Would like feedback on a short story with an apocalyptic theme please

Wed, Jul 5 2017 10:30pm IST 1
Ian Blackwell
Ian Blackwell
20 Posts

We Are All In This Together

DEADLY KILAVIRUS ARRIVES IN UK

The BBC News headline screamed from the laptop. Alastair knew this day would come. The ban on all transport into the UK has proven futile.

He could hear the panic on the main street outside his bedroom window. He smiled and shook his head at the thought of those pathetic people rushing around to stock up on supplies; he already had enough food to last him weeks. They’ll deserve what they get for being unprepared, he thought. He carried on reading.

Public Health England has announced that the first cases of the lethal Kilavirus were confirmed late last night in London. The Prime Minister Teresa May has declared a national state of emergency, saying that all citizens are to avoid leaving their homes unless absolutely essential. Public gatherings are now illegal and all businesses are to remain closed from midnight tonight.

The mysterious Kilavirus, of which its origins are unknown, has swept across Europe over the last few months, causing a painful death within several days for many of those infected.

All European countries are either on complete lockdown or travel has been severely restricted. Scientists worldwide are working to establish where this virus came from, how it spreads, and, most importantly, what can be done to prevent it spreading further.

Dr Melissa Wadsworth, a spokeswoman for Public Health England, confirmed what they have learned so far.

‘Empirical evidence suggests the Kilavirus is contracted through droplet inhalation, due to the fact that in almost every case, the first sign of infection has been a nosebleed, followed by further respiratory tract damage.

‘I wish to take this opportunity to assure the public we are doing everything we can to contain this. I strongly urge everyone to follow our advice and remain indoors until we gather more information from our European partners. Scientists have isolated the virus and are trying to develop a vaccine as we speak. If your nose starts to bleed for no reason, or if you start coughing up blood, separate yourself from your household and stay in a separate room. Call our dedicated national helpline on 112 for further instruction.

‘I wish to emphasise that the vast majority of healthy individuals, based on the available evidence, seem to be unaffected by the virus. However, the elderly, obese, disabled, immunocompromised, and adults with chronic long-term conditions, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, are very much at a high risk of death from this horrible disease. Please heed our advice and wait for further information which will be administered through various media outlets.’

Scientists agree that after contraction, Kilavirus causes severe inflammation of the respiratory tract before proceeding into the bloodstream and gastro-intestinal tract, causing further inflammation and bleeding. Symptoms are nosebleeds, coughing up blood, bleeding from the mouth and anus, severe skin ulceration and fever. As the disease progresses, it ultimately results in multiple organ failure (sepsis) and a likelihood of death within days. There is currently no cure.

Suddenly a loud screech followed by a crash ripped through Alastair’s bedroom from outside, making him jump. He hopped to his feet and skipped to the window for a look.

He caught two cars reversing away from each other, with debris from the impact crumbling onto the street between them. Both cars accelerated away, even though their fronts had just taken a battering. Never before had Alastair heard of two drivers so desperate to get away they didn’t even bother to get out and swap insurance details. More cars sped up and down the street well over the speed limit. On the pavements only the elderly walked, albeit as fast as they could; everyone else was running.

The shouting from the Sainsbury’s Local across the road drew his eyes: through the window he could see many people grabbing everything they could off the shelves and chucking them into overflowing trolleys. The store was a Grand Prix of trolleys racing around; the drivers didn’t even seem to notice when they crashed into each other. All they did was roar at everyone who completely blocked their paths.

The queue at the tills was huge. Some of those waiting were screaming at the staff working the tills and at those customers using the self-service tills to hurry up. But at least they were prepared to wait: a bulky security man at the entrance was arguing with an old woman who it seemed was trying to wheel her trolley out without paying.

Maybe this Kilavirus won’t be a bad thing, Alastair thought. After all, it will only be the unhealthy and old people who’ll die from it. People are living longer and getting fatter all the time. The rising NHS and social care bill is unsustainable. How many billions will be saved when many of these people just die?

Maybe that will ultimately mean me paying less taxes. You must find the positives in every situation.

Alastair turned away from the manic street outside and looked in the mirror hanging on his wall. He grinned at himself.

Young, fit and healthy: that’s me. Nothing to worry about. I will be okay, and that’s all that matters.

Then Alastair noticed something on his face: two little, dark patches right under his nostrils. He rubbed them with the back of his hand, smearing red across his cheek. He stared down at the sticky streak on his hand. He looked at the mirror again and watched a trickle of blood run down from his nose and start to gather on his lip.

Thu, Jul 6 2017 05:24am IST 2
stephenterry
stephenterry
3224 Posts
Well researched. The main essence of a short story is a beginning, a middle, and an end. I feel this is all beginning, or maybe stretching it to a beginning and end with no middle, or a beginning and a middle with no end.

This 'short' could be the beginning of a longer story, as it nicely sets up a 'life changing' experience for Alastair - and I'm not so sure it works standing alone and cut off at the interesting finale. But others could differ, and say it does its job.

Nevertheless, well done for posting an enjoyable piece.





Thu, Jul 6 2017 10:14am IST 3
Newbie
Newbie
3173 Posts
A salient lesson in how not to believe everything you hear or read in the media.

I liked this - you lay out the problem and leave the reader with a feeling of anxiety.

I didn't know whether to feel sorry for Alistair at discovering he had contracted the virus, or a little smug that his comments on those who were most susceptible (virtually everyone except 'healthy' people like himself) were, in the end, vacuous.

I agree that this could be the beginning of a longer story.

Good luck with it.
Thu, Jul 6 2017 12:49pm IST 4
Philippa
Philippa
1564 Posts
Hi Ian,

I like the premise, and the bow that Alistairs thinks he's been so clever, preparing in advance and being 'young and healthy' so "it won't get me!" Then we see him with the marks and blood...

I agree with the others that the pacing / length / structure doesn't (yet) work as a stand-alone short story. In effect, we have one turning point, whereas in any story, you really need at least three (a life changing event to start the story [beginning], some kind of big set-back, revelation, or battle [middle], and a final win or lose moment [to bring it to an end].)

I thin, as ST says, you have a beginning here, but you could expand your word count loads and make this a full, arced, story. I'd challenge you to extend this to 3,000 words :)

Saying that, I think the end as you have it could still work as an end (it has a nice creepy horror-genre thing to it) - but Alastair has to reach this point (only) after a fair bit of other action, conflicts and twists and turns. Here's a nice page on narrativ arcs, which can apply to short stories as well as novels / films etc.


One other thought. Your protagonist Alastair doesn't actually do much in this story(!). He reads something, looks out the window, thinks some stuff, looks in the mirror. With all the exciting carnage, panic and chaos you have so nicely set up, I'd like to see him getting out there in the world and seeing how his prejudices, arrogance, assumptions and fears will play out in the real, live action.

Hope this helps!
Thu, Jul 6 2017 09:12pm IST 5
BobAird
BobAird
104 Posts
Hi Ian,

Well researched and written with a degree of authority. Good portrayal of panic and truly believable. And I certainly enjoyed it.

However, as others have said, I don't think it's a complete story and your protagonist lacks agency. He is merely a bystander and takes no real part until the nose bleed. Also, the scientific info dump could be shortened since it takes up almost half the story. You tells us twice to look out for nosebleeds. Once would probably do. Could Alistair go out and tell us what's happening from there? Could he become involved somehow? Keep his cynicism and arrogance but have us care about him. Right now, I just think, Serves you right.

Bob

Sat, Jul 15 2017 10:37pm IST 6
Ian Blackwell
Ian Blackwell
20 Posts
Hi Guys,

Sorry only replying now. I've been away on holiday.

Yeah I agree with what you guys are saying regarding this being incomplete. The trouble is whenever I start writing I end up with a long story, but I want to write short stories to develop my writing; there's no point in trying to write a novel when the writing isn't up to scratch.

I'll reflect on the points made here and see what I can do. I'm conscious about trying to write as little as possible to make it more appealing for magazines etc.

Many thanks,

Ian.
Sun, Jul 16 2017 10:37am IST 7
Philippa
Philippa
1564 Posts
Hi Ian,

I totally commend your plan to write short stories to hone your writing before embarking on a novel. It's a great and efficient way to learn. There's also lots of opportunities these days to get short stories published in literary magazines, so that's great for your writing cv too.

Don't think of a short story as containing "as little as possible". The trick, I think, in keeping them short is to pick a premise which is the correct size for a short story. The premise of your story above I think could easily fill a whole film or novel. Try to think about a premise / subject matter which would be more the subject of a 4-minute film, or even the sort of thing one might write a poem about.

Write on!

Sun, Jul 16 2017 12:13pm IST 8
BellaM
BellaM
2273 Posts
I agree with Philippa's advice on topics for short stories. But why not have a crack at a novel if that is really what you want to do? After all, each chapter needs a structure to move the plot on, so you can still adopt a bite-size approach if you wish.

This story was enjoyable and I liked the twist. But it could certainly make a whole novel.
Sun, Jul 16 2017 08:29pm IST 9
Ian Blackwell
Ian Blackwell
20 Posts
Hi Philippa. Thanks for the tip on picking a premise. I feel I keep picking ones that are too big. But you've given me an idea: I'll watch a few short films (and read some short stories!) to see how a story is worked into a small space. I like things short and sweet (which is why I don't like reading Dickens) but I take your point on not getting too obsessed with this. Thanks.

Hi BellaM. I've written one novel which was 173,000 words. I edited it down to 127,000 words when I learned more about writing, and I cut this down to 53,000 words when I learned even more. That means I wrote 120,000 words that didn't need to be there. Editing takes a lot of time. If I can tighten my skills for the first draft it'll save a lot of messing when it comes to editing. That's my opinion though and everybody is different and mightn't agree with that approach. I don't feel ready to start writing a novel yet, though I take your point on the bite-size approach. Thanks.
Sun, Jul 16 2017 11:50pm IST 10
BellaM
BellaM
2273 Posts
I hear you on the cutting. But it may be a necessary evil. Sometimes you need to get the feel, and the atmosphere, down and then cut. Up to you, obviously, but I think it might be wrong to think of your longer word counts as wasted. Good luck with whatever approach you use.
Mon, Jul 17 2017 11:30am IST 11
Hil
Hil
1019 Posts

I'm going the other way from most of these comments - turn it into a flash. In my opinion you hardly need any of the news bulletin. The focus could be his arrogance/naivety, followed by the discovery of the two little drops of blood, which I think is a great ending. Go for 300 words!?

(But I'm a bit obsessed with flash at the moment!)

Good luck, whichever way you go.

Wed, Jul 19 2017 04:11pm IST 12
Ian Blackwell
Ian Blackwell
20 Posts
Yeah I think maybe using the word "wasted" is harsh because I did learn a lot from it BellaM.
Hi Hil. Yeah I could turn it into a flash; it would be good practice for me I reckon. What defines a flash in terms of word count? Do you know any good sources of flash fiction that I would read? Thanks.

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