Why Alligators Matter in Writing
So I’m slightly hooked on paddle boarding. Okay, really, really, tremendously hooked. I love gliding across the water and the summer breeze that isn’t cool but isn’t hot either. My mind empties when I’m on the board, and I become part of this Florida scene. With the white cranes, muddy water, cattails, and crescent moon barely there in the sky.
But there is something scary here, underneath all this. And I try not to think about their teeth or snout or thick, scaly back. They share this lake with me–or rather, I share it with them. They are around me, beneath me. I haven’t seen them yet, but I know they’re here. Yikes! I try not to look down as I’m paddling, because I don’t want to see their log-like outline. Even if they are here with me, I ignore them, pretend them away.
I do that with so many things. The pains and hurts that inevitably happen in a world with sunshine and shadow. I skirt the shadows aside and write about the sun. But that’s not the whole story and storytellers have a responsibility to tell the story true. As true as any of us can with our fears and filters and inner critics urging us to censor and conceal.
But I wounder what would happen if I did open my eyes to the whole scene. If I saw the bluish light of dusk and the hearty pines, but also the magnificent creatures that make Florida so unique. Would I rob the reader if I excluded alligators from my scene? Or what if I wrote a character who didn’t hurt and shake and sometimes cry out in fear? I can’t remove the shadows from my world. As much as I want to. As much as I’ve made myself sick from trying to. And I can’t remove them from the stories I write either.
So what do you think? What do you think your responsibility is as a storyteller and artist?