By Alicia Benjamin, Contributing Editor
On Febuary 8, 2015, Ava Klinger, Young Adult fiction author and Boulder Writer’s Workshop professional member, read from her first novel, The Rebel’s Cresset, and spoke to the Boulders Writer’s Workshop about key elements of fiction writing: including tense, pacing, and plot and character development.
Since Ava’s novel is set in first person present, she admitted that the tense of her novel has made her more aware of possible disconnects when world building, since the surroundings are observed by the main character … and not an omniscient being.
Others in attendance at the Literary Salon agreed that first person present can be a challenging tense to choose but it’s a terrific tense for building tension and immediacy. Those two things lend itself to great pacing in a story, since the action is unfolding as you read.
On the other hand, first person present can make it difficult for the author to aptly focus on character development, since what you see is what you get. Meaning, first person present limits a reader to seeing and knowing only what the main Point of View character sees and knows. When they discover something big, so does the reader. There’s big pay off in that, but it can also be quite challenging to orchestrate.
In many ways, first person present requires a deft hand to build the character in advantageous and believable ways. Ideas shared among the group included showing the flaws and faults of the character (is she impulsive?), adding in color through dialogue or action (does she mutter under her breath or rush into burning buildings?), or even ensuring that the main character’s goals are clearly stated from the main character’s point of view (how often does she think about her ultimate desires? how badly does she want them?).
To really harness her inner tween, Ava re-read past diary entries in order to remember her own life at 15, which is the age of her novel’s protagonist. It’s the age in which her main character emerges as her own person. We can all relate to that.
Through the development of character, it’s important for the author to focus on what makes their main character (and any character, really) likeable. Their redeeming traits can and often will tie back to the desire line, what each character is out to achieve, especially the main character.
To help with this, Ava developed character cards for all her characters that included each character’s motivations, personalities, and back stories.
Other tips for getting to know your characters while bettering your own understanding of the key elements of fiction included:
- “Taking an acting class; improv theater can teach you about character traits” – Gary
- “Mapping dialogue to each to each character’s motivations, as that will influence what each character does or doesn’t say” – Alicia
- “Eavesdropping on real conversation and base characters on people you’ve met once or know in real life” -Yana
Another way to develop a relatable, memorable character is to infuse humor into the story. Levity is a great tool to have in your toolbox.
If there’s ever a doubt if you’re striking the right chord, authors can seek out a Critique Group — the Boulder Writer’s Workshop has its own — and look to their peers to offer constructive criticism.
In the words of Stephen King: “Write with the doors closed; edit with them open.”
By sharing your work at Literary Salons or among critique groups, you are able to further polish areas of your manuscript or focus on a particular key element of fiction, such as pacing or dialogue, that you may still be struggling with in the editing phase.
Yet, if you’re not quite ready to prop the door open and hang a neon “Open” sign on for all to see, at least crack a window. Fresh air is good for the writer’s soul.
Ava Klinger lives just outside of Boulder, CO (her hometown) with her husband Jimmy and two dogs, Otto and Bowser. Her greatest passions include permaculture, dance, art, right livelihood, education, food, travel, history and the art of storytelling.
Ava graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2007 with a degree in Humanities with an emphasis in Russian History and German Language. After several years working for Gaia University as an admissions counselor she decided to take her education to the next level. In Fall, 2014, Ava enrolled in a Masters of Science program with Gaia University in Integrative Ecosocial Design.
In addition to work and school, Ava is currently working on her debut novel, the first book in her young-adult trilogy. She is also a professional member of the Boulder Writers’ Workshop.
About Ava’s Novel:
Sixteen-year-old Elena L’Vitsa is uncertain of her future. She wants desperately to become a woman, but in New Russia she can only become a woman when her moon cycle begins, and hers hasn’t yet. It’s bad enough that she’s the only girl her age who has to wear white to the Liberty Festival, and that she can’t drive, or even carry a device, but what’s worse is that children are not allowed to join The Guard, which is Elena’s life long dream. However, she has a plan, and if it works, she will be able to follow in her late mother’s footsteps and protect New Russia against the rebels to the East. That is if she can thwart the bitter guard, Olga, who will stop at nothing to see that Elena never joins The Guard.
Learn more about Ava Klinger at www.avamklinger.com
Ava’s Literary Salon recap is written by Alicia Benjamin, a Boulder Writer’s Workshop member and novelist. Alicia is a marketing consultant with her own company, RIZE, and has a degree in Creative Writing. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/leximaven