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.