Friday, October 3, 2014

Who's on First?

Spencer Dryden

This topic is as befuddling to me as the famous Abbot and Costello bit. I still don't know what deep third is. (Wait, 'I don't know' is on third.) I'm going to be reading Garce's post with pencil and paper. Lisabet's was every informative.
Some general reactions are the best I can do.
I like first person, but not in present tense, as in (dare I say it?) FSOG. It comes off as clumsy to me, like the writer is trying to have me in the scene. I'm a voyeur not a participant. It's hard to sustain dramatic tension over a long period in first person. (witness again, FSOG) The writer is cut off from devices such as the ever faithful, 'meanwhile'. Meanwhile is the bomb strapped to the leg of the dining room table unseen by the couple eating dinner. It radically alters the meaning of their conversation.
Most of my own inventory of short stories are first person, past tense. It's an easy vehicle for an inexperienced writer to drive. Some humor and good dialogue can bring plenty of entertainment to a 5,000-10,000 word story. 
I love spoken dialogue. My editor has to chide me to do more scene setting and to have characters display physical manifestations of the emotions expressed in dialogue. Some of my best stuff (IMO) is all dialogue microfiction. I don't know how it would be categorized. I wish there was a market or an anthology or two for this kind of work. (see below)
I've never tried writing exclusively in second person. I throw a 'you' around once in a while.  I don't get how you do it in a fiction piece. Maybe you could suggest some well written pieces.
I'm trying to do more third person work. Like I said, I don't know what deep third is. (Garce, you're up dude.) I have a tendency to drift from third person to omniscient within the same scene, something I see regularly as a reader. Apparently, it's not a good thing. Not according my editor who administered numerous jolts through the shock collar I wore when we were editing "Bliss".
That's about it for me. I'm going to stop before I reduce the sum total of human knowledge any farther.
So what's on second?
How about a little social commentary in an all dialogue piece?
At The Border
By Spencer Dryden
Fargo, North Dakota, August 28, 2020
“Officer, I wasn’t speeding. Why am I being stopped?”
“You failed to stop at the checkpoint, ma’am.”
“Checkpoint, what check point?”
“The one about a half mile back that you missed.”
“What’s the checkpoint for?”
“Pregnancy check, ma’am.”
“Pregnancy check?”
“Yes ma’am. We need a urine sample to be sure you’re not leaving the state to have an abortion.”
“And what if I am? You can’t stop me.”
“As a matter of fact, we can. Under the North Dakota Comprehensive Preservation of Life Act of 2020. You need to give us a urine sample before crossing into Minnesota to prove you’re not pregnant.”
“And if I don’t?”
“We can detain you under Article 616.”
“Article 616?”
“Yes, it’s a provision of the law that allows the Department of Health to restrict travel of any woman of child bearing age suspected of leaving the state for the purposes of an abortion.”
“I don’t understand, when did they get that power?”
“The state has had the power to restrict travel for public health purposes since the great influenza outbreak just after World War I.”
“But I’m not contagious.”
“Perhaps not, but if you’re travelling to have an abortion, we have the moral and legal authority to detain you.”
“This is outrageous.”
“No ma’am. What’s outrageous is the millions of lives terminated every year by women like you.”
“Women like me?”
“Yes, women like you. We know you have had unprotected sex within the last 24 hours and since this is the middle of your cycle there is a high probability that you will become pregnant.”
“How can you possibly know that?”
“Ma’am you seem to be without shame in your texts, e-mails and phone calls. Don’t you know that people are listening?”
“You’re monitoring me? How can you possibly justify that?”
“Crime prevention ma’am. We’re preventing a premeditated murder of an unborn child.”
“My cycle, how could you possible know that?”
“A very sophisticated data mining algorithm. We can predict your ovulation within a day.”
“Exactly ma’am. Jesus and the people of North Dakota want to end abortion.”
“But I’m not pregnant.”
“Then pee in the cup and prove it.”
“And if I do that?”
“Then I can just red-band you and let you go.”
“Just…red band me?” Just what does that mean?”
“It means you’ll need to return and be tested in another three days. You have two days of maximum fertility ahead.”
“I can’t believe you can do this.”
“We can and we will.”
“But what about my rights? It’s my body.”
“But not your uterus. That belongs to the state.”
Copyright 8/29/13 Spencer Dryden. No part of this material may be copied or reused without permission of the author.



  1. Don't worry about your befuddlement, Spencer. Just keep it consistent. (unless you're JP Donleavy) I've heard it said there are up to 24 delineations of POV.

    I remember this little story, Spencer. Good one, dynamite dialog and chilling. Don't ever say it can't happen here.

  2. Thanks Daddy:
    For a while it did look like it could happen in my bakyard. North Dakota was close to passing one of the strictest anti abortion measures of any state. Once it happens the next step in the battle is presuming that women of child bearing age are traveling to have an abortion the way they did to Europe and Mexico before Roe vs Wade

    1. Those fucked-up forces will *not* give up. They're bound and determined to chip, chip, chip away our rights. I can't believe how many voters, especially women, line up behind those forces! Is it normal to vote against your better interest every time? Now you've done it, Spencer! Gonna be pissed off all day now. :>)

    2. Hah! Not pissed anymore. saw the Abbott & Costello routine, and that brought me back.

      Y'know? -- we always consider that piece semantical wordplay. Not sure I ever knew how visual it is. thanks for that, Spencer!

  3. It's a funny bit. Johnny Carson did one some years ago and I think either Jimmy Fallon or Jimmy Kimmel did one recently. As far as women voting against their own interests...I don't know either. Wait I don't know is on third.

  4. Whooee, Spencer! That's a powerful piece of fiction up there. Or maybe not fiction. I suspect that the authorities COULD predict your ovulation using data mining.

    And about your editor wanting more description and scene setting - that's a romance thing. This piece is damn near perfect as it is. Ask any reader to describe either participant in this conversation and I'll bet they could.

    The woman? Thirty two years old. Dark hair, shoulder length. Slight frame, modest breasts. Not the sort of woman who would normally make you look twice unless you looked into her eyes, which are grayish blue and full of passion.

    The cop? Almost fifty. Mirror sunglasses and a buzz cut. Thin lips, weathered skin, maybe ten pounds overweight, posture like a soldier.

    I could go on. This piece gives a great sense of who these two characters are.

  5. LisabetL
    Thank you. By the year 2020 when this story is set, data mining will surly be able to predict ovulation, if it can't already. My instinct says it already can, at least in terms of what buy messages a woman would be sensitive to based on her time of the month.

    I like to let readers fill in details. I like your descriptions of the two characters

    1. Yeah, data mining to predict ovulation seems completely plausible to me. There have already been cases of data mining algorithms figuring out people are pregnant before the people themselves.

  6. What a prescient story! I'm sure it's not too distant in our future. The really depressing thing is that those of us old enough to remember when abortion was illegal before, had thought the battle was over when it was made legal. But the conservative douche-bags started playing "the long game" immediately. Their ultimate goal is to control every woman's uterus.

    Will we be forced to have 10 kids each? 20? Will we be paid to stay at home with them? Will only white women be enslaved to child-bearing, while women of color are forced into sterility procedures? There's quite a chilling sci-fi story here, just waiting to be written.

  7. Writing a story completely in dialogue is a rare talent when it's done well, as you have here, Spencer. I wish a few of the writers I work with would try it as an exercise in order to make their characters' dialogue distinctive.

  8. Great use of dialogue, Spencer. More description would slow down the pace of the scene, which works excellently as it is. Horrible possibility. The woman's repeated question, "How can you do this?" reminds me of the real case of a Scandinavian woman attending a conference in a Middle Eastern country. Apparently she was raped in her hotel by another conference attendee, so she called the local police. Clearly, this is what she would have done in her home country, and she assumed the police would regard her as the victim. Not so. She was lucky not to be locked up for a "sex crime" herself, and that was only because the case attracted international publicity.

  9. Great story, Spencer, as others have said. So many of the technological and legal pieces are in place—I'm afraid this seems all too possible. (Previous comment deleted for lack of clarity).


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