Uniformity or innovation…an author’s choice?

Lavish pageantry. Stunning displays of precise choreography. Did Beijing’s closing ceremonies outdo the opening performances? They were both amazing. After a few surprised gasps and several eyebrow dances, it seemed I was becoming jaded with the scope and drama of it all. Poor London, site of the 2012 Summer Olympics: what an elaborate act to follow!

China skillfully employed its greatest resource: people. Over a million Chinese applied for the 100,000 volunteer positions. I direct an annual musical production in my small community, and we hold six weeks of rehearsals for our 45-minute show. I can’t begin to wrap my mind around how many volunteer hours of rehearsals went into the dozens of complex productions.

China is proud of its numbers – its Olympic athletes earned more gold than the US. It spent $50 billion for the Bird’s Nest stadium, Water Cube and other Olympic structures. An eyebrow-raising 15,000 Chinese volunteers performed in the Opening Ceremonies alone.

Filmmaker Zhang Yimou, who directed the gala, commented that only North Korea could have outdone them. “North Korea is No. 1 in the world when it comes to uniformity,” he said.

Uniformity, the stripping away of what makes us unique as human, to achieve precision on a grand scale. That scares some people who think of uniformity as an Orwellian nightmare, all of humanity, marching like so many robots, insignificant when weighed against the whole, interchangeable, less unique even than Lego® building blocks, more like nondescript concrete bricks, easily stacked one onto the other with no pesky “protestor” bricks or bricks that might seek slip out of line, seeking freedom or individuality.

Uniformity, or individuality? Benefits can be listed for both, because both are needed. In the literary world, editors cry out for fresh, new stories – but they are simultaneously wooed by the comfort of predictable sales, which can discourage them from taking a chance on something innovative. This fear of newness (or as with China, this admiration of predictable, “sure” things) explains the growth of small presses like my publisher, Five Star Publishing, which buy more novels that don’t fit the pegs and holes of proven genres.

We authors are encouraged to write the stories of our hearts. To sell our novels, must we adjust our ideas to conform to proven storylines? What’s more important to you in your writing, uniformity to make a sale, or innovation, with no regard to sales?

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Filed under Olympics, The Writing Life

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