Michaeline: A Question of Conformity

Old French print of a person dressed perfectly as female Mmme Beaumont on half of the body, and male Chevalier D'Eon on the other half. It's the juxtaposition that doesn't conform.

“So, you want me to conform? All right! I’ll conform! I’ll conform in a way you’ve never seen before! I’ll be the best damn conformer you’ve ever seen.” (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Kay’s post this week has me thinking about The Right Thing To Do. She’s written a three-volume story about (amongst other things) the heroine resisting marriage, resisting marriage, and then finally succumbing to what is still a social ideal in our culture: the state of matrimony. In other words, conformity.

But from what Kay’s told us, her heroine is not going to conform in a completely socially approved way: wedding in Vegas with costumes and glitter. For Kay, the point isn’t the wedding. She’d like to skip writing about it and let the reader imagine the wedding.

But her beta readers are pressing her to conform. I, myself, talked about how a wedding is a very traditional ending to a series – a big set piece of glitz and love that rewards the reader with a big piece of wedding cake for putting up with all the trials and tribulations. So, Kay’s in a bit of a bind; in her gut, she wants the clean ending – a light smear of frosting. But many of us are pushing for flowers of marzipan and silver dragees. And Kay, at one point, said very simply and with great eloquence, “Crap.”

I say eloquence because that says it all, doesn’t it? When I write, I don’t like writing to conform, either. Not when I blog, not when I tell a story, not even when I comment on forums.

Now, don’t get me wrong. If my writing happens to conform, and makes people feel good and fuzzy (or outraged and ready for action, depending), I feel great. I mostly conform to spelling, grammar and punctuation conventions (with certain thought-out exceptions, like a big FU to the Oxford comma, and a certain love of dialect including L33T when I think the situation merits it). And I’m no great innovator – I mostly conform to story-telling techniques that I’ve read and loved. Like it or not, I’m a conformist, and for the most part, I like it.

However, this conformity does not tend to take place on a conscious level. It’s dependent on what I’ve already read, already learned and already experienced. It “feels right” or “feels wrong” already.

What drives me crazy as a writer is writing to conform on a conscious level. I wish I could come up with some good examples, but they look crazy when I put them on the page. “You need to write stronger heroes; nobody likes a weak-ass hero.” Of course I do/don’t. It depends on the hero and the story. Maybe I need to write stronger, maybe I don’t. Maybe people like a weak-ass hero, maybe they don’t.

“I should be writing something more marketable.” What’s the market? Writers have been trying to answer that question ever since I picked up a Writer’s Digest magazine in 1983, and I’m sure the question has been around for as long as the word “market” has been used in that way. It’s a question worth thinking about, but I don’t think there’s a good answer out there. A great story at the right time will create its own market, and these are often stories (such as Harry Potter) who have been rejected multiple times before they find their time and place.

And so on and so forth. I chase my tail instead of writing a new story.

Right now, I think the only way forward is to write a lot, show a lot of people, and internalize a lot of great story in order to develop good taste and a reasonable sense of conformity. I’m not sure what Kay will decide to do, but I do know this: she’ll have a trilogy. It will be fun and full of humor and insight. And it’ll conform to Kay’s own good tastes. So what if her good taste happens to include Elvis impersonators? So does mine, and so do a whole niche of readers.

I have to trust that I’ll find my own niche full of readers who like the slightly odd things that I do. A small corner that conforms to a non-conformist standard. Being true to your taste is The Right Thing To Do.

4 thoughts on “Michaeline: A Question of Conformity

  1. Now that I’ve moved from writing The Demon Always Wins to attempting to market it, I actually have a lot more understanding of the push-back I got from traditional publishing. (I still don’t agree with it, but I do better understand it.) Trying to come up with keywords that will appeal to my particular little niche of readers is turning out to be a challenge.

    Non-conformity, as an ideal, is great. Figuring out how to reach your target market with your uncategorizable manuscript is a lot less clear-cut.

    • That is the huge problem. I think algorithms help a little bit. “Other people who have bought X also bought 8LW’s Y.”

      The thing is, none of us is writing anything particularly out there. None of us are writing a “House of Holes” or anything like that. We should all be able to fit in a category, but the categories are just so narrow . . . .

  2. I think you write what you have to write, and that can be anything at all that you want to do. You’re the only person who can write your story. But writing is different than selling. And whether you decide to sell your book as an indie publisher, or whether you want a mainstream publisher to do the heavy lifting for you, it’s a lot of work, and discoverability is always the issue. And you might find that even with the best marketing promo in the world, most people don’t want or don’t like your book. That’s okay if your focus is on the writing. But if you have to make money at your writing—if your self-evaluation or self-worth comes at the notion of how much money you make at it, then you’re bound to a life of disappointment unless you make the best-seller lists. And not many people do that.

    For those recovering from my post about whether or not my characters should go to Vegas to get married, or stay on the plane, or even stay in DC, I’m thinking now that *if* I show the wedding, which is not a done deal, the ceremony will take place at their house in DC. My hero’s parents can attend by Skype! The cops can come! The wedding planners can come! Phoebe could wear one of the damaged dresses! I could do a lot with it. But it still has to be short.

    Anyway. Write on, Michaeline. You do you.

    • It always comes back to entertaining oneself while writing. Writing for fame and praise is not terribly likely, and writing for money is even more out there.

      (-: I love what you are thinking. I love the idea of a blackened lawn and raggedy, scorched dresses and tuxes on everyone, with a very “let’s throw a show in the barn” vibe! I love the trope of a stubborn person finally changing her mind, and then committing to that change with her whole heart, and being just as stubborn a believer in the new thing.

Let Us Know What You Think

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s