Open Pen

Myra Jaynes: An Open Pen Critique

I am sorry for the late Open Pen post (I had a research paper due today at noon), but here is an except from Bethia Lark’s novel, Myra Jaynes. The backstory of this excerpt is that the four boys have been guarding a pile of high quality wood outside an old house in the wood. One of the boys, David, and his family have been trying to renovate the old house– the old haunted house– and his three friends have joined him for the night patrol.

Bethia would love to hear critiques on how her dialogue flows and what we think about each of the four boys. If you can take the time out of your busy day to comment on this piece, I know she would appreciate it! Even short, simple comments are very helpful. So please do not feel obliged to address all of her questions.

God bless,


Open Pen is a critique opportunity  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.




Myra Jaynes (Chapter 5) by Bethia Lark

“Hey, David,” Charlie asked as he whittled a stick into a point, “why do you really want this old lumber anyways? I mean, it seems to be giving you a lot of trouble.”
“I just want to keep the history of the place, that’s all.”
“Well, the history here is a scary, haunted history, so I would want to clear out the old place, if you know what I mean.” Said Thomas as he looked back at the old house.
The boys were in the back yard of the house and facing the woods. There was an open clearing right in front of them, with a lone oak tree in the middle of it. An old swing hung from one of the branches and was swaying in the breeze, the ropes creaking, which only added to the boys’ nervous energy. There was no thought of sleeping just then.
“I don’t think the thief wants the lumber exactly,” Gerald said thoughtfully. “I think they would have taken any lumber piled up in front of the place. Nobody here really wants you to renovate the place. They think it is too dangerous. Nobody wants to see you get hurt.”
“I know, Gerald, but we don’t have much choice. These townsfolk don’t understand my dad. McKinleys don’t just give up because of ghost stories.”
“Then your dad is mighty foolish.” Said Thomas.
“That’s only if the ghost stories are true. I mean, whose ghost is supposed to be haunting this place anyways.”
The three boys looked at each other. They had no idea. No one had actually seen the ghost up close; they were too busy running. Charlie shrugged.
David sighed. “Well, until you guys know, then you are not going to even come close to convincing either my dad or me. My dad hasn’t seen any sign of the ghost. If you don’t give him proof, he is not going to listen. Trust me. I know.”
Charlie suddenly piped up and said, “David, do you have any nicknames I can call you? Maybe like Dave?”
“No. I really do not like the name Dave. It brings back too many bad memories.”
“Like what?” asked Thomas.
“Well, on my first day at school, I was attacked by bullies. They were so big and fierce I couldn’t fight back, so I just gave in to them. That’s when they started calling me Dave the Slave. When I grew up, I started to love history and knew almost everything I could learn about it. I corrected some of my fellow history students one day about the use of the word knave in literature, so they started calling me Dave the Knave. I tried several times to shake those names off, but they have stayed with me almost all my life. My family sometimes calls me Giant Killer, but I’d rather that not be used by everybody.”
“Why Giant Killer?” Thomas asked looking quite confused.
Gerald just looked at his brother. “Does David and Goliath ring any bells?”
Thomas looked sheepish. “Oh, yeah. I forgot about that. Sorry, silly question.”
David faced his companions, his face grim and fierce. “If any of you tell another soul about my nicknames, I…” He stopped, confusion sweeping over his face. He didn’t really know what he would do.
Gerald laid a hand on his shoulder and said with an honest face, “We won’t tell anyone. We promise, and we don’t break promises to friends, do we boys?” The others shook their heads.
David smiled. “Thanks, guys. I’ve never had friends like you before.”
“Here, let me introduce you to a handy word called y’all. It means multiple yous. Southern people say it.” Charlie grinned.
David gave a half smile and repeated obediently, “I’ve never had friends like y’all before.” The word felt weird on his tongue, almost like it was wrong.
Charlie clapped him on the back and laughed. “There, you got it.” He stretched out on the wood and gave a contented sigh. “We’ll have to teach you real English. You ain’t been exposed to it before now, I reckon.” His grin stretched from ear-to-ear as David grimaced. Then he let out a huge yawn.
By this time, the night had completely fallen, and the woods were pitch black. The clearing, however, was dappled with moonlight. The boys decided it was probably best if they tried to get some sleep. They then decided they should set a watch. None of the local boys wanted to be watching at midnight, which was a couple hours away, so David took first watch. The boys settled down in their sleeping bags and tried to sleep. About thirty minutes later, David heard three distinct snores.
Charlie snorted, then wheezed as he inhaled. Thomas had an almost constant whine, and would occasionally mumble in his sleep. Gerald’s was the quietest snore, and was more like heavy breathing. David watched as his companions slept, and smiled at each snort. Their snores kind of told about their personalities.
At midnight, David saw a white form coming from the direction of the woods. He shook his companions awake, putting his hands over their mouths so that they would be quiet. Thomas still let out a squeak. David looked quickly at the form, but it had stopped. The boys stared anxiously at the form, but it still did not advance, as though it were listening for something. It had stopped by the swing, which was a good 75 yards away, and seemed to glow in the moonlight. Each stared at each other, waiting for the other to move or act, for several minutes. Finally, the form began to advance, though more slowly than before.
Charlie was the first to speak, but he did so in a very low whisper, his eyes glued to the white form. “Guys, I think we should get out of here.”
“I can’t.” David whispered back. “I promised my dad that I would guard the pile. I have my shot gun.” He said as he slowly lifted the weapon from where it lay.
“Like that will stop a ghost.”
The form stopped again at the sight of the gun, and even seemed to retreat, but then it stopped again and began to advance once more at an agonizingly slow pace when it saw that David was not preparing to fire.
After it had advanced another few yards, Thomas couldn’t take it any longer and leaped off the pile and into the woods, his flashlight jumping wildly as he tore through the trees down the driveway.
Gerald watched him go, but did not follow his brother.
The boys turned their attention back to the ghost, for by now the two local boys were convinced it was the ghost.
Charlie spoke again, this time with a very noticeable tremor in his voice. “I really think we ought to get out of here, guys. I know I am.” And he leaped off the pile and ran after Thomas, yelling and gesticulating at the older boys still on the pile as he did so, “Come on! You have to run!” His voice could be heard fading into the darkness, and then all was silent.
David looked at his remaining companion. Gerald didn’t look too confident either, but he had a resolution in his face that said he was not going to run, at least not right then.
Gerald saw David staring at him and said in a shaky whisper, “I promised I would watch by you here tonight. True friends don’t break their promises, and they definitely don’t leave their friends in a dangerous situation all by themselves.” David smiled and whispered a thank you, but Gerald wasn’t finished. “True friends also don’t do foolish things and expect their friends to follow them into danger either. Come with me.”
Now David understood. Gerald really did not want to stay, but he also wasn’t going to just leave David alone with the ‘ghost’ when he had made a promise to stay with his friend. “You can go Gerald. I understand.”
“No. I am not leaving you.” But his voice showed signs of weakening. He was struggling within himself, his fear trying to get sway over his loyalty and integrity.
“Well, I am not leaving. I promised my dad I would guard the pile, and I will. I’ll admit, I am starting to get really scared, but I am sticking to my post. I am not leaving. You can go if you want to. I really do understand and am very glad you have stuck with me this far, but I cannot go with you. I am staying.”
“David, I can’t just leave you.”
“Go or stay. It’s your choice.”
Gerald’s fear began to take over. David was giving him a way out of his promise. What could Gerald do to help his friend. Nothing. Or was there something he could do? He suddenly leaped up and told his friend hurriedly, “I’ll be back, David. I just got to get reinforcements.” And away he sped down the driveway after the others.
David wasn’t sure if he would come back, but it made him feel better knowing that Gerald was at least trying to think of him. He turned his attention back to the ghost, but it had disappeared. He called out into the darkness, “Who are you? What do you want? Why are you here?” Each question got quieter and quieter, his voice sounding strange and loud in the still night. Not even the crickets chirped.
A couple of hours later, he started awake from his doze to find Gerald calling his name, and his dad flashing a light into his eyes. He blocked the bright light with his arm, trying to remember what had happened as they pelted him with questions. The last thing he recalled was not receiving an answer from the ghost. After a little bit, the normal noises of the night had returned, but he had dared not yell out loud again, and eventually fell into a doze, from which he was awakened by Gerald’s concerned voice asking if he was hurt. He looked down, and on the lumber pile was an old Bible.


12 thoughts on “Myra Jaynes: An Open Pen Critique”

  1. Hey! I really liked your excerpt, it was really intriguing. I’m not usually a fan of ghost things, but this was interesting. The characters came off good. It might just be me but I think it flows better when you say ” Thomas said” not ” said Thomas”. It may sound better the other way to people, that’s just my opinion.
    It made me want to know more, like who the white figure was, and why the Bible was left there.
    Keep writing! Good job.


    1. Sarah,
      Thank you for your critique. I’ll try to finish it sometime before I die so that you can find out about the ghost and the Bible. 🙂
      God Bless!


  2. Hey Bethia!! Some things I noticed:
    Towards the beginning it said, “there was no thought of sleeping then.” You might want to mention that it’s night time because I was like “what?” I thought it was daytime. But I really did like how you brought me into the story. And when the boys woke up, David put his hands over their mouths, but there was three sleeping boys and David only has 2 hands.
    I liked the story & it did make me want to read more!!
    xoxo, MaddieCait


    1. I am sorry, Maddie. Because this is the fifth chapter, you didn’t get to see in the fourth chapter when the boys agreed to meet that night to guard the pile. I am sorry it confused you. The point about the three boys and two hands was well thought of, but I was think that he went to each boy separately, and used both hands for all three boys. I think I will expand on this part to clarify this.
      XOXO Bethia


  3. Hi Bethia, good work 🙂
    I liked the individual snoring of each of the boys, though I don’t think you need the line ‘Their snores kind of told about their personalities.’.
    It is enticing 🙂


  4. Hey Bethia,
    This was an interesting piece, it certainly made me want to read more! It took me several paragraphs to work out that David was the POV character, though I am aware that this is Chapter 5. There are a few points I’d like to make though.
    First of all, there are a couple of “do not’s” in this excerpt. Not many boys (presumably middle school or teenagers?) would say “do not”, so it should be shortened to “don’t”. It just helps the dialogue flow better and sound more realistic.
    Secondly, the paragraph towards the end where you mention Gerald’s fear starting to take over, seems to switch to Gerald’s point-of-view, which is confusing. I would suggest rewriting this from David’s POV.
    Finally, the last two paragraphs really confused me! I’m still not exactly sure what happened there. I am really hooked by the last line. What is an old bible doing on a lumber pile?
    Other than those few things, I couldn’t see much that needs to be looked at. It was definitely worth reading, and I enjoyed the different characters of the boys. Keep writing!
    God Bless!
    (Sorry that this is such a long critique!)


    1. Chelsea,

      Don’t worry about the length of the critique. I love seeing long passages most of the time when people are critiquing my work. It gives me more things I can improve on. I kind of forgot that I am writing this from David’s POV. I just really did not think about it. I do have a problem with using contractions, and I thank you for reminding me, but the thing is I do not always use them in my regular speaking.
      Just to let you know, the boys are high-schoolers. David is seventeen, as is Gerald, Charlie is sixteen, and Thomas is fifteen. Does the boy’s dialog sound too young?
      What I was more looking for in the critique of the character of the boys was feedback on what you thought they were like in your own words. I really want to know if what is in my head is coming out into the story. I am working on showing not telling, and I am trying to build my characters the way I want them to be without having to tell the reader exactly what it is.
      Thank you for all your comments.
      God Bless!


  5. Hey Bethia,
    I’m generally not into the whole ‘ghost-story’ genre, but this excerpt was fascinating. You may need to fix up your grammar and change a few of your vocabulary choices to keep the mood consistent.
    One small error that stood out to me was the fact that David’s brother, Thomas, who is part of his family who calls him ‘Giant Killer’, was the one to ask why. Also, I was surprised by your comment about their ages. They sound a lot younger than mid-to-late teens to me. Perhaps this is because I tend to read much more old-fashioned literature… (too much Charles Dickens and J.R.R. Tolkien). Still, the more modern stories I’ve read (such as Rick Riordan and J.K. Rowlng – yes, I consider her a modern author) portray twelve and thirteen-year-olds in this way.
    This is all just my own fifteen-and-seven-month-old brain’s speculating, so please don’t take offense (I’m an INTJ. My social skills are not the best).
    I think that’s all I need to say… Interesting plot twist (if it can be so aptly called that) at the end 🙂

    God Bless,


    1. Thanks for replying. First off, Thomas is David’s friend, not his brother. David only has a sister, and she was not about to go out to a haunted house and guard the wood, so only David’s friends our out there. Second, I too love Dickens and Tolkien! In fact they are two of my favorite authors. I haven’t read a modern novel about boys in their late teens, only older novels, so I am afraid I don’t have that experience upon which to draw from. I would appreciate any more detailed examples that shows the boys to be younger than I intended. I really don’t know how to fix it. Charlie is a bit of a goof ball, and even says in an earlier chapter that he has a ten year old’s head on a sixteen year old’s body. David and Gerald really should be more mature and older. I kind of imagine Thomas being this whiny younger brother, and am seriously thinking of changing his age to about twelve, instead of the fifteen it is now.
      Don’t worry about critiquing me and my work. I don’t take offense easily, especially if I know deep down that what you are saying is completely true. I only ask that you give examples so that I can better fix my mistakes.

      Thank you again!
      God Bless!
      Bethia Lark


      1. Oh wait. My mistake. So Thomas is Gerald’s brother, correct? ‘Thomas asked looking quite confused. Gerald just looked at his brother.’
        Do you know any boys of these particular ages that you could draw off? I know it helps with my writing when I know people really well and can base characters off them (of course, I’ll try to make it subtle and maybe combine a few different people into their personality).
        As a complete Grammar Nazi, I’ve notice a few slight errors in some of your dialogue.
        e.g. ‘ “I can’t.” David whispered back. “I promised my dad that I would guard the pile. I have my shot gun.” He said as he slowly lifted the weapon from where it lay.’
        After the ‘I can’t’ bit and ‘shot gun’, you need a comma before the closing quotation marks, as the next parts indicate who was speaking. Also, you don’t need to say who was speaking twice when the speaker hasn’t even changed. I would write it as:
        ‘ “I can’t,” David whispered back. “I promised my dad that I would guard the pile. I have my shot gun.” He slowly lifted the weapon from where it lay.’
        That’s just my suggestion. Also, they do seem to act quite childish in all believing that it’s a ghost. You should have at least one of them being sceptical (if you’re from the US, you’ll tell me it’s ‘skeptical’) about it. Is it realistic that a seventeen-year-old boy would believe in ghosts? He might think it’s an illusion or some random local kid playing a prank…

        God bless you too!


  6. Rebekah,
    Thank you for that suggestion! I don’t know why I didn’t catch that. And yes, Thomas and Gerald are brothers. David is skeptical of the ghost. He is just tired of saying over and over that he doesn’t believe in ghosts. He also has said in earlier chapters that he thinks it is just a prank or a thief or other such ideas. He is from New York City, and he is moving to a very different town in the mountains of North Carolina, which, since I gather you are not from the U.S., is in the South. New York City is in the North. He is pretty practical, and is lifting the shot gun to ward off the thief, not that he believes it is a ghost. He is scared, but his fear comes from the natural, not the supernatural. I am very sorry that I didn’t make that clear.
    And no, I don’t know any boys that age. The only boys I know are my brother, who is seventeen, and he did help a little bit, but he’s not very willing to help me out a whole bunch, and thirteen year old boys at my church, and they act much like my characters. The next oldest are in their twenties, and I don’t talk to them very much at all. I might need to wait on this story after the first draft and try to get to know the right age boy. I feel awful, though, to try to get to know boys just so that I can accurately portray them in my story!

    Thanks again,

    Bethia Lark


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