The boy’s face was pale and his cheeks were slightly hollow – showing versus telling


Bran took his car keys from the ignition and flipped through the file he got from the children’s court. Both parents were still in the picture, that was something at least. Mum had psychological difficulties, but the most acute problems came from dad’s alcohol abuse and his loose hands.

Their 15-year-old son Mark had had a couple of incidents with the police. Nothing too serious so far, but it hadn’t done the relationship with his father any good. A recent collision between the two had resulted in a couple of firm smacks for Mark. A visit to the first aid had been inevitable, and a red flag had been raised at youth care.

Bran put the file in his bag and got out of the car. The fierce wind brushed against his neck. For a moment, he hesitated as he looked up at the big grey apartment building. Then he walked on, searching for the right entrance. Most of the nameplates had disappeared and some of the doorbells were plastered with chewing gum. Welcome to the north of Amsterdam.

Bran only had to ring once before the buzzer sounded. He pushed the door open and stepped into the stairwell. Between the garbage and the old bikes, he worked his way up. The front door was ajar.

‘Hello? It’s Branimir Ulak, your family guardian.’ He pushed the door open and glanced into the hallway. Voices were coming from the room at the end. He walked in and peeked around the first door. From the bed, two eyes glared in his direction. The boy’s face was pale and his cheeks were slightly hollow, but his dark eyebrows and piercing eyes undoubtedly made him popular with the girls. His hands played with a pocket knife.

‘You must be Mark,’ Bran said while putting a smile on his face.


Another interesting assignment from my writing course asked us to experiment with the old saying “show, don’t tell”. The first part of the scene had to tell us something about a new character, while the second part had to show an interaction between my original character (Bran) and the new character (max 350 words).

To avoid a summary of facts that would look very unnatural, I decided to introduce a court file for the telling part of the scene. 🙂

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

‘There’s someone at the door’

Boy at window

There was no time to brace himself. The air pressure blew him down the stairs and his head hit the floor. The last thing he saw, was a cloud of gravel and stones which swallowed Niko’s outstretched hand. A scream got lost in his throat.

Panting, Bran shot upright. His hair stuck to his forehead and his cheeks were glowing. Breathe in, breathe out. He swung his legs over the edge of the bed. The cold shot through his feet and the haze disappeared. Next to him, a sigh escaped from his wife’s mouth. Her arm was lying protectively on her big belly.

Bran got up, walked to the dresser in the corner and opened one of the drawers. His fingers found the gemstone effortlessly, and he felt the smooth surface. He closed his eyes and saw how his childhood friend proudly handed him the reddish-brown present. Fascinated, they had stared at the golden glittering, as if they now owned a piece of starry sky forever. It was the day before the blow.

In the hallway, a floorboard cracked, followed by a hesitant squeak of Petar’s door. Bran’s eyes shot open and his heart rate accelerated. Suddenly he realised he hadn’t woken up because of his nightmare, it was the bang of a door that had helped him escape Sarajevo.

Quietly, he pushed down the door handle. The hall seemed deceptively calm. Within three steps, he had reached his son’s bedroom, but he was sure he hadn’t left the door open that far. Holding his breath, he peeked around the corner. Even in the dark, he could see a tall figure next to Petar’s crib, his hands leaning on the wooden edge.
Bran ran into the room and grabbed the intruder by the shoulder.

‘Sami!’ he called out in shock when the boy turned his face towards him. ‘What are you doing here?’

His Syrian upstairs neighbour seemed anything but surprised to see Bran.
‘There’s someone at the door.’


Another scene I wrote about my character Bran (I introduced him in my previous post). This time, the assignment for the Writers Academy (Schrijversacademie) was to write an opening scene that showed my character’s emotional state.

‘If I remove the batteries, it will always stay today’


Bran rolled the gemstone between his fingers. He didn’t know where Niko got his facts from, but his friend had told him quite convincingly that the goldstone would give him positive energy and resourcefulness.

A yawn escaped his mouth. He could definitely use those additional powers coming period. He put the stone under his pillow, lifted the blanket and stretched his legs. The urge to put his cold feet towards Lana was an easy one to resist today; she already had enough broken nights now that her belly was getting bigger.

Bran glanced at the travel alarm on his bedside table. The red second-hand was ticking with conviction as always, but that wasn’t what got his attention. The big pointer wobbled slightly back and forth, but it did not come off 8:11 a.m. Exactly the time of the explosion.

Niko had once shown him a similar clock. It hadn’t been anything special, but for the two boys, it had felt as if they were sharing a big secret.

‘Look,’ Niko had said, ‘if I remove the batteries, it will always stay today.’

It had been a day without any bombs. A breather of which they never knew how long it would last. A few hours later, Bran’s mum had called him down for dinner, but standing at the door, his eyes had eagerly rested at the frozen time at Niko’s desk.
The clock probably hadn’t survived the attack.

Would he see Niko again? He hadn’t forgotten the fear of the first night, but his curiosity gained ground. For over twenty years, he had done everything to leave the past behind. To live for two. So why did he get drawn back to Sarajevo now?


I wrote this scene as an assignment for the Writers Academy (Schrijversacademie) to experiment with flashbacks. The instructions were: your character goes to sleep and s/he remembers something > flashback > back to the present – max 350 words, inspired by a song.

The song that inspired me was Lifehouse – Broken:

I’ll tell you more about my character Branimir (Bran) in a later post.

Nature’s emotions


The living room door opened and Emily turned around. Her eyes widened when she saw James coming in.

‘Sorry, I’ve got to go,’ she mumbled to Rose. Before she could reply, Emily walked passed James, into the hallway, out of the front door and across the driveway. The gravel protested under her feet, a brutal disturbance of a street at rest. Emily started to regret she still went to see them this late at night.

She sprinted around the corner towards her bike, where she got swallowed by darkness. Startled, she looked up, but none of the street lights were on. It felt as if they had mutually agreed that whatever would happen down here wasn’t meant for anyone else’s eyes.

Emily groped for the keys in her bag. She anxiously looked up at the house, but the darkness obstructed her view. She finally found her key chain and her shaking hands tried to insert the right key into the lock.

The moment the lock jumped open, she heard a door. Once more, the crushing of the grey-white pebbles and footsteps rushing closer. The lack of lights seemed to enlarge every sound.

Emily swung her leg over the saddle and pushed with all her strength. Her bike started moving: she bounced off the sidewalk, onto the road and into the dark street. Centimetres turned into metres, and in the distance, she saw one lamppost, a bright spot in the darkness.

With a shock, her bike halted, Emily’s foot slipped from the pedal and her chest bumped into her handlebar. The light of the lamppost flickered one more time before it went out as well.


I wrote this scene as an assignment for the Writers Academy (Schrijversacademie). It was a great way to find out how choosing the right landscape/decor can reflect your character’s emotions (max 300 words).

Mini & Maxi – style experiment

Mini & Maxi

Minimalists versus maximalists – character is walking down the street – 3x 150 words

First (spontaneous) variant:
The September sun was almost out of sight when Emily left the police station. She regretted she hadn’t been able to find out anything about Lisa and her dad. Why did he suddenly appear?

Preoccupied, she walked along the gravel path towards her bike, but even before she reached it, she noticed the flat tire. Another great thing to add to the list. She sighed and continued her journey towards the train station. Oh well, maybe she should see it as a bit of time for herself. How often did she have any of those lately?

She looked around with renewed interest. Most people seemed to be heading home as quickly as possible. Only a few noticed what Emily saw: how the chestnuts were provocatively swinging above their heads. A little tuck from the wind would be enough for a surprise attack from Mother Nature.

Minimalistic variant:
Emily left the police station. She hadn’t been able to find out anything about Lisa and her dad today. She walked towards her bike, but it had a flat tire. Emily sighed and walked along in the direction of the train station.

She looked around at her fellow pedestrians. They all seemed to be heading home as quickly as possible. She was one of the few who noticed the chestnuts hanging on the trees above them. They could fall down any minute.

Tall story to tell in a bar:
Yesterday I finally finished work around 7pm, so I’m leaving the police station. What do you think? My bike has a flat tire!  Obviously, that sucked. It’s only a ten-minute walk to the train station, but still.

So I walk along the Rijnburgersingel and I see a young lad with a couple of friends. They were playing around with a football, so they didn’t really pay attention where they were going.

At some point, one of those boys kicked the ball real hard and it bounced off that big chestnut tree that’s standing there in the corner. Tick tick tick tick! The chestnuts come rushing down, right on top of the lad’s head! He didn’t know what hit him. Well, next time he’ll think twice before picking a fight with Mother Nature.

Sense & Sensibility: the Wonderful World of Writing Assignments

As some of you know, I joined a writing course at the Writers Academy (Schrijversacademie) last January. So far, it’s been lots of fun and very inspiring. I just love experimenting with different perspectives, flashbacks, characters, etc. From spying on people at the train station, to making up entire lives for classmates I haven’t seen since I left primary school; every week we’re getting different tasks to challenge ourselves.

Sometimes I wonder how I can keep coming up with something original every time, but in the end, the assignments are set up in such a way, I generally end up at a part of my brain which spits out something useful. 😉

Anyhow, I decided to start sharing some (translations) of my writings, beginning with the first module “Develop your own style”. During this module, we practiced how landscapes/decors and objects can contribute to your character’s story, how you get totally different scenes when you change the tell tone, and how to use associations based on your senses.

Sense & Sensibility

Sharpen your senses – table scene, sensory details – 300 words

Emily turned over in her bed. The pillow got stuck to her neck and the blanket pressed against her restless body. She sighed, rose and threw her legs over the edge.
It had been two hours, but she hadn’t had any sleep yet. She quietly slipped across the hallway and down the stairs. The steps squeaked slightly, but no reaction came from Lisa’s or Jesse’s bedroom.

Hopeful she opened the fridge, looking for something to eat. The light blinded her and she closed the door quickly. Suddenly she heard the floor crack behind her. Her heart missed a beat and she turned around. She recognised Lucas’ silhouette immediately.
‘Sorry,’ he whispered, ‘I didn’t mean to scare you.’ He took a few steps towards her and she smelled the familiar blend of his sweet body scent and aftershave.

At the same speed with which he had appeared, Emily’s body had woken up. Her heart pounded in her throat and her palms were sweating. She wanted to run away, but even more, she wanted to disappear into his arms.

Somewhat dazed, she sat down at the table. Fortunately, he couldn’t see how red her cheeks were in the dark. She heard how he opened the fridge behind her and how he busied himself with some food. When he finally sat next to her, he put a cheese sandwich in front of her. The bread was cut into eight perfectly symmetrical, cut-out cubes.

The tension fell off her and Emily shook her head, smiling. The everydayness of his gesture… as if he was used to doing it for her on a regular basis. She looked at him and saw the sparkle in his eyes she had missed so much.