. I decided to do the whole plotting out of the story, character development, etc. as I was participating in a workshop specifically for NaNoWriMo and this is how they were presenting novel writing. I tried to follow the story, and I did for the first few thousand words. Then I discovered the story was not going to be how I plotted it, which called for the main character finding an elephant bird egg and map in grandma’s attic and the exciting adventure of following the map in Madagascar to discover a hidden land filled with elephant birds. Instead, it was about how a 17 year old boy dealt with the loss of his grandmother. I ended up not finishing the story because two weeks into the writing my teenage daughter’s grandmother died suddenly and I was dealing with the story matter in real life.

RV: Your stories include elements of humor, especially dark humor, in even the most dramatic situations. I was wondering what was your attitude to humor and its importance in your fiction.

NC: Humor is life’s way of providing relief and breaking the tension or making you not feel so badly about what has just happened. I really enjoy the comedic style of Anthony Jeselnik. He tells a really dark story then finishes it with a punch line that goes in a direction you’re not expecting. I like the twists that humor can provide in a story, especially at the end. I like my stories to be unexpected to keep people guessing and off balance, humor makes that easier. I especially like when I can end a story with a pun, the bigger the groaner the better. I actually spent an hour Googling for the perfect pun to end Heavenly Entrails. The time was well spent as it was the groaner ending that ‘sold’ the story to Flashshot.

A good example of this was a story I wrote a few days ago for my co-worker titled Distractions. He had given me a three word writing prompt — clumsy, mountain lion, windsurfing. In the story, the main character is distracted and ends up dying. The story ends with the rangers telling the character’s parents how he died, which included possibly being eaten by a hungry wolf, and the father saying the son always did like Duran Duran. My co-worker commented, “I felt bad about the guy dying then I read the Duran Duran part and didn’t feel so bad.”

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-copyright Simon Sandall.