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The impulse behind a story

November 5, 2013

An emotion, an image, a few lines of dialogue—these were some of the initial impulses that led to the short stories and novels featured at this year’s International Festival of Authors.

Theodora Armstrong starts writing with a single image or a few lines of a character’s voice. She will hang on to characters if they talk to each other on the page, making it hard for her to keep up with them.

Cynthia Flood begins with emotion, usually connected with a place, image or person. Once, she saw a leopard in a zoo and began to wonder what would happen if it escaped into a Vancouver neighbourhood.

Late one night, when she should have been drinking chamomile tea and getting ready for bed, an image came to Louise Doughty. It was a woman in a witness box, caught in a lie. Doughty didn’t know what the trial was about or what the lie was, but from that image, she wrote what became the prologue to Apple Tree Yard.

Douglas Glover says he makes sure his characters are his best self—wittier, more courageous, and more loving than he is. And they need to be “screwed up enough” to maintain the reader’s interest. In this way, “Writers live life twice (quoting Natalie Goldberg).”

How’s this for an impulse to start a story: “So, I wasn’t lying. You didn’t ask the correct questions.”

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