Open Pen

Thirty Forty Five: An Open Pen Critique

This week for Open Pen, Elizabeth Katherine submitted a narrative excerpt. She is a rather brave soul and as for us to rip her piece to shreds. In particular, she asked for a critique on how she builds the atmosphere, creates suspense, and writes the characters. She would also love to know if her story is clear, makes sense, and is interesting over all.

Thank you for taking the time to make a few comments on her piece. Even short, simply comments are very helpful.

If you would like to submit a piece of writing to be critique, you can read the rules and submit on the Open Pen page.

God bless,



Thirty Forty Five by Elizabeth Katherine

With her eyeballs rolling backwards, like the lead of a slow moving bullet into her brain, it is hard to remember. But there was a man, she thinks. Yes.

To her on that day, at that time, there was only supposed to be a rumbling, deep and earthy.  When she closed her eyes she was tucked into the warm ground, feeling only the residual shudders of the speeding train. A mile away downwards, the shrieking metal and thoughts of iron twisting with burning blood and screams were gone. The liquid languidness of the driver, his slow blinking eyes, his mildly inebriated air; they all faded. She was in the stifling womb of the earth now, away from it all. Safe.

That was all that was supposed to have happened. That was what two hundred pounds worth of therapy would make happen. No more pills. She would just close her eyes, and the world wouldn’t suffocate her anymore.

Yes, there was a man. She is sure now. She waits for her mouth to form the thoughts that are tripping over themselves-it is she can feel them scorching the neurons that carry them, burning rubber tires on road-but she is not sure what comes out is audible.

She really had no idea how she had noticed him when she was so far down. Some unfortunate infant was at fault for her noticing.  The viscous heat of the train and accompanying odours of the biomass it carries collapsed into each other and slid perfectly into her peaceful scenario of the earth’s padded insides; the bellow of a human child did not. That cry broke the façade, made it impossible for her to sink in, to forget for a moment her crippling anxiety.

It made it impossible too for her to not notice the bobbing black baseball cap a foot away from her.

There were plenty of hats on the train. Red ones, green, blue, yellow, winter hats, ball caps, Fedoras, fifteen in all to be exact, six men, nine women; so why notice this one? And why notice that it had a gold buckle at the back, and was suede, like his gloved hand tugging it down over his face-left hand to be exact? Marsha shook her head, tucked her purse further under her arm, checked her watch and tapped the glass face. She had better things to worry about, always better, always things. The train was thirty minutes and forty five…forty four, three…forty seconds late. That meant her usual thirty minute connection to the office from the station would now be long gone, and she would have to find another train, have to call all her clients and apologise, have to stay at the office longer, leave later, deal with the raucous flush of acid that was clawing at her innards…

As they passed through the tunnel, flickering shadows slid in through the windows, blurring the train’s inhabitants together; smearing their faces in Marsha’s vision. The mesh of human voices had risen slightly, and now she could see the familiar tightening of annoyance in peoples’ body language. How many lives had been affected by this delay?

And yet this man seemed entirely removed from the abysmal worries of the human consciousness. No one seemed to notice how the shadows moulded themselves to his silhouette, reclined against the cold metal viscera of the train, tension absent. Where was the toe tapping, the impatient flare of nostrils, and the humane worry? Where was this man going, and why did he not seem in a rush?

It was a while before Marsha realized that thoughts of a metal colliding and missed appointments had long since left her. The banal fears that doggedly clung to her only continued to dwindle in the wake of his shadow.


6 thoughts on “Thirty Forty Five: An Open Pen Critique”

  1. Hi, Elizabeth Katherine! First of all, let me say how incredibly brave you are for sharing this work with us. You have put your heart on a platter and asked us to dissect it. Kudos, my friend!

    Your sentences surrounding the emotional impact of the events are a little muddy, but nothing to strike a death knell!!! It looks like you’re dealing with the passive voice and an unclear sentence structure. A problem that you might be facing is this: while seeking to show us that the girl in the ground is groggy from her recent trauma, you might be slipping into a groggy/unclear style of writing, writing in a confused tone in order to prove to us that the girl has a confused thought stream.

    Your first sentence: With her eyeballs rolling backwards, like the lead of a slow moving bullet into her brain, it is hard to remember. But there was a man, she thinks. Yes.

    A way to add clarity is to cut out the “fluff” words. Ex: Her eyeballs rolled backwards like a lead bullet… it was hard to remember. Or: Her eyeballs rolled backwards like a lead bullet. She gave an involuntary shiver. It was hard to remember.

    I am fascinated by your chapter, though confused about the interrelation of the characters. The man is important and from what I guess, he is the saboteur of the train? I really enjoyed reading it! You have the basic story, I think you just need to be tenacious and ruthless when it comes to cutting out an extra word or phrase that is unnecessary. Thank you so much for sharing and let me know when it’s on Amazon so I can buy it 🙂

    You go girl!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for you thoughtful critique! I really appreciated it. Every thing you said made alot of sense. I tend to struggle with clarity in my work (and, quite ironically, I noticed most of the misteps in clarity after I sent it in, lol), and i’m not to great at editing my own work either, so your input helped alot.

      I do agree that I need to work on being more concise in my writing; thanks for telling me exactly where. I’m not sure this is an idea i’ll continue since it was more for practice than anything (and I myself am unaware of how all the characters fit into everything since i wrote this by the ‘seat of my pants’) but it is nice to know that I was able to compel a reader (to some extent) in a short space.

      Thanks again for the critique!


  2. Wow, that is brave! I struggle even to show people my writing; I can’t imagine asking someone to rip it to shreds…
    Anyway, I thought the atmosphere was very good, and helped a lot by the metaphors and small details like the other passengers’ annoyance. I’m very intrigued about why the man in the cap is significant.
    I did find it a bit confusing in places, especially the parts where the tense changes and the two lines in the fourth paragraph with the hyphens. I’m also wondering how Marsha knew about the driver since I assume he is driving the train and she is in a carriage?
    I noticed you said the price of the therapy was 200 pounds. Is this story based in Britain? (Just curious because I’m British 🙂 )


    1. Thank you so much for taking time to critique!

      Criticism is terrifying for me and this is the first time i’ve ever posted my writing online so yeah! Trepidation amplified. I’m pushing myself to do it though because, in all honesty, criticism can only make me a better writer.

      Your comments make a ton of sense, and I coudn’t agree more. I struggle with clarity (and I think that showed a lot here which i’m kinda mad at myself about because it was mostly due to poor/lazy editing on my part) so I can understand why you were confused. The parts with tense difference were supposed to communicate a different situation altogether with Marsha ‘looking back’ on what happened earlier. Of course that didn’t come accross well at all, but eh…you live and you learn, amarite?

      The story is based in Britain. I’m actually not British though; I just study there as an International university student (Creative writing programme) and since I come from a kind of obscure country with an obscure currency, I used pounds so that the potential reader would be able to understand how much money was being talked about.

      Thanks again for the critique!


  3. Hi Elisabeth Katherine, I really enjoyed reading your piece! 🙂 Although the beginning was somewhat confusing, I was able to tell that you were attempting to show her memory. I think what needs the most work is the switching between the present and the past. If you gave that more clarity and also deleted some unnecessary words from your sentences, it would be super helpful in conveying what’s going on to the reader. I thoroughly enjoyed the last few paragraphs on the train. They were very well written! I think you did great in conveying the importance of the man on the train, by having Marsha’s observations zero in on him. I also noticed how observant Marsha is, which you wrote very well. I barely ever see people write an overly observant character so well, and you did a great job! Overall, I think you built a ton of suspense and I would definitely continue reading! 😀

    ~RED ❤


    1. Thanks so much for the critique. I really appreciate it. I have been editing the piece, and have been addressing the clarity, and changing the beginning so that’s now taken care of. The advice is still much appreciated though. I’m glad you enjoyed the piece and that you liked the characters as well.
      Thanks again for taking your time to read and critique. Have a good day 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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