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.