Open Pen

A Clock Ticking: An Open Pen Critique

Annalia Fiore, who blogs about appreciating the joy of writing, has sent in another fascinating short story for us to critique! And Annalia still wants us to “rip to shreds” and “demolish” her writing. Brave, brave soul!

Annalia mentioned nothing as far as specific types of critique, so go ahead and comment on everything from characters to commas.  I think you guys will enjoy this story, and as always, even short, simple comments help. I know that Annalia 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.


A Clock Ticking by Annalia Fiore

I stared only at the ground, and not at the trees, nor the street, nor the people. Occasionally I glanced up and looked at my surroundings. Yet it bored me, and I turned back to my phone. I think the sky was blue that day – but I can not remember. I suppose if I had taken the time to look around me, I might have seen what a beautiful day it was in the Boston Commons. But I had more important things to do. There was my twitter feed to check, emails to write, and notes to make on my calendar.

When I entered the train station there was a steady hum of peoples footsteps upon the linoleum floor, a constant flow of doors opening and closing, and maybe once, a child cried. Outside on the platform, others waited like me. They all wore almost identical suits and dresses, holding phones or laptops. I can not remember if any of us talked with one another, perhaps an apology was made when an old man bumped into me. I think I might have replied to him, but I am not sure.

The train came in with a steady, calm sound. We all entered, one at a time and took a seat. Laptops were pulled out again and there was a steady sound of fingers typing. Occasionally one would stop to take a sip of coffee. Feet tapped against the floor watches ticked, and the train pressed on. The train made its way through the city, we passed gray buildings with large windows revealing more people on computers. It stopped at the next train station, and more got on. A man sat across from me beside the window. He wore a bright purple shirt and white tennis shorts. On his lap were a sketch book and a charcoal pencil.

“Beautiful day, isn’t it?” he asked me.
“I think,” I said, typing out a report for my boss.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“What?” I said, “Oh – never mind.”

The man was silent and looked out the window. I thought I heard him give a sigh but I turned back to my computer, continuing my work. I heard his pencil scratch against his paper and I put my earbuds in. I was curious to what he was drawing, but I tried not took look up. I willed myself not to be distracted.

“Listen,” he said, “Do you hear that?”
“Hear what?” I asked.
“Everyone is typing to the same rhythm, there – you hear it!”
I did hear it, but I hated that he had drawn attention to it. There was something, almost dear about the sound. It was familiar, comfortable, and very simple.
“I don’t hear anything,” I said, “Excuse me, I am rather busy right now.”

When I started to type, I was off beat with the sound. It pounded in my ear and I heard what seemed to me a terrible noise against the rhythmic music. I focused upon the rhythm and found my typing to match its pace. My muscles relaxed, I took a sip of coffee, and I smiled before returning to my work. Everything was under control, I thought, it was just his manner that had put me off. Yes – that’s it, he maintained eye contact for too long. I was quite relieved at my discovery.

The train shuddered to a stop and the man across from me got up.
“Have a nice day,” he remarked. I said nothing but only pounded my fingers against the keys harder.
“It really is a beautiful day,” he said, and he left.

I was quite thankful that he was gone, and accomplished serval things before the train came to my stop. I got up from my chair and placed my laptop in my backpack. I was about to leave my row when I noticed a piece of paper lying on the seat opposite from me. I picked it up and saw a charcoal picture of a train cabin. It was nearly identical to the one that I was in. People sat on the seats typing on their laptops, squiggly lines over their fingers indicated movement. It was a rough sketch, yet somehow, it seemed incredibly accurate. I could recognize the figures on each of the seats. Yes – there was me, with hair tied up in a bun and wearing a black suit jacket. Yet where was my face, or the faces of all the others? Our faces were completely shaded a deep gray. There was barely even an indication of features, save but a couple lines across the nose and forehead.

I walked out of the train, onto the platform, holding the drawing in my hand. I was vaguely aware of the fact that I was not in sync with the others, but I hesitated to follow them. After looking closer at the drawing, I saw clocks drawn along the side of the train walls. It appeared that there was one for each person. And when I inspected the faces of each of the figures more closely, I saw we each had a clock upon our face. The lines of the hands had been drawn faintly, but I could make out the numbers along the edge of the faces that I had mistaken for hair.

I stopped in the middle of the train station. People brushed past me, clocks ticked, and feet tapped. I looked from the drawing to the people, not quite sure what to do. Then, I walked over to a trash can, and for a moment held the drawing over the hole. I looked at it again and saw the clocks. I put it back in my pocket, and pulling my watch off my wrist, I dropped it into the waste. Slowly, as if in a daze I walked out of the train station into the street. Cars whizzed by, and people rushed from building to building. I watched the sun reflect against the glass windows of buildings in front of me. The air was sweet and the breeze added a freshness to it all.

A week passed and I almost hated the drawing that the man had left behind. My family found me strange and irritating. My boss was horrified at my reports and was on the verge of firing me. I was almost terrified when I found myself saying good morning to people on the train. I almost threw the drawing away, but I did not.

I was walking in Boston Commons, beside the public library when suddenly I saw the man from the train. He walked past me with a smooth, easy stride, but then stopped and looked back.

“Hello,” I said.
“Hello,” he said, “It’s a beautiful day.”
“Yes,” I said, “It is.”

10 thoughts on “A Clock Ticking: An Open Pen Critique”

  1. Hey! I’ll start by saying that I really love the concept of this piece, and the way you delivered it. I also really like the cyclical form: it starts with the interaction with the stranger and ends with it, and I think that was a really nice way of showing character development in a very short time span. The motif of the drawing does a good job of delivering your message in a subtle manner (in a very show-don’t-tell kind of way) and so does the overall description: I think it can be very tempting to have a character say what they’ve learned or how they’ve changed in a very obvious way when a story is in first person (because we have direct access to their thoughts) but you avoided that well.

    In relation to characterization, I think paragraph three is a little inconsistent with the rest of the piece. Early on she admits that she is bored by her surroundings and subsequently looks at her phone, but then goes on to give very detailed descriptions of them in this paragraph, which is a little inconsistent with the previously established disinterest and the overall point of the piece-that no one, her included, seems to care about what’s going on around them (specifically in regards to nature) and is too caught up in technology/work. You give indications of a lack of attention before and after paragraph 3 (the fact that she can’t exactly remember who she talked to, if anyone) which establish this well, but in this specific paragraph, that is lacking and even detracted from by the amount of detail. I would recommend cutting the description down, placing it after her conversation with the stranger (because at this point, she will have a reaosn to be more observant) or perhaps consider changing the POV to 3rd person so that you can have an external narrator describe the character’s surroundings and set the necessary atmosphere without it affecting the concistency of the character’s viewpoint. Overall, I think that particular paragraph (and the rest of the story) doesn’t need some of the description: the sentence “Feet tapped against the floor watches ticked, and the train pressed on. The train made its way through the city, we passed gray buildings with large windows revealing more people on computers.” doesn’t add much to the story or atmosphere that hasn’t already been established (and is almost the same as the line “People brushed past me, clocks ticked, and feet tapped.”). In line with this, the line “I suppose if I had taken the time to look around me, I might have seen what a beautiful day it was in the Boston Commons. But I had more important things to do.” detracts from the subtelty that you go on to establish because it directly states the point/theme when at this particular moment in time, it is evident that the character has not come to this realization yet (and may not even have thoughts of a beautiful day in mind).

    One last (nitpicky) point: I think you overuse ‘I’ at the beginning of your sentences in the paragraph beginning ‘I stopped in the middle of the train station’. it makes the paragraph a little monotonous to read.

    Other than that, the piece is great, and quite thought-provoking! I very much enjoyed reading and critiquing it (if the paragraphs of criticism didn’t betray that already lol)


    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Lisa!

      You have such a good point on all that you said!

      God bless,
      – Annalia Fiore


  2. This is really well written! Nice job. The one thing I did notice, though, is that the story is a little hard to get into because your intro is weak. Perhaps if you didn’t start with the word “I”, but started with something a little more startling and eye-catching, it would be a little bit easier to get into? Over all, though, great job!


    1. Ah, yes…you are correct, my intro is very week! Thanks for pointing that out!

      Have a beautiful day, and thanks for taking the time to critique my piece!

      -Annalia Fiore


  3. This is really beautiful! As an artist, who is often awkwardly caught studying stranger’s faces, I relate to man in the purple shirt deeply. The picture he left her captured the mood so perfectly! However, I don’t think the story was quite as powerful as it could have been.

    It seems to me that it has two main sections. The train section, in which she is absorbed in her work and annoyed at the man. And the reform section, in which she is allowing the man’s drawing to change the way she thinks.

    I really like both sections, but I don’t think they work perfectly together. The first section relies mainly on telling while the second relies mainly on showing. Here is why that is a problem.

    The main difference between telling and showing is where you chose to put the reader when writing the scene. When you show a scene, the reader is most often directly inside the main character’s head. The reader should, in this case, feel what the character feels, without immediate judgement on the rightness of those feelings. When you tell, on the other hand, the reader is outside, watching the main character. This invites judgement.

    You begin the story with the main character almost lamenting the fact that she had no idea if it was a nice day or not. This puts an immediate distance between the character and the reader, inviting judgement on her inability to appreciate the beauty around her. Thus, when the man began to speak to her, I could not feel her annoyance toward him. Instead I felt rather annoyed at her. This made the second section seem almost anti-climatic, since I had not felt her annoyance, I could not feel the wonderful, yet painful, change that was happening to her. I love your subtle hints that, even as she leaves the train, she is no longer in harmony with the world around her. She has broken off, and now, the unobservant world which she once belonged to and the new world of the man in the purple shirt, are grating against each other. But I cannot feel that tension, because I never felt sympathy for the first world.

    Intellectually, I love this story, but it could be so much more. If you had placed me firmly in the main character’s head, I wouldn’t simply agree with you that we should be more observant, I would, through sympathy be forced to recognize the times when I have been unobservant. It would challenge me.

    This was so much longer than I intended!


  4. This is one of the best critiques I have ever gotten. Thanks so much!

    You made such a good point, and I will revise my story!

    Have a beautiful day,

    -Annalia Fiore


  5. I love the concept of this story, and I like how it was portrayed. However, I believe the story could be improved if sentences were tightened, and the paragraphs were flushed out a bit. Basic editing, really. I would simply revise what’s here. Maybe consider rewriting it in present tense? Totally up to you, but I’ve found that my writing is sharpened considerably when I write a story in present tense. You have great potential in this piece, but I believe it should be trimmed to a fine point so that the full power of the premise is received by the reader.

    Best of luck and God bless!


  6. I really liked this story. The best thing about it is that the way the story is written leaves the meaning up to the reader. Reminds me of reading Charles Williams.



  7. First off, I just want to say, I love this piece. It’s short, but extremely thought-provoking in a way that shows me your message rather than blatantly saying it. I also like how you ended the story with the conversation from earlier.

    One thing I noticed at the beginning, was you mispelled “several” at the beginning. “I was quite thankful that he was gone, and accomplished serval. . .”

    Another thing, I kind of caught myself wanting to skim the beginning. Maybe if you added a more startling line; something short and simple, yet perhaps hinting towards an unexpected event in her life. . . or something.

    Besides those two things, I really enjoyed this overall and the message that came with it!

    God bless!


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