Turtles & Rabbits (by Geoffrey C Porter)
A version of this story was originally published by Bards and Sages Quarterly.
The ancient but timeless snapping turtle sat on a tree stump lecturing on the proper application of technique in writing. I sat listening and nodding, wondering if I would be allowed to speak anytime soon. The turtle went on to claim that he was a third-generation linguistics expert, and his policies regarding technique were taught in all the best universities. My attention span for such things is limited, and I interrupted, “But, can’t I simply put pen to paper and etch the words out as they come to me?”
“Oh no,” the turtle said, “you must be inspired to plot out a great picture in the reader’s mind. You must paint a vivid canvas of colors and imagery. You cannot simply put down ideas and concepts. The writing must flow from word to word. You must assume your first draft is atrocious, and write a second draft, and finally a third draft. Some even go as far as to write a fourth or fifth draft.”
I had to interrupt again, “But, what if I’m careful, and I get it right the first time?”
The turtle cracked a wide smile, and there were bits of food stuck in his teeth. “You won’t get it right the first time. Nobody gets it right the first time. I’ve seen your first drafts, and you manage almost fifty errors per page.”
“But you’ve said in the past that the difference between a first draft and a second draft equates to improving the plot.”
“Yes, but would it hurt to fix the errors?”
“Publishers have armies of editors.”
“Will a publisher read past the first error?”
I paused at that. Would they?
The rabbit next to me whispered in my ear, “I got sex right the first time.”
“Sex and writing are two very different things!” The turtle said with a raised, high-pitched voice.
“For the reader, are they that different?” I asked. “I mean, you derive pleasure from both. Both should have a climax.”
“Writing is a skill that works like a muscle,” the turtle said. “There are countless exercises that will build up that muscle, and you must practice them every day.”
I shook my head back and forth, thinking what kind of maroon does exercises? “But I want to write a new story every day. Isn’t that exercise enough?”
The turtle shot lasers out of his eyes at me and howled. “No! The exercises are more important than any story.”
I sighed. I had heard the turtle talk about exercises before, and those talks bored me to tears. I often wondered if I was interested in this writing class, but it was the only writing class in the forest.
The turtle’s eyes shifted from me to the other pupils. “Don’t aspire to be as good a writer as I am. Be content if you can write one decent story in your life. Someday, you might have a great epiphany and become a great writer, but until then, you must practice and revise.”
“But… I don’t want to revise old stories. I want to write new stories.”
The turtle turned back to face me and simultaneously slumped his shoulders down low. “I have read your old stories, and they aren’t very good. You need to apply the technique of imagery and detail to each one. You need to give your characters thoughts and emotions. It’s not good enough to create a solid plot or a bit of action. You must write each story as if a blind rabbit were reading it. You must detail every image and character.”
“But, if I’m writing for a blind turtle, it seems the imagery would matter less, for a blind man has never seen a blond haired, blue eyed wench. He doesn’t need to know what she looks like. My characters are defined by their actions.”
The turtle laughed a happy little chuckle. “That’s the key to the imagery and sensory detail, for you must make a blind person see. You’ll have arrived as a writer when you can make a blind man see and a hard man cry.”
My eyes opened wide enough that they almost fell out. They almost did. “I’m a simple rabbit. I don’t want to make a blind man see, or a hard man cry. That is the work of miracles.”
“You will never be a writer.”