Open Pen

Starlight: An Open Pen Critique

Kikyo submitted an action-filled fiction excerpt for today’s Open Pen Critique. She would love to hear our take on her character’s development and if the sword fight seems realistic and flows well. However, any feedback is welcome!

Thank you for taking the time to comment on this piece. Even short, simple comments are very helpful. So please do not feel like you have to give a long critique to comment!

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. This is the last submission that I have in my inbox, so if you have been planning to send in a piece, now would be a good time.

God bless,



Starlight by Kikyo

“You are ready for a fighting lesson?”
No. Narrin sighed and stood up. He did not know how difficult this was going to be, but he was certain it would be tiring, and he already wanted nothing more than to sleep. “Do we use real swords?”
“Yes, but guarded.” Larishi drew his long sword, made of the smae magical black wood as the Elvish knife in Iri had been. He ran a finger along the blade and muttered a word under his breath. “See.” He held it out to Narrin, who ran a finger along its edge and found it blunt. “Now give me yours.”
“You could teach me to do it myself,” Narrin said hopefully, drawing the long, curved sword from its scabbard.
“No, it is too difficult to be the first spell that you learn.” Larishi took the blade from him. “You would be so weary trying to do it that you could not fight, and still would probably not succeed.”
“So.” Larishi gave the blade back to Narrin. “You should try to fight immediately, then I will correct what you do wrong. You are prepared?”
Narrin held the sword at an angle in front of him, as he had seen Kymil do, and tried to stand in the same way his friend had done. “Yes.”
“Good, then try to defend yourself.”
Larishi easily shifted to a fighting stance, then sprang forward and slashed at Narrin’s shoulder.
Narrin’s one success was that he managed to deflect that first blow, but it knocked him off balance. He tried to retreat, but although he caught the next blow on his blade, the force of it carried him to the ground. Larishi touched his throat with the blunt sword-point as he struggled to get up again.
“The way you move is not right.” The Elf held out a hand and helped him to his feet. “How did you know to stand like that?”
“I used to watch a friend practising sometimes.”
“Well, your friend had that right, but you must keep that… that stance at all times. Also, you must not take your feet from the ground when you step, but slide. That is why you fell. That, and also how you take the force of a blow: if you do not let it go through you, then you will either fall or have your sword knocked out of your hand. Now try again.”
Narrin held the sword with both hands, as the Dark Elf did, and prepared to take the force of the coming hit. Larishi did exactly what he had last time, but Narrin managed not to lose his balance at the first slash, and to retreat by sliding his feet backwards. He let the force of the next blow go through his body, and then struck back, aiming at Larishi’s stomach.
Before he knew what was happening, his sword was thrust upwards and a stinging blow dealt to his left ribs. He gave a yelp of surprise and pain.
“I did not say to fight back,” Larishi told him calmly, then added: “Did you not think even blunt swords must hit hard? That is why you must learn to defend yourself before you learn to attack, if you wish to avoid unnecessary pain.”
Narrin was angry suddenly. Yes, he had expected that being struck would hurt a little, but somehow he thought Larishi had done it to teach him a lesson rather than because it was part of fighting. He had no right to do that, especially since it was he who had insisted on teaching him. He gritted his teeth but decided not to answer.
“By striking you left an opening,” Larishi went on. “You should try to keep your body covered by the sword at all times. See, hold it like this.” He put his sword hand down by his side but tilted it so that the blade made a diagonal line across his body. “Whenever there is a gap between blows, hold it like this again so that you leave no opening. You do this also if you cannot predict where your enemy will strike next.”
Narrin obeyed, still saying nothing. He was not sure whether or not he did any better this time. Again, he parried twice. The third time, Larishi knocked his blade aside and then touched the sword to his heart. As Narrin had suspected, the Elf did not strike him this time. He was not sure whether to be annoyed that it had been deliberate before or relieved that it would not happen every time he failed to defend himself.
He did not know how long they continued, but it seemed a long time. He never managed to parry more than four times, and fell on several occasions. Larishi did hit him with the blunt sword again, this time on the left shoulder, but Narrin thought that was a mistake, that Larishi had expected him to be able to avoid it. Still, he gave no sign that he cared if Narrin was hurt or that he was sorry for having done it.
At last, when Narrin was so weary that he failed to avoid even the first slash –earning him another blow across the chest- Larishi said coolly: “We have done enough for now; you need to rest. Do you wish to keep first watch or not?”
Narrin thought he was too angry to sleep immediately, even though he was so tired. “I’ll watch first,” he said shortly, sitting down with his back to a tree trunk. “Can you take that spell off my sword?”
Apparently completely oblivious to Narrin’s annoyance, the Dark Elf did so and then lay down with his back to the fire and to Narrin. He was instantly still and quiet, but Narrin was not sure whether he fell asleep at once or not.
After several minutes, Narrin stood and slipped his tunic off to examine the places where he had been hit. The one on his ribs stung worst, and had left a faint red mark. He had no doubt that it would have killed him if it had been a real fight. The other two did not show at all, although they still stung.


4 thoughts on “Starlight: An Open Pen Critique”

  1. This was such a cool read! My only suggestion is to keep in mind that said is not dead. You rarely used dialogue tags, and when you did they would have an adjective after the “said” as though you felt like you had to justify it. It can just make the reading feel much more repetitive than a simple “he said” “she said” would. 🙂


  2. Thanks! 🙂 I see what you mean. I often forget that “he said” sounds a lot more repetitive to the writer than the reader, so I can go a bit over the top with trying not to use it all the time.
    Thanks for taking the time to comment.


  3. First of all, I really enjoyed reading this. I don’t know a lot about sword fighting, but the training sequence seemed to flow well, and was interesting to read. You managed to convey a good amount of characterisation in such a short piece–the reader gets the idea that Narrin is impulsive and impatient. I’m also intrigued by the character of Larishi. It isn’t very often in fantasy I’ve come across good Dark elves. However, I thought Larishi’s dialogue sounded stilted, and I found it hard to read. You could probably work on making that sound more realistic and flowing better. Definitely keep working on it!
    God bless


    1. Thanks for the comment.
      I always have a bit of a dilemma with Larishi’s dialogue, because he is meant to speak very formally and have a foreign accent, but at the same time it’s no good if no one can work out what he’s actually saying. I’ll keep definitely keep this in mind when I’m editing :).
      Thanks again and God bless


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