What makes a good story? – Shari Lapena

Lapena, Shari Photo © Joy von Tiedemann 2016Shari Lapena was a lawyer and later an English teacher before she turned to writing. She is the author of three works of fiction: Things Go Flying, Happiness Economics and, most recently, the psychological thriller, The Couple Next Door, which was the Number One bestselling book in Canada in all of 2016. Shari has been nominated for the Goodreads Choice Award and the Sunburst Award.

Shari will act as a judge with Danila Botha and Joseph Kertes at IFOA’s Lit Jam event on February 1st. Join them and CBC’s Gill Deacon for a night of on-the-spot creativity and storytelling like never before!

Here is what she had to say about what she is looking for as a judge.


I’m really looking forward to Lit Jam. I think it’s going to be fun to see what people come up with on the fly. I think we’re going to see some very creative ideas.

In my opinion, a good story is one that makes you really want to know what’s going on—what’s already happened in the background to make your characters who they are and the situation what it is, and what’s going to happen next. It has energy and a life of its own.  And ideally, it also makes you reflect in some way on your own circumstances or on life outside of the story.

My advice to the participants is—put your internal censor aside. Your subconscious is always bubbling up with good ideas just dying to land on the page. But we tend to censor everything we write before we even write it down. I say, let it out, and worry about making it coherent later! That’s how you find the gems.

What makes a good story? – Danila Botha

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Danila Botha hails from Johannesburg. She moved to Canada when she was a teenager. She is the author of one novel and two volumes of short stories, Got No Secrets, Too Much on the Inside, and most recently For All the Men (and Some of the Women) I’ve Known. She is a winner of the Book Excellence Award for Contemporary Novel.

Danila will act as a judge with Joseph Kertes and Shari Lapena at IFOA’s Lit Jam event on February 1st. Join them and CBC’s Gill Deacon for a night of on-the-spot creativity and storytelling like never before!

Here is what she had to say about her expectations as a judge. She also shares some tips of what makes a good story!


IFOA: What are you looking forward to as a judge at IFOA’s Lit Jam?

DB: I am really looking forward to to watching and encouraging emerging writers. This event is so unique-first of all, there’s the spontaneity and inventiveness of live storytelling, there’s the resourcefulness and talent of improvisation, and there’s also the collaborative nature of writers working in teams to tell stories. I can’t wait to see the brilliant and original ideas and hear the stories they come up with. I think it’s going to be really inspiring for all of us.

IFOA: What, in your opinion, makes a good story?

DB: I think regardless of writing style, or subject matter, what the best stories have in common is desire. We read about a character who desperately wants something- and we feel deeply invested in them finding, or achieving or struggling to have the thing that they want most.

Lisa Moore described it perfectly in an interview a few years ago: “Desire is luminous and [it makes characters] alive and indelible. It doesn’t matter if… they are worthy of what they want. What matters is if we [the readers] are caught up in the sweeping spotlight of that desire.”

I love complex, three dimensional characters whose motives aren’t always clear. The more outside of my own experience or frame of reference a character’s choices or experiences are, the more I enjoy reading about them (and writing them!) I think the best stories show us new perspectives, and insights, and help us understand, or be more compassionate. I also love great dialogue and a good sense of humor. My favourite stories always contain elements of the unexpected.

IFOA:  Have you ever participated in an event like this one? Do you have any advice to share with the participants?

DB: I wish I had, I’m sure I would have loved to have participated in an event like this.

The first time I ever read to a large group was when I did the Humber School for Writers Summer Intensive Program in the mid 2000’s. I read from a short story called Paradox (which later became part of  my first collection of short stories). On the surface, the story is actually very dark, but I realized that I could play with the tone, and emphasize humor or aspects of the story that might not necessarily be obvious on the page. It was such a great feeling to hear the audience react- to hear them laugh, or gasp in shock, or just see them listening intently. Reading and performance is such a great way of engaging readers- enjoy the process, because it’s a wonderful way of getting an audience to connect with a story. Also, (and I think about this all the time, too) it’s important to believe in your ideas and to have the confidence to tell the story, or stories that you most want to tell. Those are the stories that resonate the most.


 

 

Lit Jam

Get ready for the first ever Lit Jam this February 1st at Harbourfront Centre.

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You’re probably thinking, what is Lit Jam? It is a storytelling game show-esque hybrid event where four teams of emerging writers from the province’s top creative writing programs compete for a cash prize by improvising a story on stage! In addition to a cash prize the winners will have their story published online in NOW Toronto.

Here’s how it works:

We ask the public to submit a one sentence story prompt online using #LitJam or upon arrival at the event.

One representative from each team of students from the Humber School of Creative and Performing Arts, Ryerson University, the University of Guelph and the University of Toronto will choose their order.

Each team of students from the University of Guelph Creative Writing MFAHumber School of Creative and Performing Arts, Ryerson University and the University of Toronto will have five minutes on stage to create and perform the story before your eyes.

Our team of judges, Danila Botha, Joseph Kertes and Shari Lapena will choose the winning team with the help of the audience.

The winning team will receive a cash prize and their story will be published in NOW Magazine online.

Already have ideas of opening sentences for our contestants? Send your story prompts to us by email to media@ifoa.org with subject line Lit Jam, post them to the Facebook event or tweet @ifoa using #LitJam.

We hope you will join us for this interactive night of storytelling!

 

 

Giving Your Creativity a Chance

By Brian Francis

When I was 26, I signed up for my first creative writing class. By that point in my life, I’d grown frustrated with my lack of discipline when it came to my writing. I had a need to write, but it was too easy to let life get in the way. To talk myself out of it, especially since I was working full time. I was lacking an outlet. A space that encouraged and validated my creativity. I thought that a writing class might give me the structure and stamina I needed. shutterstock_272605952

I remember walking down the hallway towards the classroom. I heard the voices of other people coming from the room. And I did something I never expected myself to do.

I turned around and walked away.

Sure, I was nervous. Walking into a room full of strangers is never easy. And walking into a room full of strangers and sharing your writing adds a whole other layer to it. But I was more than nervous.

I was afraid.

Of what, I couldn’t say for certain. Maybe that the other people wouldn’t like my writing. Or that I wouldn’t connect with anyone in the class. Maybe I wasn’t that talented. Or that I’d come to the realization that, at the end of the day, writing was silly. Impractical. A waste of my time.

Looking back, all these years later, I think what really frightened me was that my writing, something that I clung to desperately to get me through the days, had no value.

We’re living in an age that puts a lot of emphasis on the rewards of publishing. There are more options available to aspiring writers than ever before. There’s nothing stopping anyone from going out and publishing their work and having the ego stroke of a book on the shelf.

But what often gets overlooked is the value of writing, regardless of whether the work ever gets published. We don’t always stop to consider the benefit of putting words on the page. How it’s intrinsically good for us to be creative. It takes a specific kind of bravery to take time out of our busy lives and give our creativity the chance to breathe. To allow our stories to take shape, even if those stories never make it past a few strangers gathered around a table.

Although I’ve moved from student to teacher, I still remember what it felt like to walk down that hallway. The vulnerability and uncertainty. And yes, the fear. And while I can’t promise students that they’ll get published after taking my course, what I can offer is a space where creativityand a writer’s need to writeis respected, encouraged and recognized.

I ended up turning back before I reached the end of the hallway. I took a deep breath and walked into that classroom. I never looked back. It was one of the smartestand most valuabledecisions I’ve made when it came to my writing. I gave myself the chance.

Whether it’s in my writing course or someone else’s, I hope you give yourself the same chance, too. Your creativity deserves it.

Brian Francis’ most recent novel, Natural Order, was selected by the Toronto Star, Kobo and Georgia Straight as a Best Book of 2011. His first novel, Fruit, was a 2009 Canada Reads finalist and was named one of Amazon’s “100 Canadian Books to Read in a Lifetime.” He is a regular contributor to CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter and writes a monthly advice column, The Agony Editor, for Quill & Quire magazine.

Join him for his upcoming six-week course, Becoming a Better Writer, which is designed for emerging and recreational writers who want to take their creative writing to the next level, or simply find the inspiration to get back to writing on a regular basis.