Friday, April 24, 2015

0 Author Helene Dunbar Answers Questions on Ask A Pub Pro

Welcome to our monthly Ask a Pub Pro feature where a publishing professional answers readers and writers' questions regarding the stories they love or their work in progress. This month, Helene Dunbar, author of These Gentle Wounds and the soon-to-be-released What Remains joins us to answer questions on humor in dark scenes, unsympathetic characters, present tense, and multiple POVs.

We'd love to have you send in your questions for next month's column. Please send questions to AYAPLit AT gmail.com and put "Ask a Pub Pro Question" in the subject line. If your question is chosen, you'll get to include a link to your social media and a one to two sentence (think Tweet size) blurb of your WIP.

Come on! Get those questions in!


Author Helene Dunbar Answers Questions on Ask A Pub Pro


1) My question is regarding humor in dark moment scenes. I have a character who's a smart mouth. If he says something funny (dry) in a very dark scene, will that lesson the tension? (asked by Sylvia in NJ)

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There’s always a lot of trial and error in drafting. If your character is sarcastic throughout the manuscript and it would be in character for him to say something snarky in a very dark scene, by all means go for it. I’m a strong advocate for letting your character dictate the scene, so only if this would be breaking character would I recommend against it.

This is also where crit partners or beta readers are great resources because they’ll be the first to tell you if a scene is being marred by a character’s response. But I’ve often found that a tense scene can be made tenser by someone saying the unexpected thing that maybe cuts deeper than the expected comment would.

2) I tend to write protagonists that are not perfect....I mean really not perfect, as in more anti-hero than hero...and have had a lot of complaints about sympathy. But to me, the greater character arc comes from someone who has a longer way to go. Is this kind of character just not marketable? Or how do I make them so? (asked by Anonymous)

I agree with you that sometimes the most interesting character arcs are those in which the character has a great distance to go. However…just because a character starts out immensely flawed, doesn’t mean that the reader can’t sympathize with them. For instance, your character might be a total self-serving narcissist who irritates everyone he/she meets except…they have a soft spot for their little sister and take her to the park at 1pm every Saturday regardless of what else they’re asked to do. I think that showing the softer side of a hard character can go very far in rounding out the character and might give you some extra ammunition in ramping up their arc.

That IS a very common criticism though, so make sure that your character is human enough or believable enough or fleshed out enough so that regardless how flawed they are, there is something to make the reader root for him/her.

3) My WIP is currently in first person present tense. I know there may be marketing challenges to using this tense, but am wondering if there are any guidelines craft-wise for writing in present tense. (asked by Anonymous)

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My first book, These Gentle Wounds, was first person present and I can’t think of a single agent or editor who ever told me that this would cause a marketing challenge. I actually wrestle with tense all the time and by that I mean that every single manuscript I’ve written has started out being in a tense different from the one it eventually ended up in. For me, while it’s fine to “decide” what tense I’m going to write in, the story and characters end up taking over and it becomes completely clear what tense the story demands.

As for guidelines, there are some awesome posts on Mary Kohl’s blog: kidlit.com. But I think the most important craft element to writing in first is to remember that you’re in the character’s head, you aren’t listening to a story. So, for instance, make sure that you go back and look for characters saying things that are unnecessary.

Example 1: I saw the kite floating high in the sky and it looked to me as if it might sail on forever.
Example 2: The kite floats high in the sky, looking like it might sail on forever.

You simply don’t need to say, “I saw” and “it looked to me as if” because you’re in the character’s head and most people, when they’re thinking to themselves simply register what they’re seeing or doing.

When I write in first person present I always do a revision draft to look for this. It will help keep your word-count down, help avoid starting every sentence with “I”, and will allow the reader to more closely relate to your character.

4) How many POVs is too many POVs? If I want to work with an ensemble cast, can I do 3 POVs switching off between them each scene, one per scene? (asked by Aaron in WA)

Ha! If you only knew how relevant this question was for me at the moment. Anyhow….how many is too much? It’s too much when you can’t keep the voices of the characters clear enough for the reader to identify without chapter headings that use the character’s name. (I’m making the assumption that you mean “chapters” and not “scenes” because changing characters a couple of times within each chapter is going to be challenging to say the least.)

Here’s my number one rule of writing craft: There are no rules so long as you can do it well. Seriously. Rules are for “what usually works.” But if you can pull of something brilliant that doesn’t follow anyone else’s rules, than by all means, do so.

Two authors that pull of multiple POVs extremely well are Melissa Marr (I believe that the final book of the Wicked Lovely Series had 15 POVs or something absurd and it was handled perfectly) and Maggie Steifvater (The Raven Boys series to me, is a masterclass in writing 3rd person, multiple POVs and still feeling like you’re in the head and heart of every single character. I honestly have no idea how she does it, but I’m determined to find out.)


About the Book:


http://www.amazon.com/What-Remains-Helene-Dunbar/dp/0738744301/
In less than a second...
... two of the things Cal Ryan cares most about--a promising baseball career and Lizzie, one of his best friends--are gone forever.

In the hours that follow...
...Cal's damaged heart is replaced. But his life will never be the same.

Everyone expects him to pick up the pieces and move on.

But Lizzie is gone, and all that remains for Cal is an overwhelming sense that her death was his fault. And a voice in his head that just...won't...stop.

Cal thought he and his friends could overcome any obstacle. But grief might be the one exception.

And that might take a lifetime to accept...

Amazon | Indiebound | Goodreads

About the Author:


Helene Dunbar is the author of THESE GENTLE WOUNDS (Flux, 2014) and WHAT REMAINS (Flux, 2015). Over the years, she's worked as a drama critic, journalist, and marketing manager, and has written on topics as diverse as Irish music, court cases, theater, and Native American Indian tribes. She lives in Nashville with her husband and daughter, and exists on a steady diet of readers' tears.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads




-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers


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