Open Pen

Out of Darkness: An Open Pen Critique

This week for Open Pen we have a great short story from Maddie Cait. This piece takes place in Nazi Germany, and while Maddie did not mention this specifically, her story definitely seeks to bring glory to God 🙂

As for critiques, Maddie would love feedback on her title and mentioned that she was also considering “Revealed by Light.” She also would like to hear feedback and get tips about showing and not telling, though I think most critiques would be welcome. As always, even short, simple comments help, and I know that Maddie really appreciates you taking the time to read her story and comment.

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.


Out of Darkness by Madelyn MacBoyd

Eva leaned her head back trying to ignore the screaming pain of hunger in her stomach. The unseen dust in the secret closet accentuated her thirst. Two days with no room to move, no food, and not knowing if she was safe seemed torturous. The Gestapo had taken Anni, the young woman who had been hiding Eva, when they raided her home. They found the four other Jews she was also hiding. Eva didn’t make it to the attic in time, so Anni had stuffed her into a secret little room in the library wall.

Eva’s eyes scanned the compact hiding place. In some ways, it was like her heart – dark, dirty, lonely. Eva longed for her life to be full of happiness and peace, but it always felt empty. She tried to ignore her feelings by paying attention to sounds outside the hidden door. She heard nothing.

I must get out, Eva thought, I will get some water and be right back.

The door creaked as Eva opened it. Moonlight streamed through the window as Eva snuck down the stairs to the kitchen. After gulping some water, she opened the cabinet and stuffed a piece of bread into her mouth. Swallowing the last mouthful she heard a noise behind her. Eva jumped and spun around. There in front of her stood a tall, bearded man.

“Are you Eva?” the man’s voice was deep and kind.

Eva stood speechless. Her heart pounded and her thoughts raced.

He looks familiar. I’ve seen him before.

“Anni sent me to find you,” he explained.

“Anni? Is she safe?” Eva blurted, forgetting her fear at the mention of her friend.

Nodding his head, he continued, “We must get out of here. The house is being watched.”

“Who are you?”

“There is no to time to expl –“

The rattling of the door knob and creak of hinges interrupted his sentence. Grabbing Eva’s arm, the man headed to the side door as the front door banged open. “Quick! This way!” He hissed, almost dragging her outside.

Eva and the man ran through the dark ally, weaving through streets Eva did not recognize. They heard yelling in the distance as a Nazi solder fired a gun. Turning the corner, Eva’s rescuer threw open what looked like a sewage circle and dived inside. Eva followed without stopping to think. A damp, musty smell flooded their nostrils.  To Eva’s surprise, a hole, dug out in the sewage tunnel, created a small but excellent hiding place.

“We’ll have to sneak out when they’ve lost our trail,” he whispered, crouching in the corner trying to keep his head from bumping the ceiling. Eva sat against the other wall.

“Who – are – you?” she gasped, out of breath.

“Call me Nik. No need to worry about me. My mission is to help get persecuted people to safety. I usually work with groups of Jews, but Anni did not want to leave you behind.”

Suspicious, Eva stared at him. Then, the realization of where she had seen him hit her like a slap on the cheek. The photograph of Anni’s brother in a scrapbook back at the safe house flashed in her memory.  “Are you Anni’s brother?” she asked, more in disbelief than with curiosity.

Nik looked at the ground a minute before he answered with a somber, “That’s me. We’re not supposed to reveal too much about who we are. It creates unneeded danger, but I guess you need to know that much.”

“But, I thought you enlisted in the German Air Force after Hitler came to power?” Eva accused, growing uneasy. “Anni was so upset when she heard.”

Nik sighed, “Yes, I was bomber pilot. A decision I regret. I used to be infatuated with Hitler’s promises to help the German economy and rebuild national pride . . . until I realized his true motives. God shone His light through my darkness and revealed to me the evil I was supporting. I still love my country, and it hurts deeply to see her generate so much evil. When you see the light, it’s a wonderful and terrible thing that happens.”

“How so?”

“Light reveals the evil things that the darkness hid. When you see them, you feel you must do something about them,” Nik stared up at the ceiling.

Eva could relate, but yet she couldn’t. She had a similar pain in her heart because her country, the country that she loved, had betrayed and despised her. But the light Nik was talking about confused her.

Nik looked up at the circle where they had entered.

“We should try to go now,” he whispered.

Nik opened the circle a crack to see if it was all clear. They snuck out and crept along the dark road. Eva followed Nik into the woods.

They ran quietly through the maze of trees. Without warning, Nik slowed to almost a stop.

“What is it?” Eva whispered.

“Sshhhh,” Nik thrust his hand toward Eva, signaling, don’t move.

“I think we are being followed,” he whispered quickly. Nik raised his head high, his ears searching for sounds from their stalker.

Eva’s heart began to race, and she could hear her pulse drumming in her ears. Nik shoved her and himself behind the thickest tree around.

The crunch, crunch of the stalkers boots grew louder. The stalker, a man in the Gestapo, walked past Nik and Eva, without seeing them. Nik drew his pistol noiselessly from his pocket taking aim at the Nazi. BANG! – The Nazi fell dead to the ground.

“We have to make it to the closest farm. I know the man who owns it, his name is Leo, and he will hide you. You will be safe there for now,” Nik whispered.

Nik stepped out from behind the tree before Eva. Eva was about to follow, when she heard BANG! Nik collapsed, groaning and holding his shoulder. Another Nazi soldier had followed them. He took another step closer to Nik, aiming his gun at Nik’s head. Another shot rang out from the opposite direction, and the Nazi fell limp on the ground. Nik and Eva looked.

There stood Leo, gun in hand.

“I heard the first gunshot, and I knew you were in trouble,” Leo exclaimed, rushing over to Nik’s side.

Leo and Eva applied pressure to Nik’s chest wound, trying to stop the bleeding.

“Eva – look,” Nik said, panting from the pain.

The first morning sunbeams streamed through the tree branches, revealing the dust dancing in the air.

“Does that mean we can’t travel because it is day?” she asked disappointed.

“No, look at the sunlight. It’s revealing the dust. That’s just what I was talking about. God’s love shines through showing us the dust – sin. At first, I wanted the light to go away. I didn’t want to see the filth, but it was for my own good. The light showed me the truth, and the truth set my soul free.”

He grew more breathless with each word. Nik winced with pain, as his eyes closed and he breathed for the last time.

Eva’s tears stung her eyes. Dear God, she prayed, shine your light on me. Fill my life with light, even if it hurts. I want to be free.


12 thoughts on “Out of Darkness: An Open Pen Critique”

  1. Hi, Maddie! I enjoyed reading your excerpt 🙂 I think you have a great set up here. I love how you start right in the middle of action and keep the story moving quickly. I think you could increase the tension by not revealing as much about Nik so soon though. That is, when the bearded man first enters, don’t tell the readers that his voice is kind. Keep us in suspense – don’t let us know if he’s good or bad yet. Eva’s heart is probably pounding like crazy too. He’s probably a bit on edge because what he is doing is dangerous – he might even be terse with her. I would also extend the scene where they are running away – maybe even include a chase and her thoughts wondering if she’s batty for trusting this man. She wonders if it could be a trap.

    Then, when they talk in the sewer, I wouldn’t give away so much information so soon either. Maybe don’t tell us he’s the brother yet. And while I love that your heart is to honor the Lord in this book, his conversation about lies/light/darkness might be better later in the story. This conversation slows the plot and could be more meaningful once we’ve gotten to know his character. I think the conversation will carry more weight after we see him struggle a bit.

    Anyway, I think you have a great start, and I hope you keep writing it! God bless!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Howdy Hannah!!
      This is just a short story, not a book, but I am thinking about about taking this and using it for a “springboard” for a short novel. 🙂 Your critique really helps!! Thanks Hannah!!
      XOXO, Maddie Cait


  2. Maddie! First off, great story. I love history, and WWII is one of my favorite eras. 🙂

    Here are some suggestions.

    1) Check for “filter words” that distance the reader from the character’s POV. I saw at least a couple, for instance: “Eva was about to follow, when she heard BANG!” The “she heard” is a filter phrase that takes away some of the immediacy of experiencing this moment AS Eva.

    2) Something that will help with show vs tell is to make sure the exposition sounds like Eva’s narrative voice. Two lines that jarred me: “In some ways, [the closet] was like her heart – dark, dirty, lonely. Eva longed for her life to be full of happiness and peace, but it always felt empty.”

    This seems a little bit too self-aware to be in Eva’s voice, so it ends up feeling like “telling”. Instead, consider focusing on the thoughts and feelings that SHOW Eva’s heart to be a “dark, dirty, lonely” place. In what way does her heart feel empty? Hiding in the closet, you have an opportunity to explore her own flawed thinking – is she harboring bitter thoughts toward the Germans? Spiraling into despair and hopelessness? Irrationally angry at Anni for getting herself caught? Since this is a redemption story, I’d love to see more of what Eva is being redeemed from. (And, since that’s a really nice metaphor, you might be able to keep it by rephrasing it as how Eva views the world – a dark, dirty, lonely place).

    3) On that note, since he is German, you have a great opportunity for more tension between Eva and Nik. If she truly distrusts or dislikes him, his sacrifice for her will impact her all the more. The more she openly challenges his intentions, the more reason he will have to testify to her about his own conversion, which will help the gospel elements feel naturally placed.

    4) Finally, I agree with the other comment that you can prolong the mystery a bit longer. 🙂 Try parceling out the exposition one piece at a time, in a way that keeps people reading to find out what happened. For example, in the first paragraph – “The Gestapo had taken Anni, the young woman who had been hiding Eva, when they raided her home.” = “Eva hoped dearly that Anni was alright.” That keeps me reading beyond the first paragraph because now I want to know what happened to Anni, why Eva is hiding, and from whom. As you give us the details one piece at a time, we put it together ourselves, and that’s very rewarding. 🙂

    Great work Maddie, this was an enjoyable read with an important theme. Write on!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey!! Your critique is extremely helpful, and it makes me want to work on this story some more!! I really like the 3rd and 4th point that you mentioned. Thanks for taking your time to read my story!! 😉
      XOXO, Maddie Cait


  3. Hi Maddie!
    This certainly seems like it will be exciting. However, a few things jumped out at me in particular. For one, I doubt Nik would explain his life philosophy to Eva while they’re literally in the middle of running from Nazis. Whispering carries, and it’s an unneeded danger. If I were him I’d wait until they got to safety. Of course, he couldn’t die if you wanted the words to come from his mouth (unless this story has ghosts), but that saves you the trouble of introducing a character just to kill him immediately.

    The first paragraph had a lot of telling, so I didn’t immediately sympathize with Eva because I felt more like I was reading a quick news report than reading her story. I don’t know where in the story this is, so perhaps you were just summing up for us? If this is the beginning, I’d suggest leaving this information for later, or maybe only focusing on one or two of the Jews who were taken. Especially if they were Eva’s close friends. This is a very traumatizing experience, and Eva just doesn’t seem traumatized. Miserable, yes, but not traumatized.

    Anyway, this looks like an interesting story. I wonder if you’re going to focus more on her country betraying her? That’s an aspect I hadn’t really thought of before, although I should have.

    Keep writing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey there, Faith!!
      Thanks so much for critiquing my story!! This story had a word limit, so I think that’s why I was doing more telling than showing. I’m not very good at showing. I’m not even sure how to do it. Do you have any tips?Love, MaddieCait


      1. Reading your story again, I think I must have made a mistake in saying that. There are other problems — too much exposition and some head-hopping — that I may have mistaken for “telling.” Telling would be like “the room was uncomfortable.” Showing is what you did — describe the stuffiness & the dustiness of the room. You did this in several other places as well — rather than just saying “The sun came out” or “It was a bright morning,” you take time to describe beams of sunlight. So there’s that, and I’m sorry for misleading you. For future reference, “to be” verbs — was, is, are, etc — show up a lot when you’re telling. You can watch out for those. The one part where you actually did tell was when you said “His voice was deep and kind.” Deep is non-negotiable, but “kind” is not…maybe you could say “His voice was deep and sounded kind” or simply “his voice sounded deep and kind.”

        (In other words, telling is when you write something as fact, and showing is when you write something as it appears to the MC. “His voice was” vs. “His voice sounded,” for example. There are many ways this rule could go wrong [as I just thought of it now], so fair warning.) 🙂

        I think what I mean to say was that you had too much exposition. That’s what was bothering my in the first paragraph — summing up events, although if you have a word count you might not have a choice. I’d suggest thinking deeply over what the reader actually needs to know, and cutting out anything that isn’t absolutely necessary.

        Nik’s dialogue was also exposition-rich. He basically info-dumped his backstory and motivation on the reader, rather than letting them find it out slowly. (And yes, I think we could still find it out after he died.) That bothers me because (a) it takes away from the joy of discovering things through reading and (b) it seems highly unlikely that he would say this in the middle of a chase scene.

        Something I didn’t mention before was head-hopping, which you do occasionally — for example, you say “Nik raised his head high, his ears searching for sounds from their stalker.” This isn’t really a problem, as Eva could easily infer this, but my immediate thought is always “How does Eva know? She’s not inside his head.”

        As you have a word count, I’m assuming you have a time limit as well, so this post might be too late to help you. Sorry I didn’t see it earlier. In any case, maybe it’ll be helpful for other things. 🙂


  4. Dear Maddie,

    Hey, the ending was much better than last time. Great work on it. However, I agree with everyone else who has posted. You are telling too much in the beginning, and I still say they wouldn’t be that melodramatic as they are crouching in a sewer.
    One other thing I noticed was that you said Nik normally worked with groups. Is the hole they are hiding in a large hole so that it can accommodate a group, because I got the impression it was small, which would not work with a larger group. Just something to think about. I still cry every time I read about Nik’s final moments. If you make it into a bigger story, make sure that emotion still carries us to tears. Or at least me to tears.
    Other than that, loved it. When you perfect it, send it to the Fairsprings paper. We need good material there too, you know.
    God bless and keep you!

    Bethia Lark


    1. Hiya Bethia!!!
      Yaaaaaaaaay!!! I’m so glad you liked the ending!!! As for the sewer tunnel, I imagined it to be kind of small. And when Nik is talking about groups of Jews, he wasn’t talking about 20 people. Maybe 3-6 people at a time.
      I’ll try to keep the emotion in Nik’s death when I work on the story some more. I usually hate making people cry, but if you like to cry, I’ll do it just for you. 🙂 Haha. 🙂
      Love, MaddieCait
      PS. Is there a word limit for stories in the Fairsprings Paper?


      1. You might want to keep it smaller than 2000 words. We can break it up into two parts if we need to, or we can print it up as a pamphlet. Whichever is needed.
        I am the editor of a literary paper called the Fairspring Paper, and we are always looking for new members to liven our pages. If you have an article or short piece you would like to have printed (unfortunately I can’t claim the paper is a legit publication) and reviewed by other people who love good writing, please feel free to send me an email at
        I will be glad to answer any questions you may have.

        Bethia Lark


  5. Hi Maddie!
    This piece is very good! I love the tension and intrigue! While I love the fast pace of the story, I feel that it could use a little more description of their surroundings to make the story come alive more. Great work!


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