Open Pen: Untitled by C. Potter

Welcome back to Open Pen, everyone! Our first critique is from the beginning of a novel sent in by C. Potter. He would like a general critique as well as some feedback on what the scene makes the reader expect of the upcoming story.

Just to remind everyone, please be constructive and kind with your comments, and always say something you genuinely like about the piece before giving negative feedback.

And if you interested in having your own work critiqued, please head over to the Open Pen page.

Have a wonderful day, and God bless!

Gabrielle Rhody


Untitled Opening Scene to the Novel

By C. Potter

Penny’s eyes flashed from Jamie’s scarlet dagger, to his face, then, with an effort of will, to his chest, watching for movement. The dagger had not been scarlet a few moments ago, before it dipped into Penny’s ribs. Now the blood rolled off its steel, drip-drip into the water, to curl like a red smoke-snake in the stream before rushing past the stone teeth, over the edge, to the whirlpool below their feet.
“Can we settle this peaceably?” Penny asked, then fearing to admit weakness, “Like men.”
“Coward.” Jamie’s grin ground between his teeth as he charged, knife slashing across Penny’s body, aimed at his throat. Penny’s hand slammed into Jamie’s arm, knocking the blow done so it screeched across his armor, his momentary grip lost in the blur of melee. Penny lunged forward, wrapping his arms around Jamie in a desperate bid to trap the knife away from his flesh, catching him in a bear hug.
Jamie began wriggling his free hand out of Penny’s constricting hold, moving it towards the more securely caught fist which held the knife, and Penny reacted with instinctual fervor, lifting one knee and swinging it in on Jamie’s ribs. All this got him was a grunt, but still Jamie’s hand was looser than before, and now Penny had a second or two only.
Penny couldn’t see anything else to do, and he had neither weapon nor the will to use it, so he hooked one foot behind Jamie’s, feeling the rush of eager, lucid waters past their legs, and jerked inward, back, toppling them into the current. The water licked with rough, regardless haste at both their faces as it splashed, and Jamie had let go of the knife.
Penny rolled, his hands scraping along the rock of the shelf they wrestled on, but he paid it no mind as he grabbed at the knife where it lay, still, scarlet curling off it, three feet off at the pool’s bottom. Jamie moved just a moment later.
The sudden scuffle of splashing water, elbows cracking on armor, and water- choked gasps ended with the knife in Penny’s hand. His finger bled, true, but he had the knife.
Jamie now stood at the edge of the waterfall, just in front of the picturesque, irregular teeth of their half-moon battlefield, panting.
Penny looked down at himself with a smile, his eyes flickering across the growing red smear on his side where the knife had found its way around his breastplate.
“I just want to escape,” Penny said, settling into the familiar firmness of fighting stance, knife gripped in his rear hand, “I just want to leave this island.” He looked at Jamie for a moment longer, then sighed. “I’m not going to kill you, man.”
Jamie smirked. “I doubt you will. How’s your side?”
Penny grimaced and didn’t answer. It’s all very well being noble when you can be certain it’ll actually work. Of course, he still wouldn’t kill him. He stuffed the knife into its appropriate sheathe, managing to wedge it under his belt so Jamie couldn’t draw it out too quickly.
Penny’s legs were moving under him before he could consciously register the twitch in Jamie’s body. The man’s eyes widened, Penny lunged forward, and the blood in the water gripped the edge of the stone for a moment before falling.
Penny’s shoulders dropped as he half- dove to entrap Jamie’s legs, shooting for a double- leg takedown; Jamie stepped forward and dropping into the blow. Penny’s shoulders met Jamie’s stomach, hitting the breastplate with a nasty thud, knocking his breath out as Penny’s charge plowed into him.
Penny couldn’t stop, though he tried, and Jamie’s feet came out from under him, the water licking its smooth tongue along his moccasins as he passed the brink and dropped downward.
He’s going over, was all Penny thought, and his hand reached out to grab him, trying to grasp Jamie somehow. He fell flat on his stomach, between two of the half- mouth’s teeth, head and shoulders over the whirlpool, and his hand lashed out, catching Jamie’s wrist between his fingers for a brief instant.
The water was slick between their skin, and Jamie wrenched straight through Penny’s grasp.
Penny stared after him. I wonder, and the thought brought a nauseous interest into his stomach, whether I could join him.
He squirmed back from the edge and leaned against the wall of the worn-down creek channel which fed into the clamshell.
“I killed a man,” he said aloud, and the saying of it brought the image to his mind again. He heaved, but he had nothing to throw up with. I killed a man. He still had the knife in his other hand, and his side hurt nearly as much as the faded memories of the Count’s first operation on his flesh.
His side would heal.
He looked down at the knife he’d drawn in his reverie. Should I bring my body-count to two?
“I deserve it,” he reminded himself. I know I deserve it- killers are worthy of being killed, and nothing more. That the Count had told him to kill or be killed made little difference; I killed Jamie. He flipped the knife, catching it just off kilter so the guard’s metal bit into his callused thumb. His fingers tightened on the wood, trying to crush it into powder, and the angular butt pressed painfully into his palm.
His green eyes closed, and he dropped his head forward onto his chest, disregarding the minor discomfort of his breastplate’s small gorget in determination not to move from where he had landed. His entire body shivered, and wouldn’t stop, not that he now realized the water was cool in the temperate cave air he’d known for these past months. The light was perpetual, here, an unending twilight without warmth, though Niamh said that in its full glow some heat could be found.
The knife was in his hand, still, but now he was looking past it.
This was the Count’s knife, the Count’s island, the Count’s decision.
The Count had told Penny and Jamie, “Go, kill or die, and I will be glad.” They had obeyed, as all on this island did. Now, Penny knew, escape from the Count’s hand was impossible, not with the blood on his hands, not when he had so defiled his own hands by making them the Count’s own. He feared to blame another, but Penny grit his teeth and faced the necessity of truth.
The Count needed to die; the Count needed to fail. The first required the other but did not exhaust it. I must kill him and everything he’s done. Only then could Penny say he was free.
He paused in his grin. He’d have to decide whether he was worthy of continuing after he escaped. A killer must die, and by his own hand if by no one else’s. I am a killer of man. The language was old fashioned, the idea more so, and though he could not entirely give a reason for his belief, Penny held it incontrovertible.
He watched his blood whorl in the water and realized that he no longer felt the strength in him to move. I guess I stabbed. Seriously too, by his best guess.
Still, I have a plan. First, the Count, and the Count’s life- work, must die. Then he could escape, determine what fate he himself deserved.
Probably death. I’m too much of a coward to kill myself, Penny thought, I’ll have to find a way that doesn’t hurt much. Perhaps a painless death come easier to his hand.
His plan, he knew, would involve a lot of murder. The Count had loyal underlings of a sort- he had seen some, though he didn’t know their names. They might maintain the Count’s deeds, might revere his memory, and Penny would not allow himself to abide that.
He settled himself back against the rock, still up to his ribs in water, to stall his return as long as he could. A little peace, maybe, he thought, and his eyes closed without dispute.

5 thoughts on “Open Pen: Untitled by C. Potter”

      1. I checked my e-mail (I do this less than I ought to) and found your critique.
        Some points I concede are better; some I have specific reasons for choosing the wording I did. ‘Drip-drip into the water’, for instance, is meant to be a slight onomatopoeia, and I’ll probably change ‘to curl’ into ‘curling’ rather than your correction. Some of the changes you’ve made I understand but disagree with for reasons of characterization. Overall, though, you’ve pointed out a number of areas worth checking over and I’m glad of the critique. The way you pointed out to tighten up the first bit of combat in particular was helpful, though I’m not going to be taking all that advice (losing contact with the knife arm is actually quite significant for that sort of fight).
        Thank you.
        God bless.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Hi C. Potter! This is quite the fight scene! 🙂 Reading it makes me feel like I’m watching a rapid-fire knife-fight scene between two fellows wrestling in the middle of the stream (I’d typed lake at first but then realized that this is a stream from the first paragraph xD). I expect that the upcoming story will involve Penny going after the Count and killing him – hopefully successfully, since he’s obviously the bad sort – forcing people to kill each other in a kill to live or die scenario. I also expect plenty of internal struggle/conflict/angst and PTSD/guilt in connection to Jamie, Penny’s first kill. This piece is a good catalyst for such action. 👍

    For my critique points, I’d recommend a thorough line edit for grammar and diction. I’d also recommend some more varied sentence structure/length/re-wording. While reading, I often felt the sentences are overtly long and somewhat unclear/confusing. And unfortunately this distracted me from the overall flow of the scene. So perhaps aim for more conciseness by dividing those longer sentences to shorter ones and re-structure them in a more direct and easy-to-follow manner for the reader. Too much information in one sentence can feel overwhelming. (I do not suggest disregarding all the descriptive details, since I think they can be kept and improved to be stronger as they help me picture the action.)

    In short:
    ⭐ Strong points// a descriptive catalyst scene that logically sets up future action/story/character development/conflict
    ⭐ Weak points (i.e. opportunities for improvement :)// the deliverance/communication, specifically in regards to syntax and grammar: aim for accurate word usage/diction, conciseness – removal of any unnecessary or repetitive details, more varied sentence structure, and more clear and direct sentences for the reader to follow to avoid confusion and distraction

    Is this helpful to you? I hope what I said makes sense – please let me know if you have any questions or comments. 🙂

    Oh and also – how far off are my predictions about the story following this scene? I’d love to know! 😉

    Have a wonderful day! 🌱
    P.S. In respect for your request for general critique, I’ve refrained from doing line-edit style suggestions for more detailed/specific points. But if you would like me to be more specific and point out the grammatical, diction, and syntax points that I see can be improved, please let me know and I would be happy to see if I can help! 🙂


    1. Thank you for the feedback regarding sentence structure. I’ll take that into account when I edit it. I know I have a predilection for long sentences. In fact, I often have to consciously force myself not to use too many compound-complex sentences in a row.
      Grammatical errors are really no big deal right now- as I said, as long as it’s understandable, I’m going to be editing it again, so grammar will be dealt with then. If you see any sentences that have unclear or awkward phrasing, though, I would appreciate the feedback, especially in regards to the clarity of the order of events inside the fight scene.
      As for your predictions of where the plot goes- you’ve got the right end of the stick, though the angst isn’t really focused on Jamie’s death individually as much as it’s directed towards the aggregate deaths in the story.
      This is still a cheerier opening than my other story has, though.
      God Bless.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s