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Monday, October 12, 2009

Famous Authors Who Broke The Rules, Part I

Recently, while having some fun (see my post entitled "Beauty and the Beast, Continued"), I dug out my copy of Kathleen Woodiwiss' Shanna. Now, I'd never want to say or even suggest that there is a single flaw to find in Shanna, such is my adoration of Kathleen Woodiwiss' writing. Yet, as I stood in the dim light and then sat on a crate turning the pages, Shanna rendered me speechless because for the first time I saw it through the critical eyes of a contest judge, not the hungry eyes of an adoring reader.

Here, take a look at this passage:

HEROINE'S POV His mouth was upon hers again PASSIVE VOICE, and his tongue was insistent PASSIVE VOICE until she met it with her own, first with hesitancy, then with welcome, then with passion. He was pressing her down PASSIVE VOICE upon the velvet seat.

Her sanity argued, this is madness! Her passion whispered slyly, let him come!

And he came to her, a first sharp piercing pain that made her gasp followed by a warmth deep inside that made her sob with pleasure. UNREALISTIC FOR HER TO SOB WITH PLEASURE AT THIS POINT, ESPECIALLY AS SHE ISN'T IN LOVE WITH RUARK, AND HE'S FORCING HER TO MEET THE TERMS OF THEIR BARGAIN. He began to move, and he was kissing her, PASSIVE VOICE caressing her, loving her --

Suddenly from without, Pitney's shout roared above the pelting rain, and the pace of the carriage changed. Cursing, Ruark raised his head, realizing they were stopping. SWITCH TO HERO'S POV Then he heard another voice answer the hail from Pitney; and he recognized it as that of the third guard, the one who had stayed behind with the prison van.

"Ahhh, damn!" Ruark groaned in frustrated agony. "Damn you deceiving little bitch!" He snatched from her roughly "SNATCHED FROM?" and flung her away. "I knew you couldn't hold to our bargain!"

With much urgency Ruark began to secure his garments, his teeth showing in a savage snarl as he cursed her viciously. Shanna cowered in the center, her hands clutched over her head as he vented his wrath in searing words. TELL, NOT SHOW In the dim light his sneering eyes raked her cruelly, marking her pale, quivering breasts and the soft lovely thighs still naked to her gaze. POV ISSUE. IF IN HERO'S POV, HE DESCRIBES HIS OWN SHOWING TEETH AND SNEERING EYES. YET, IF IN HEROINE'S POV, SHE DESCRIBES HER PALE, QUIVERING BREASTS AND SOFT LOVELY THIGHS. SO, PERHAPS IT'S OMNISCIENT POV.

"Cover yourself," he groaned out derisively. And then more harshly, "Or do you wish the guards to take my place?"

Shanna snatched REPETITIVE USE OF "SNATCHED" the cloak tightly about her as if to shield herself from his ridiculing jeer and penetrating glare. A second later the door was jerked open, PASSIVE VOICE and the wide muzzle of Pitney's oversized pistol gasped IMPROPER VERB CHOICE its raw threat at Ruark's chest.


Everything in Ruark rebelled. He had been pushed, shoved, beaten, prodded, goaded, tempted, and finally betrayed at a most degrading moment. PASSIVE VOICE A ragged growl tore from his throat, and before anyone could react, he kicked the gun aside and launched himself, feet first, against Pitney's chest. The force of his attack sent them both sprawling to the mud. Cries of alarm sprang from the guards.

"Catch the bloke! Hicks'll 'ave our 'eads rolling!"

Shanna cringed as they fell upon him. SWITCH TO HEROINE'S POV Muffled oaths and grunts of pain detailed their battle. The guards were bulky, large, and heavily muscled; Hicks had chosen them for strength to see the prisoner back to his cell. Each outweighed Ruark by at least two stone, and Pitney was larger than any of them, but Ruark displayed an extensive knowledge of brawling. He fought like a man possessed.

It was several moments before they could subdue him, and even then he was only slightly more battered than his captors, two of whom held him secure now on his knees in the mud with both arms outspread, while the third  hurried to fix the manacles to his wrists.

Pitney stood nearby, trying to scrape some of the mucky soil from his cloak. He massaged his shoulder as if it pained him and flexed his arm. Glancing up, he paused as he saw Shanna's face illuminated in the lantern's glow, SWITCH TO PITNEY'S POV and following his gaze, the guards also halted their labors ...

So, Kathleen Woodiwiss broke The Rules (see my prior posts with the label The Rules), and yet, an editor bought her manuscript, a publisher published her book, and millions of readers (including me) put Shanna on their keeper shelves. It makes me wonder whether the advent of the internet and RWA chapter contests hasn't impeded the raw creativity of aspiring authors. In other words, what would the late and great Kathleen Woodiwiss say if we said, "Oh, no, you can't switch POV during a scene."

By the way, I attended a private young ladies' academy in New York during elementary and high school. It was a most wondrous place with 19th century buildings, sprawling lawns, apple orchards, and stables, all enclosed by a six-foot stucco wall interspersed with black wrought-iron gates. All that I am, all that I can be, I owe to the Academy. Anyway, one spring, under a big oak tree near the stables, I read Kathleen Woodiwiss' Ashes in the Wind to my best friends ... and we discovered exactly what boys wanted from girls.

So, in memory of those days, I'd like to say:

Requiescat In Pace, Kathleen

If you are an author, do you follow The Rules?

Excerpt from Shanna © 1977 Kathleen Woodiwiss. All other content © 2009 Madeline Smyth.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know there were rules when I began writing. I have spent years writing and then rewriting when I discovered yet another pesky rule (POV, GMC etc...). Do you think ALL of these rules even existed 20 and 30 years ago? Or so many of them, set in stone?

    I know it is a business, but it is also a creative process. I dislike how it is broken down into a formula. Insert black moment here. Add 1st plot point there. I am not a plotter. I don't know where my story is going. I wish I did sometimes.

    I could go on and on about this subject, but I won't. Okay, I will. I hate those cookie cutter TV shows and movies that are so predictible. Arg!