The other day I was walking down the hall at work when someone called me from behind. I turned to see a woman coming toward me. She asked me a question, one that I didn’t have the answer to immediately. I said to her, ‘follow me, walk this way.’ Then I pretended to be Igor from the movie, Young Frankenstein, with his short cane. In the movie he goes down some steps, using a cane he pulls from his boot, and then he hands it to Mr. Frankenstein, to which Mr. Frankenstein goes down the steps in the same manner as Igor. Whew, I hope that made sense. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here is the clip.
At the end of the clip did you notice how Frankenstein’s face changed, like he couldn’t believe he had just done exactly what Igor had told him to do and in the manner igor had done it? I think a lot of folks are like Frankenstein in the respect that they will do things without thinking about it to ‘fit in.’ Sometimes they do things knowingly to fit in, things they wouldn’t normally do or that they said they would never do.
This brings us to my topic: Conformity. You all know how much I like the definitions of words so you should be used to this by now:
Conformity: compliance with standards, rules, or laws. Behavior in accordance with socially accepted conventions or standards.
I think compliance to most things are okay, like at the job by following the rules or by obeying the laws of the road when driving, or not cheating on your spouse. Things like that. Those aren’t bad things. But what I want to hit on isn’t necessarily compliance, but conformity or changing who you are for someone(s) else or to fit in.
If you know me at all, then you know I am a T-shirt wearing, jeans loving guy. I do not compromise on that when I get home and I slip out of the work garb. I’m not one of those guys you will see wearing sandals or pastel colored golf shirts. I don’t primp before I go out. I loathe ties and nice, dressy clothes. I dress comfortably and I’ve never cared if other folks like it or not. I am not willing to conform to someone else’s standards.
I won’t change who I am to fit in with a group of people either. I believe you like me for who I am or you hate me for who I am. At the end of the day I have to go to bed with me and the person in my head. You don’t. I admit I have mellowed over the years, but that comes with having a great wife who has put up with me and my issues and attitudes. But that is not conformity or compliance. That is a man with limited intelligence using what God gave him.
I’m also that way with my writing. I do not conform to all the rules or what is expected. Sure, there are rules you need to follow. You need to have an actual story to tell. You need to have a reason to tell that story. You need characters and you need resolution to the problem the character faces.
Honestly, though, that is all I care about. Let me explain.
I don’t like most books because I truly feel you can take the name of an author off of one book and put it on another book and no one would realize the same author didn’t write both books. So many books are written to a formula these days, and though that formula may work for pounding out book after book, it doesn’t work for separating who wrote what. It also doesn’t engage me at all.
We are cranking out books at a crazy rate. What once took years for one book to be released now takes months (thanks to the digital book world). We have inundated the readers with so many choices, which is good, but a lot of those choices are poorly written and the stories are weak at best, which is bad. It’s quantity over quality these days, when it should be the other way around.
Part of the issue falls right into conformity. I stated there are rules that need to be followed and I also stated that there are only a few that I think are set in stone. The others, I believe are guidelines and some of them are outdated guidelines. For instance, perfect grammar.
Raise your hand if you use perfect grammar in your every day life? I do not see any hands.
I’m not a fan of perfect grammar. Have you ever noticed how people talk? Most of them do not speak with perfect grammar. They speak with accents and flawed enunciations of words. Perfect grammar is boring. I write like I talk. I am from the south and I have a southern accent. The grammar in my writing—or the incorrect grammar—is intentional. I’m not saying grammar is a bad thing, but I think, like everything else, if it doesn’t fit what you are writing, then don’t use it. (Yes, I am sure I will hear about this, but this is what I believe.) I will not comply or conform on this.
I believe dialogue is important, both external with another character and internal with the main character. But I also believe the dialogue needs to sound real and the timing and placing of the dialogue is important. I want characters to sound like they are real people, not one dimensional words on paper. That will never change and it is something that I pick apart when I edit. People hate me because of that. I’m okay with it. I will not comply or conform on this.
I’m not an all action all the time writer. I like build ups. I like learning about the characters and peppering the story with important details and emotions. I like evoking ‘the feels’ of a story onto the reader. If I can get them to feel what the character is going through then I have succeeded. I don’t know how many times I have had stories rejected because they weren’t all action all the time, even though the stories were well written and engaging. Yeah, go figure. Still, I’m not changing my voice or style to get published. I believe in my work and I know it is good. I will not comply and I will not conform on this.
Unfortunately, too many people just go with what everyone else is doing. The book world is becoming like so many other facets of the rest of he world: it is becoming fad oriented. What is the latest rage? Vampire and werewolf love stories? That’s what we should write on. Dinosaur Erotica? Sure, let’s do that. (seriously, that is a thing and it saddens me) I get it. I want to sell books, too. But I have no desires to write on those topics, no matter how well they are doing. I will write on the topics I wish to write on. And I will not write on the topics I do not wish to write on.
But that is me. What about you? What do you want to write on? Don’t be afraid to write about what you want to because it isn’t mainstream or because you don’t think others will like it. You have to write for yourself and enjoy doing so in other for others to enjoy your work.
I view a lot of conformity as fear-based. We change something about ourselves because we are afraid if we don’t someone may not like us or we may not get something we want. It is one thing to change a destructive behavior to better yourselves and those around you, but it is another thing to change something you don’t want to in order to fit in. In this day and age, why do we still need to fit in to groups of people who may or may not like us?
Go back up to that video clip. Take a look at Igor (who was played by Marty Feldman). Clearly, he did not fit in with anyone else and he did not conform at all during the movie. Now, go back and look at Frankenstein, played by Gene Wilder. Just that one instance in the movie shows that even those certain of themselves can conform just for a moment or two. He didn’t know Igor at all at that point, so what did he do? Without thinking he did as Igor told him to. It made for a funny moment in the movie. (For the record, I am certain most folks don’t see what Frankenstein did was conformity. It is only an illustration to the way we, as people, think from moment to moment. To be socially or professionally accepted we conform to the norm instead of just be who we are.)
I’m a firm believer in be who you are and don’t let anyone change that in you. If you change something about yourself, then it needs to be something you want to change. As Popeye boldly states, “I am what I am.”
You are what you are. And you should stay who you are, right down to how you write the words you write.
I want to change the face of writing as we know it. That can never happen if I conform and write what everyone else writes. I want to be like a great musician with my words and bring about that change. It will not happen by writing like someone else.
Just my thoughts…
Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.