One of the hardest things for me to remember while writing is to keep things brief. I tend to give very in-depth descriptions, and I need to remember that my readers have imaginations too! So it takes a conscious effort when I’m writing to not describe absolutely every detail, but to give readers the idea of what’s going on and let them fill in the blanks.
When I took a novel-writing course a few years ago, there was one assignment which really helped me to both practice and appreciate writing with brevity. I had to write an action scene, but within very specific parameters: first one action sentence, another action sentence, then two or three sentences of background, a few more of development, a short climax, and one ending sentence. One ending sentence? I felt dismayed when I read the assignment requirements– but in the end I embraced them, and received a surprisingly rave review from my instructor. The following is the scene I came up with. As you might expect from me, it’s based on the Eastern Front of World War II; and I hope you enjoy it as it was certainly something new and challenging to write!
What he doesn’t want is to get caught. Mark knows exactly what happens to suspected partisans and thieves; and he doesn’t want to end up hanging, a morbid deterrent, from the gallows like some of his friends.
But January in Bryansk is an inhospitable time– made even worse by the German occupation– and Mark’s family is hungry. Starvation is not such an appealing prospect, so he knows he must steal something, anything, from the Germans for his family to eat.
“As long as I’m careful, the Germans won’t know,” he thinks, “And my daughter will have something to eat again.”
Silent as a bat, Mark creeps towards the German camp. It’s late, so maybe the troops have already gone to bed. Mark looks around the apparently deserted camp, his breathing hoarse with anxiety, and locates the field kitchen. Shuffling doubled over towards it, he wonders what the Germans might do once they find out that some of their rations have been stolen.
He reaches the dark hulk of the field kitchen, when an equally dark figure rises up from the ground in front of it.
“Halt!” Cries the figure. “Was machst du?”
Mark freezes where he stands, unable to do anything but watch as the figure draws a pistol. In the face of capture and death, he remembers the words of his wife before he left:
“If you don’t come back, the fascists might as well kill us all.”
So, taking a deep breath, he hurls his empty satchel at the German and runs for the oblivion of the woods.