I’ve been struggling a bit with my next short story Sister’s Son, so last night I sat down and tried to do just a short outline of a short story by Rosemary Sutcliffe called Death of a City.
There were three things that jumped out at me when I was done.
- There were no back to back scenes. Every scene was followed by a brief summary of the events that followed.
- There were only six named characters who appeared in the story. Two of them were merchants who had one line each and never appeared again.
- The battle, the sack of London by Queen Boudicca of the Iceni, was told completely in summary, and there is very little description of the battle itself.
The point from all this is that I think Sutcliffe is extremely economical in her writing. She understands what the point of her story is, and tells only the things she needs to in order to get that story told. She shows the scenes that have impact, and tells the events that would slow down most other stories.
Most writers (myself included) would probably have made the battle the focus of the story, but Sutcliffe understands that the battle is a side show in the story she’s telling and doesn’t allow it to overshadow the tale of a small boy lost in a big world.