Open Pen

The River Flows: An Open Pen Critique

Open Pen is a critique opportunity that I run on this blog. It is specifically meant for teenage writers who want feedback from their peers, but anyone is welcome to submit. If you are interested in submitting or learning more about Open Pen, you can on the Open Pen page.

Today, Annalia Fiore has a very interesting albeit unsettling piece for us to critique from her presumably fantasy or dystopian novel. Annalia blogs over at Appreciating the Joy of Writing and is looking for any type of critique so long as it is honest and is “the hardest that we can give.” In short, she would like to hear exactly why we hate her excerpt. Yikes, Annalia! I hope you have prepared yourself.

Please note that this excerpt does contain some violence; however, if you have ever read the biblical book of Judges, it is still less violent that some of the stories there, so I have no problem posting it on my blog. However, if this might bother you, then you may not want to read this piece.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to comment on this piece. Even short, simple comments are very helpful. So please do not feel obliged to give a long, comprehensive critique.

God bless,



The River Flows (Excerpt from Chapter 1) by Annalia Fiore

Me and the crowd

Saturated in a war like society, I could sing our national anthem with pride. Every year, all the citizens of Nemmule gathered together in an amphitheater that seated 450,000 people. Down below on the stage, our Ophar would stand, surrounded by twenty-five body guards and four other men, holding Nemmulen flags. I can recall his high pitched, excited voice, that grew louder and louder as his speech commenced. Every year, the speech was the same. The Ophar spoke of the strength and bravery of the Nemmulen people. One of his key points was that he had the full support of his advisors and the nobility of Nemmule. The crowd and I would agree and clap our hands with approval. No one even questioned, why the Ophar was surrounded by twenty-five body guards. After his speech, four prisoners of war or four criminals were dragged to the stage, kicking and screaming, before the Ophar. Their crime was stated, but it was always the same crime, mind you.
“These four men,” the prison ward rasped, “are traitors to the country of Nemmule, its noble citizens, and the grand Ophar himself. My lord! What shall be the punishment for these men.”
The Ophar walked around the stage for a while, and then, like every year, he abruptly stopped and looked at me and the crowd. He gave a wide smile, lifted his hands up and said, “Let the people decide! What do the citizens of Nemmule say? What shall be the punishment for these criminals?”
“Death! Death!” the crowd and I screamed.
“Death! Death!” the nobles agreed.
“Death! Death!” the prison ward would shout, and then, he would raise his hand for silence. When all was quiet, he would look at the Ophar standing in his white robes before the crowd.
“My lord?”
“Death!” whispered the Ophar. Though many of us could not hear his answer, we all knew what it was, as it was the same answer every year. The twenty-five bodyguards began to pound the floor with the but of their swords. Then, as one body, the crowd and I rushed at the four criminals, trampling them under our feet, ramming their heads against the stone floor. The criminals had their feet and hands tied together, they could do nothing but scream and curl up into a tight ball. The crowd and I beat them until their bodies were indistinguishable, all the while chanting: “Death! Death!” The crowd’s excitement grew increasingly, and we would have torn the criminals to piece if the prison ward had not risen his hand.
“Enough!” he shouted. Our bloodthirsty eyes dimmed, and I looked down at my clenched hands and my robe that was no longer white. The Ophar walked back and forth and then said: “Good! Very good…,” he said. My father, the Ophar smiled at me and the crowd.


6 thoughts on “The River Flows: An Open Pen Critique”

  1. Great job! The main critique I have is that you use “would” and “could” too often. This excerpt seems to be meant to be unsettling, and in my opinion, would/could softens the effect. I think that editing it to be in plain past tense is a good idea to make it stronger and more forceful. For example, maybe instead of “‘Death! Death’ the prison ward would shout,” “‘Death! Death!’ the prison guard shouted” would have a better impact and flow better with the other cries for death since they don’t have would/could in them. But you’ve already done a great job, and I might just be picky 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You definitely have darkness and intensity nailed here. The last sentence has me hooked! I would keep reading if there was more, but I will admit, it is unsettling (which I assume is your purpose). I would take out “like” in the first sentence and try to rework it. Maybe I’m missing the point, but being saturated in a war society does not seem to flow to singing the anthem with pride. Maybe just start it with: “I could sing our national anthem with pride.” Also, you don’t need a comma after “No one even questioned”. 🙂 Nitpicking aside, great job!


  3. ‘K, I’m gonna be mean here, so just pretend I’m Simon Cowell.

    “Me and the crowd.” What is this sentence? It’s not even a sentence. What does it mean? Why is it there? It’s just confusing, partly because there’s no period at the end. Is this intentional?

    If this is the beginning of the chapter, I’d consider revising so the first paragraph sounds less like a student’s personal essay for his/her history class.The tone is so removed. Is there a way to get us closer to the character? Why is it important that we remember this is in the past? Can’t we stay in the present?

    How is a society war-like? Are they constantly fighting each other? Killing each other? Do you mean war-centric? And if not, how is it only LIKE a war? Please explain; I’m very confused.

    When the prison guard rasped “My lord” I thought he was just exclaiming. “My lord! It’s hot out today. Oh yeah, and what shall we do with these prisoners?” Drop the exclamation point and you should be fine.

    Why is it important that the Ophar has 25 guards specifically? Why is every detail spelled out so rigidly? I can’t think the narrator would notice this in the heat of the moment, but this is in the past, as you’ve pointed out many, many times. (What’s an Ophar, anyway?)

    Why are all the characters in white? Or are just the Ophar and the narrator in white? I assumed everyone else was as well, given the way the narrator identifies him/herself with the crowd. Isn’t this a poor fashion choice for an execution?

    The narrator says “our bloodthirsty eyes,” but how does s/he know what his/her own eyes look like at this moment? Does s/he carry a mirror to executions? (And the robe would still be white; it would just have red blotches on it, unless s/he totally gutted that prisoner and took a shower under his jugular.)

    “The crowd’s excitement grew increasingly.” Is there a less tell-y way to say this? Perhaps you should show us the excitement…perhaps screams, or a mob forming? Or is the narrator still staying clinically in the past?

    Finally: why do we care that the Ophar is the narrator’s father? To be honest I still don’t know what an Ophar is (I’m assuming political/religious leader). The MC has been acting the same as the crowd anyway; why does it matter that s/he has a special relation to the Ophar? It doesn’t make an impact at this point. Is s/he just pretending to join in the slaughter? Because s/he’s “different”? Please don’t let that be the case.

    You have a very bloodthirsty tone here, but it feels overdone and stilted. It’s as if the narrator is recounting it, yet trying to distance him/herself from the trauma….which is fine, but I’m not sure it works for a first chapter. What makes this book different from other dystopian novels? Can you hint at something special here? Aside from the narrator possibly being “different” from the plebeians?

    Whew! Well, you asked for it…best of luck to you and your writing journey! (I really do love you…please believe me…sending virtual pie)

    Liked by 2 people

  4. This is mostly pretty good. The atmosphere was good, and it would make a great Dystopian story. However, I highly doubt people would fall for the trick if it’s the same crime every year. People aren’t that stupid. At least, I don’t think they are.


  5. Well! Very interesting, and I would definitely like to hear more.
    A few technical issues, though; which could slow your readability:

    1. You write “The twenty-five bodyguards began to pound the floor with the but(t) of their swords.” I have a four foot broadsword and decided to role-play the scene you described; however, when I commenced to beat the butt of the sword on the floor, I realised that was doing the closest thing to a squat I could ever dream of; as well as discovering that while my blade was amply long, the handle was only 24 centimetres in length. It seems that spears might be more fitting, seeing as how the scene I just pictured is more comical, (a stark contrast to the certifiably bloody surrounding narrative).

    As preparatory reading before beginning this work, might I recommend reading CS Lewis’ “Until we Have Faces”, to prepare you to read and comprehend this insightful piece.




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