“But maybe it’s not a good idea, you know, for the baby.” George nodded to Laura’s slightly swollen tummy.

“Don’t be silly, it’s all government sanctioned now. It’s not like how it was before. They have professionals making it now.” She tugged on his hand and they moved forward a few steps in the queue which wound its way through the streets and twisting and turning back on its self like a snake. They were still a good distance away from the dispensers, and dark clouds were beginning to gather overhead.

“But maybe we should be saving the money, for like, baby stuff.”

“Baby stuff? Like what?”

“I dunno, like prams, or nappies and rattles and things.”

“We never had any prams and rattles and we turned out just fine.”

George dug his hands into his pocket and looked at the pavement. They waited in silence for a while. There was a low rumble from above as the sky began to darken further. “Looks like rain,” said George. “Maybe we should come ba—“

“Bit of rain never hurt anyone.” Laura was still smiling but George could tell she was starting to get a little sick of his pestering.

The first few drops began to fall, and Laura began to bite her nails. The queue move forward a few steps. Laura pressed forward and George shuffled behind her.

#

A few hours later they arrived at the dispenser, wet and cold, sniffing snot back up their noses at regular intervals. An older lady in a nurse’s uniform was hacking away at the keyboard in front of her. And she addressed the couple without looking up.

“Names?”

They gave them.

“Occupations?”

They had none.

“Classification?”

They were third class citizens.

“How many days since your last dose?”

“A long many days,” said Laura with a smile. “Too many.”

The nurse did not look up. “How many days exactly since your last dose, failure to provide this information may result in—“

“94 days.”

The keys of her keyboard clicked and clacked angrily. She placed the thumb pad in front of them. Thumb print and index here.

Laura pressed her thumb against the scanner and it beeped. George did the same.

The nurse shouted her eyes still on the screen. “Next!”

George and Laura pushed through the turn stiles and made their way to next window.

#

Here sat a fat man, in suit that did not fit. He was breathing heavily and he wiped the sweat from his brow as they approached. He took their took money and gave them a pit number. George saw that he had allocated them separate pits and he asked that they be given the same numbers. He took back George’s ticket and handed him another, panting all the time, as though the exchange had cost him dearly.

George looked at his ticket. It said ‘D’. He looked at Laura and forced a smile. “I guess we’re in D.”

She tugged on his hand and lead him toward the huge grey building that the everyone had taken to calling the pits. “D is good,” said Laura. “I heard from Betty, that D is one of the cleanest, pits. Safer for the baby.”

George stopped, jerking Luara as she came up short. “Laura, there’s something you need to know. About the pits.”

She stopped and turned around, he could see her forcing the calm into her voice, “Listen, honey, It’s been a long time between doses, and what with everything that’s been going on I really just need this hit. After that, you can tell me anything, and I’ll listen to it all, and we can talk about the baby, we can talk about whatever you want. Just, please, just let me have my hit first okay? Please?”

George nodded, but could not look at her.

#

The pits weren’t really pits, they were just huge holding areas. They were where everyone went to take their hits. Normally they were crowded and noisy and stank of piss, but D was supposed to be better. The buildings themselves were huge concrete affairs all grey and drab placed parallel to each other. They were the kind of building where people went in poets and came out accountants.

#

Laura chewed on her nails as they approached the next window, the last window, the window they had been queuing all day to get to, sat a middle aged woman. She smiled at them, one of those plastic civil servants smiles, a smile that stopped at the curve of her lips. Her eyes wide, vacuous and unknowable, she stared.

The young couple waited hand in hand. The moment stretched. Still the woman did not speak. Laura looked at George, and then back at the woman. “We’re here for our dose.”

This woman blinked. The non-smile intensified. “Please and thank you go a long way in this world.”

“Please,” they both said together.

“Manners are important, don’t you agree?”

“Yes,” said Laura. “Very important.”

George nodded, embarrassed.

“There, now that wasn’t so hard was it?”

“We’re sorry it’s just that it’s been a long day,” said Laura. Geroge put a hand on her arm, her could tell she was moments away from tears.

“There is no excuse for rudeness.” The woman paused, smiling at them. “Is there?”

It was too much for Laura, she began to cry. “No, there’s none, we’re sorry. It won’t happen again, we’re so sorry. Can we please just have the dose?”

George felt a lump form in his own throat.

The woman, tutted, “Oh come now, no need for tears, let’s just try and remember our manners next time shall we? Now, here’s your dose. You two go and relax for a while okay?”

She held out two small boxes. Laura made to grab for them, tears streaming down her face. But the woman held on to them, her grip like a vice and through gritted teeth she said, “What do we say?”

“Thank you,” sobbed. “Oh god please, thank you.”

The woman released her grip. “Have a nice day.”

George put an arm around her as they made their way inside. “Fucking bitch,” he said. But Laura was already wiping her eyes, dose secured, she moved with purpose.

#

The pits were quiet. A few hundred people lay slumped against the walls, a few more sprawled about rest of the room.  It was not clean as they had hoped. It still stank of piss and sweat, but Laura didn’t seem to notice. She tore at her packet with her teeth as soon as she got inside the perimeter.

“Why do they make these things so hard to get into.” She sat on the concrete floor and patted the space beside her. “Come on baby, we deserve this.”

George sat down next to her. “Laura, I have to tell you. I could never live with myself if I didn’t. There’s a rumour going round.”

“Seriously, you want to do this now? Can’t it wait? For like five fucking minutes?” She had the powder out now and she was tipping it out onto the cook spoon provided.

He grabbed her, hand. “No damn it, it can’t wait, will you just listen!”

Laura closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She opened her eyes and looked at George. “Alright sweetie, tell me.”

“They give us this stuff to kill the baby. They can’t afford anymore third class citizens, the state can’t afford it. They’re killing our babies. Tim from our building did a test after his wife lost their’s. He found something in it. Some compound he couldn’t name. I mean how babies do you see in third class building anymore?”

Laura looked at him, tears in her eyes. “Oh honey, Oh sweetheart, I know. Everybody knows. Nobody wants to admit it but we all know.”

“Laura, please. I can get a job, work my way up to second class in a few years.”

She tore her arm free of his grip, anger and hate in her now. “Get a job? Are you fucking kidding me? There are no jobs, George! There haven’t been for a long time now. You really want to bring a child into this world? Into all this shit? You need to grow up George.” She tied her arm off with the rubber tube provided and tapped her arm looking for vein.

“Please, Laura, just wait, let’s just talk about it.”

The needle was in. She pushed the plunger. Her eyes rolled back. She lay down on her side and was still. A single tear rolled from her eye and down her nose, and it hung there like a question mark before falling to the ground.

George sat next to her for a long while. Her stroked her hair and cried gently to himself. Then he picked up his own packet and bit into it with his teeth.

End.

Instructor Response

“But maybe it’s not a good idea, you know, for the baby.” George nodded to Laura’s slightly swollen tummy.

“Don’t be silly, it’s all government sanctioned now. It’s not like how it was before. They have professionals making it now.” This is an example of story information in dialogue (exposition). Avoid. A character would never say this dialogue to another character who knows the information. Put this in narrative. It’s a rule: avoid exposition in dialogue. [Use The Fiction Well on the website as search terms for details.] She tugged on his hand and they moved forward a few steps in the queue which wound its way through the streets and twisting and turning back on its self like a snake. They were still a good distance away from the dispensers, and dark clouds were beginning to gather overhead.

“But maybe we should be saving the money, for like, baby stuff.”

Excellent. You’ve got characters introduced, and we know there is a conflict about the baby. Consider letting us know more about the conflict. And how they feel about the conflict. Are they trying to save the baby? Are they killing the baby with injections? If they want the baby, why aren’t they resisting? Why are they just showing up when there doesn’t seem to any real danger to them if they don’t? And you might consider, if you concentrate in this scene on motives and desires, making Laura and George’s motives clearly opposite: one wants to kill the baby, the other not, OR you could make the government’s directive stronger with penalties of prison or death, and set up a conflict where Laura and George are scheming to save the baby they want to bring up together. Work to keep motives and desires clear, strong, and conflicting; it’s what keeps the reader engaged.

“Baby stuff? Like what?”

“I dunno, like prams, or nappies and rattles and things.”

“We never had any prams and rattles and we turned out just fine.”

George dug his hands into his pocket and looked at the pavement. They waited in silence for a while. There was a low rumble from above as the sky began to darken further. “Looks like rain,” said George. “Maybe we should come ba—“

“Bit of rain never hurt anyone.” Laura was still smiling but George could tell she was starting to get a little sick of his pestering. Consider making the underlying emotions clearer and more logical here. Why would she feel pestered? (Don’t tell us; show us through action and dialogue.)

The first few drops began to fall, and Laura began to bite her nails. The queue move forward a few steps. Laura pressed forward and George shuffled behind her.

You start with dialogue. Okay, no rules broken. But since this is futuristic, you might consider orienting the reader to who? what? when? where? as early as you possibly can. It’s a good idea for any story.

In this scene, he wants the baby. Does she? 

The narrator uses the term “dispensers.” But it is unclear what they were. Machines? People? A political group? etc. Here is an opportunity through images and setting (showing rather than telling) to let us know not only what “dispensers” are, but more about story, especially visual orientation. An example of showing: “A hundred yards ahead, seven unpainted wooden, outhouse-size booths with a windowless opening in each were lined up before a coliseum-like stone structure that towered into the sky where the pits were. Inside each booth sat a uniformed dispenser with a taser gun strapped to the side and a computer on a high shelf.” I know this is not your story; I’m just showing the opportunity that is available to show not tell.

#

A few hours later they arrived at the dispenser, wet and cold, sniffing snot back up their noses at regular intervals. An older lady in a nurse’s uniform was hacking away at the keyboard in front of her. And she addressed the couple without looking up.

“Names?”

They gave them.

“Occupations?”

They had none.

“Classification?”

They were third class citizens.

“How many days since your last dose?”

“A long many days,” said Laura with a smile. “Too many.”

The nurse did not look up. “How many days exactly since your last dose, failure to provide this information may result in—“

“94 days.”  This is three months. How far along is the baby? If it’s only a little bump, not too far, would she have had many doses? What is the significance of the waiting to her, to the dispenser? How does George feel about it? As is, it doesn’t provide tension needed for story.

The keys of her keyboard clicked and clacked angrily. She placed the thumb pad in front of them. Thumb print and index here.

Laura pressed her thumb against the scanner and it beeped. George did the same.

The nurse shouted her eyes still on the screen. “Next!”

George and Laura pushed through the turn stiles and made their way to next window. You spend too much time in these four lines on uninteresting stuff. George and Laura were fingerprinted, period. Does a reader really care about beeps and the fingers on the scanner? It doesn’t add to the story.

#

Here sat a fat man, in suit that did not fit. He was breathing heavily and he wiped the sweat from his brow as they approached. He took their took money and gave them a pit number. George saw that he had allocated them separate pits and he asked that they be given the same numbers. He took back George’s ticket and handed him another, panting all the time, as though the exchange had cost him dearly.  Search for tension in story. Why is “D” so desirable? It doesn’t smell as bad! And safer for the baby? Given what we know, how could it be safer? What if they didn’t want to go to “D” because the death rate was higher or lower, or the drug used in “D” was more painful and caused permanent mental disorientation? Etc.

George looked at his ticket. It said ‘D’. He looked at Laura and forced a smile. “I guess we’re in D.”  Make them fight against something here. Make George win against the fat man, maybe, or Laura promise him sex for the ticket change, or they’re forced to bribe the fat man with something.

She tugged on his hand and lead him toward the huge grey building that the everyone had taken to calling the pits. “D is good,” said Laura. “I heard from Betty, that D is one of the cleanest, pits. Safer for the baby.”

George stopped, jerking Luara as she came up short. “Laura, there’s something you need to know. About the pits.”

She stopped and turned around, he could see her forcing the calm into her voice, “Listen, honey, It’s been a long time between doses, and what with everything that’s been going on I really just need this hit. After that, you can tell me anything, and I’ll listen to it all, and we can talk about the baby, we can talk about whatever you want. Just, please, just let me have my hit first okay? Please?”

George nodded, but could not look at her.

#

The pits weren’t really pits, they were just huge holding areas. They were where everyone went to take their hits. Normally they were crowded and noisy and stank of piss, but D was supposed to be better. The buildings themselves were huge concrete affairs all grey and drab placed parallel to each other. They were the kind of building where people went in poets and came out accountants.

#

Laura chewed on her nails as they approached the next window, the last window, the window they had been queuing all day to get to, sat a middle aged woman. She smiled at them, one of those plastic civil servants smiles, a smile that stopped at the curve of her lips. Her eyes wide, vacuous and unknowable, she stared.

The young couple waited hand in hand. The moment stretched. Still the woman did not speak. Laura looked at George, and then back at the woman. “We’re here for our dose.”

This woman blinked. The non-smile intensified. “Please and thank you go a long way in this world.”

“Please,” they both said together.

“Manners are important, don’t you agree?”

“Yes,” said Laura. “Very important.”

George nodded, embarrassed.  Is this the right emotion here? Wouldn’t he be angry? Indignant? Offended? 

“There, now that wasn’t so hard was it?”

“We’re sorry it’s just that it’s been a long day,” said Laura. Geroge put a hand on her arm, her could tell she was moments away from tears.  Yes. This reaction, tears and comfort, is just right.

“There is no excuse for rudeness.” The woman paused, smiling at them. “Is there?”

It was too much for Laura, she began to cry. “No, there’s none, we’re sorry. It won’t happen again, we’re so sorry. Can we please just have the dose?”

George felt a lump form in his own throat.  Wouldn’t he still be angry, supporting Laura?

The woman, tutted, “Oh come now, no need for tears, let’s just try and remember our manners next time shall we? Now, here’s your dose. You two go and relax for a while okay?”

She held out two small boxes. Laura made to grab for them, tears streaming down her face. But the woman held on to them, her grip like a vice and through gritted teeth she said, “What do we say?”

“Thank you,” sobbed. “Oh god please, thank you.”

The woman released her grip. “Have a nice day.”

George put an arm around her as they made their way inside. “Fucking bitch,” he said. Yes.  But Laura was already wiping her eyes, dose secured, she moved with purpose.

#

The pits were quiet. A few hundred people lay slumped against the walls, a few more sprawled about rest of the room.  It was not clean as they had hoped. It still stank of piss and sweat, but Laura didn’t seem to notice. She tore at her packet with her teeth as soon as she got inside the perimeter.

“Why do they make these things so hard to get into.” She sat on the concrete floor and patted the space beside her. “Come on baby, we deserve this.”  As a storyteller, ask what directing the reader’s attention to opening the package does for your story. Does it contribute, and how? Or does it stop the action? What if you used this space to further understanding of situation or characterization?

George sat down next to her. “Laura, I have to tell you. I could never live with myself if I didn’t. There’s a rumour going round.”

“Seriously, you want to do this now? Can’t it wait? For like five fucking minutes?” She had the powder out now and she was tipping it out onto the cook spoon provided.

He grabbed her, hand. “No damn it, it can’t wait, will you just listen!”

Laura closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She opened her eyes and looked at George. “Alright sweetie, tell me.”

“They give us this stuff to kill the baby. They can’t afford anymore third class citizens, the state can’t afford it. They’re killing our babies. Tim from our building did a test after his wife lost their’s. He found something in it. Some compound he couldn’t name. I mean how babies do you see in third class building anymore?”

Laura looked at him, tears in her eyes. “Oh honey, Oh sweetheart, I know. Everybody knows. Nobody wants to admit it but we all know.”

“Laura, please. I can get a job, work my way up to second class in a few years.”

She tore her arm free of his grip, anger and hate in her now. “Get a job? Are you fucking kidding me? There are no jobs, George! There haven’t been for a long time now. You really want to bring a child into this world? Into all this shit? You need to grow up George.” She tied her arm off with the rubber tube provided and tapped her arm looking for vein.  All good. Story moving well here.

“Please, Laura, just wait, let’s just talk about it.”

The needle was in. She pushed the plunger. Her eyes rolled back. She lay down on her side and was still. A single tear rolled from her eye and down her nose, and it hung there like a question mark before falling to the ground.

George sat next to her for a long while. Her stroked her hair and cried gently to himself. Then he picked up his own packet and bit into it with his teeth.

End.

This is a story set sometime in the future where authorities provide heroin (?) laced with something that kills the unborn to keep the population under control, specifically the low-class population unable to find work and make a living. It’s a political statement. The purpose seems to be to shock the reader with horror of it all, and the eventuality the story seems to suggest.

Stories succeed best when they are about people. People learning about themselves and others. Here is a suggestion. What if you made their trip to “D” under these circumstances? What if they didn’t know about the “poison” and discovered it along the way? (In the present story, both know about it through backstory.) So when they learn about it they must decide to resist and save the baby they both want by kicking their addiction and never taking the poison again and dealing with the consequences. Or they could argue, trying to do what is morally right, but Laura can’t overcome her addiction and George can’t forgive her. There are many other ways to work on this. Basically, it’s involving people making decisions, facing obstacles, learning about themselves, that could bring a whole new dimension and a whole new level of interest in the story.

Here’s another idea. What if it’s not the authorities who are killing babies? What if George finds out that Laura, the woman he loves who is pregnant with his child, is putting the lethal substance in her drugs? How does he handle that? What is the result?

Anyway, I hope that gives you some ideas. All the best. WHC

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