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. 🙂

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‘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.