Open Pen

To Khalgena: An Open Pen Critique

This Friday for Open Pen, Araenceana submitted an excerpt from her fantasy novel. I hope you enjoy this descriptive and dark story!

As for critiques, Araenceana is not looking for any specific type of critique, so feel free to share all (constructive) thoughts in the comments. As always, even short, simple comments help. Thank you for taking the time to comment on this piece– I know the authors who submit to Open Pen love your feedback!

God bless,

Gabrielle

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, especially if you are targeting the YA audience. If you are interested in submitting or learning more about Open Pen, you can on the Open Pen page.

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To Khalgena by Araenceana

Night is a mysterious occasion. Sometimes, the wind whistles through the darkness like an unknown, invisible force, other nights, rain pours from the sky like a deluge, drowning out fields and flowers. In winter, snow falls thickly, carpeting the outside world in a deadly cold blanket of ice. It is always a mysterious occasion; there is a deep unknown about the cold darkness that is called night.
And it rained over the slave traders and their caravan that night. Not just a little fall of rain, it stormed, wind howling and wailing through the trees, water pouring through rents in the sky, hitting the dusty road and churning it into a path of mud. Though Mornaug, the captain of the slave drivers, sat under a canvas canopy in the foremost cart, the slaves and his men were not so lucky. Shivering and cold, the slaves huddled together in the wagons as the rain drenched them. Though it was still summertime, the season was on the cusp of changing, and the first chill of autumn air seemed to grow stronger.
In the corner of one of the carts sat a boy by name of Einyd, not much older than seventeen years of age. His wrists were bound, and his ankle was chained to the wooden side of the cart for extra caution. He was a slave like the rest of them, but no one spoke to him. The boy had caused trouble before, had even attacked one of the slavers with his chain, and his infamous attitude of carelessness infuriated most everyone. Rain fell upon his dark hair, running down over his face. He didn’t move. A smile played across his lips as he stared up at the pouring sky above. He’d always loved the rain.
Beside him, his sister Brya rested, worn out and hungry from a long day of travelling. Several hours ago, Mornaug had completed his last raid, a rewarding collection of at least a dozen young men and women suitable for slavery. The carts had stopped upon a nearby hill, while the slave driver and several of his men went to capture the newest slaves. The village must have fought back. The smoke of the burning town was visible for almost a mile after the caravan had finally continued on its way.
One of the girls had fainted shortly after being captured, and Einyd watched her now, as she began to stir again. The girl opened her eyes, and sat up, staring in utter horror about her. She must have forgotten what happened. Poor girl was in shock anyway, he thought to himself. He brushed a strand of wet hair from his eyes.
The girl who had awakened gave a cry. “No! What…where…?” Her eyes widened in panic, and she looked around wildly for an explanation. The girl next to her, probably her friend, put a hand on her arm. She screamed, pulling away from her.
“Sh! It’s alright, it’s alright. Don’t scream, they’ll hear you…” said her friend, looking desperately at Brya and Einyd, who sat right across from them.
The girl jerked her arm away, and stood up, sobbing tearlessly. The motion of the cart threw her down again, and she shrieked when she realized that her hands were tied.
“Sit down, Rell! Stop it, come on, come here!” her friend urged, crawling forward to help the girl back to the side of the cart. Rell cried out again in terror, her whole body shaking with fear and cold.
“What happened to us? Where are we? Ailatea, what’s become of us, I don’t remember anything!” Before the other, Ailatea, could say a word, she burst out into hysterical tears, sobbing and wailing.
She’s going mad, isn’t she? Einyd thought. He looked at his sister, who seemed to be watching the poor, confused girl with a pitying look. Unfortunately, it was often that captives reacted like this.
Rell continued to weep, crying and screaming, and before long, a guard came over, angry to have been disturbed from the bit of shelter the main cart offered. He jabbed at her with his spear handle.
“Stop your moaning or you’ll have something more to cry about!” he growled menacingly, and then turned and marched off, hunched down against the rain. Rell’s eyes widened and she stopped wailing, though she put her head into her hands and wept quietly. Her friend looked up at Brya, and shook her head.
“Why did they take us?”
Brya looked at the sobbing girl, and sighed. “Slave traders. The want to sell us.”
A look of horror flashed across Ailatea’s face. “Ohhh…” she managed. She swallowed.
“Where do they plan to go?”
“Khalgena. To the slave markets there.” Einyd explained.
Brya looked at her brother, surprised. “How do you know?”
Einyd pulled his scant cloak tighter around his shoulders. “I hear things. I eavesdrop, listen to the guards. Have a good memory.”
Ailatea narrowed her eyes slightly. “Khalgena. They’re taking us across the Drulu.”
“Aye”, he said, shortly.
“That’s worlds away”, Ailatea whispered softly.
Silence fell over the cart for a moment.
“You’ve never been across the divide before?”
Ailatea shook her head. “Never. Never even left Derlor.”
Einyd raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Then you will be in for quite an experience.”
“What do you mean by that?” said she, looking rather offended.
He shrugged, and said nothing more. Ailatea frowned, and sat back, wrapping her cloak around herself to stay dry. It helped little.
Rell stopped weeping after a few minutes, much to everyone’s relief, and it was not long before she had fallen back asleep. Ailatea too closed her eyes, letting the now soft rainfall calm her frightened nerves. She was relieved that her friend had finally woken up; she’d been frightened that Rell was traumatized beyond hope of recovery, but at the same time, the maddened, wild look on her friend’s face had worried her, and she couldn’t help praying that Rell wouldn’t go mad. Ailatea herself had been terrified beyond anything she’d ever felt before when the band of rough men had broken into her village in the middle of the night, kidnapping her and the others, snatching many of them from their very beds. She’d tried to fight back, but it was futile, only earning her more bruises and scrapes. And now here she sat, huddled in the rain next to her maddened friend, on the way to a foreign country across the great channel that separated Rendess from Semrone. A slave now, no longer free.
It would be wise to rest while peace lasts, she thought, and she rested her head on her knees.
Ailatea did not realize that she had fallen asleep until the cart stopped with a sudden jolt, and she was awakened by shouts and cries. Her whole body ached from sleeping in an uncomfortable position, but she sat up straighter and stretched to see what was going on.
“Why are we stopping?” she asked Einyd.
“Some idiot decided to try and escape. Don’t watch.” Einyd nodded in the direction of the third cart ahead.
Heedless of his warning, Ailatea looked, just in time to see one of the slavers force a captive to his knees and bring his knife down, hard. She gasped, and whirled back around, eyes wide with shock. A strange taste rose in her mouth.
“No…” she gasped out, sickened. She tried to wipe out what she’d just witnessed, but found that she couldn’t.
Einyd winced. “I told you not to look.”
Brya hid her face in her cloak. Ailatea covered her mouth, tears rising rapidly to her eyes.
“What did he do? What happened?”
“He tried to escape. Twice. And it seems that they had enough of it.”
“Enough? They killed him!”
Einyd nodded sorrowfully. “You shouldn’t have looked.”
Ailatea shook her head in disbelief and closed her eyes. Einyd felt sorry for her. Likely she’d never seen someone killed so brutally before.
The carts began to drive again, and soon they were back on their way to Khalgena, leaving the body of the dead captive behind. The rain gradually started up again, pattering harder and harder against the road until it became a downpour. Night began to fall, as the sky grew darker and the air grew colder.
It seemed that the journey had just begun.

Open Pen

Struggles at Starbucks: An Open Pen Critique

This Friday, we have a short story set in a Starbucks. The author, Annalia Fiore, has a blog about appreciating the joys of writing, so if you enjoy this story, you may want to drop by her blog.

Regarding feedback, Annalia seems open to any comments on her story and even asks that we “destroy it entirely” (though I am willing to bet that she does not want complete annihilation!) So please feel free to give constructive criticism, and remember that even short comments can be very helpful!

God bless,

Gabrielle

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.

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Struggles at Starbucks by Annalia Fiore

Thumbing for my phone beside me, I looked through the windshield of my car at the looming Starbucks coffee shop. Inside the christmas-light framed windows, sat an elderly woman wearing skinny jeans and hoop earrings. She was typing furiously on a laptop covered with brightly colored stickers saying: “Save the whales.” Across from her sat a middle-aged man with a balding scalp. He stared back at me through the frosted window.
I opened my car door and put a booted foot out into the slushy snow.
The warmth of the coffee shop greeted my cold body. A soft murmur of voices spread about the room. I got in line behind a short man wearing a fluffy gray sweatshirt. He peered at me behind oval glasses.
“C-cold out,” he stuttered.
I gave a short nod. Instinctively, I pulled out my phone and began to attend to it seriously.
“I’ve been coming to this Starbucks for eleven years. I always get the same thing. Do you know what I get?”
“What?” I said, not looking up. He hardly looks twenty-three.
“A hot, white chocolate mocha. Grande.”
I looked up from my phone. The small man was grinning at me. I gave another quick nod and returned to my screen.
“I sit in that chair, over there, by the old lady with earrings.”
“Someone is sitting in your spot.”
“Yes! It’s so funny how you know that without looking up.”
I had no interest in explaining to him that I had been coming to this Starbucks for thirteen years and that I sat in that particular chair.
A tall, blond lady from behind the counter handed a plastic cup to the small man.
“White chocolate mocha, sir? Grande?”
“Thank you!” said the small man to her. He then turned to me.
“Excuse me?” he said. I ignored him.
“Excuse me?!” he said again, this time tapping me on the shoulder with one finger.
“What?” I said, finally.
“Oh…hello! You must have not heard me. Anyway, will you please come with me?”
“Where…? No!”
Where are the mental institutions when you need them?
“Oh, but you see I am so attached to that chair. I want you to come and help me get it back. You see?”
“No, I do not. I’m very sorry but I have a lot of work to do.”
I went up to the counter and slammed a five dollar bill onto the counter.
“White chocolate mocha,” I whispered, hoping the small man would not hear, “Grande.”
“That’ll be five dollars and eighty cents, sir,” drawled the blond lady. I looked at the five dollar bill and then to her.
I reached into my back pocket, feeling a few smooth quarters. I pulled them out with two fingers, fumbled, and the coins fell onto the hard ground. I whirled around to pick them up but banged into something in the process.
“Darn! I’ve spilled my tea.”
I looked up to see a huge man wearing a black leather jacket over a shirt that said: “Snake Charmer.” He had enormous black rubber boots on and bushy gray eyebrows.
“I’ve spilled my tea,” the man repeated.
“I’m very sorry, sir. If you’ll just excuse me for a-.”
The man bent down and picked up my lost quarters.
“Here ya go,” he said.
“Thank you,” I muttered. I turned back to the blond lady and gave her my coins.
“Five dollars and eighty cents,” I said.
She glanced down at the quarters that lay in the palm of my hand and then back up at me.
“You’re missing five cents, sir. You gave me three-quarters.” A faint flutter of amusement went across her made up face.
I felt my back pocket. Nothing there. I felt my front pockets. There was nothing. I turned back to the lady.
“I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I don’t have five cents on me.”
The blond lady raised one well-groomed eyebrow.
“No cash? Credit cards? We take casino cards,” she said, smirking, “If that’s all you have.”
“I don’t gamble. Your manager won’t mind if you let go on a nickel, right?”
“I’m afraid he will,” she said, pushing my cash and coins to the edge of the counter. “Sorry, sir.”
A hot wave rippled through my body. My neck was wet with sweat.
“Ma’am,” I began with a desperate patience, “Starbucks is the only coffee shop that sells white chocolate mochas. I’ve been coming here for thirteen years. And I live in Plainville! We have two coffee shops on Main Street, two minutes away from my apartment. Why do you think I drove thirty-four minutes to Starbucks Coffee shop?”
I looked down at the ground. A rusted penny lay beside my foot. I stooped and picked it up.
“Here! Five dollars and seventy-six cents! No! I’m not an insane! I don’t gamble. I just left my credit cards in my apartment. Will you take the money? Deal?”
The blond lady flipped her head behind her. She gave a deep sigh.
“I’ll check with my boss, sir. Just a minute.”
She retreated slowly away and disappeared. Behind me, I heard many sighs of frustration.
It felt much longer than a few minutes when the blond lady returned.
“I’m sorry, sir,” she said with pathological patience, “But it’s against the rules.” She looked beyond my shock ridden figure to the next customer.
“I’ll take your order, sir.”
“Just a minute,” said a familiar voice. The huge man with the black jacket came up behind me.
“I have a nickel.” He put the coin on the counter.
The blond lady stared at him. I stared at him.
“T-thank you,” I said at last.
Handing me my penny, the blond lady said: “The pickup counter is to your left, sir.”
She must have forgotten that I had been coming here for thirteen years.
“Thank you,” I said, with effort.
I glanced towards the window. The small man was sitting in my favorite seat. He saw me and grinned. I went over to him.
“Hello,” I said, in a very nice voice.
“Hello! You had some trouble, didn’t you?” said the small man.
“Yes,” I said. I lowered my voice. “What’s your name?” I asked.
“Marley. What’s yours?”
“Marley…” I said, ignoring his question, “Can you…Marley, do something for me?”
“Of course!”
“Well, you see… I hope it won’t be too much trouble.”
“Not at all!” interrupted the small man with glee.
I tried not to show my annoyance.
“Well, really, it’s just…” I leaned closer to him and whispered: “Have you heard of Anguliphobia?”
“No. I don’t think I have.”
“Well, anyway, it means a fear of corners or angles. You see?”
“And you have it…this Angu-Angi-.”
“Anguliphobia. Yes.”
“But you came through the door! There are corners and angles there!”
Perhaps this man’s isn’t so mentally ill.
“Well you see, I have a very special case. I don’t like marble. Marble gives me the creeps. It’s hard and shiny. But by itself, like at the order counter, I can stand it. But marble corners! Oh! Those are the worst!”
“Ah! I see,” said the small man, “What is it you want me to do?”
“Will you go and wait for my coffee?”
“Certainly! What did you order?”
I hesitated.
“Well, it’s a White Chocolate Mocha. It’s a Grande.”
“Really! You know, I’ve been ordering that very same thing for the past eleven years! We must be soul mates! Do you know what-.”
“That’s very nice! I think my coffee is about ready.”
Without further words, the short man hopped up and went to the counter.
Stealthily, I put the small man’s coat onto a nearby vacant chair. I sank into his seat and pulled out my laptop. I plugged in my headphones and waited for the man to return. The sun streamed into the coffee shop. Across from the same old lady kept typing. Her iced tea, that sat beside her had not been drunk.
“You are in my seat.”
I looked up. The small man was now towering over me in my seat. He had a puzzled look on his face.
“My coffee!” I said, taking the cup from the man, “Thank you so much.”
I turned back to my computer.
“Yes, of course. But you are in my seat,” repeated the man.
I slipped my headphones on.
“You don’t understand,” continued the small man, “That’s my seat. I’ve been coming here foreleven years. I always sit there.”
I signed into my laptop. I clicked wifi settings.
The small man tapped his finger on my shoulder.
“Excuse me? Excuse me!”
I was completely tired of this irritating man. I selected a hard rock song to blast in my ears. Then a white tab came up in the middle of my computer. It read: We’re sorry, but Starbucks Internet is currently down.
“Excuse me?”

The End

Writing Tips

Young Writers and the Never Ending Editing Cycle

The world needs more young writers– preteens, teenagers, and young adults with passion and purpose that they want to share. But being a young writer comes with unique and difficult problems, and one of the biggest struggles of young writers is never ending editing and revision.

The cycle is quite simple. A teenager writes a longer story– perhaps a novel. As they write, they learn more about writing in school or online, and being young, they learn at an exponential rate, and their writing style changes dramatically in only weeks and months. Once they finish the draft, they read over it, wincing and wanting to apply their new knowledge, and so they decide to revise and edit the draft. If they learned a lot, then perhaps they even need to rewrite the entire thing. The problem is that while they are rewriting, they are still learning and growing, and so once that draft is completed, another needs to be written. Thus the Never Ending Editing Cycle.

I understand. I have rewritten my novel so many times that sometimes I wonder if it will ever be publishing quality much less if I will ever be satisfied with it. One round I fixed my main character so that she was not wooden and actually tolerable. I went through another rewrite when I discovered that I did not just want to tell a fun story but needed to say something important. Now I need to fix my plot so that my readers don’t put my novel down at chapter 6. Is my writing getting better? Most definitely! But will I ever be finished, and will my writing ever be a good representation of what I can actually do?

That is the question we all have, and so I want you to know that other young writers are struggling with this, too.

But now that you know that you are not the only one struggling with constant disappointment and never ending edit, let’s look at our options as young writers. The facts remain: we will grow faster than a draft is written. So let’s break down our choices. It is quite simple: either we can stop editing or keep on editing. And if we stop editing, we can either publish or keep our writing to ourselves.

Young Writers and the Never Ending Editing Cycle

Stop Editing: This is a perfectly valid option– even though you know that the piece is not the best you can do. Do you have other story ideas that better reflect your skill? Do your characters and plot need a complete transformation to reflect your current skills? Is there anything that you absolutely love about the story, or are you simply holding onto it because you are afraid to completely start over? If you are only editing because you don’t have any new story ideas or are afraid of starting over, consider being done with your project and holding onto it as a part of your history as a writer.

Stop Editing and Seek Publication: Perhaps your work is not the best representation of what you can do, but this does not mean that it is not publishing quality. It’s not your masterpiece, but it may be good enough for publishing. It may make you wince, but it might not make others wince. Especially if you are an older teen writer consider this. And if you are still worry about it being good enough, then consider marketing it as middle grade or for younger teens.

Stop Editing and Keep the Writing for Yourself: Maybe you’re sure that your work is not publishing material, or perhaps you are sure that you don’t want to see it published. So keep it for yourself. Progress and old works are sentimental, and so enjoy your imperfect work for yourself. Don’t try to fix it, and simply love the piece as a part of your journey. Maybe in several years, once your writing growth slows down a bit, you can completely rewrite it– but keep the old draft as well.

Keep on Editing: So this may not seem like a solution, but perhaps your problem is simply discouragement and not the multitude of edits. Here’s the thing: I love my story. I love my characters. I love my world. And I am holding out hope that one day, I will finish a round of edits and realize that this is something I can be proud of. This mindset is not unreasonable. One day we will all be mature adults who don’t learn quite as fast, and I love this story enough that I am willing to wait until then. Maybe this means that I won’t be published as a teenager, but I love this story enough that I am fine with that. So do you love your story enough to wait and lose the prize of being published as a teen? If this sounds painful, then don’t wait and force yourself through more and more edits. Write something new and be free of the editing cycle! But if you truly love your story, don’t feel guilty for obsessing over rewrites or give into hopelessness because you can’t imagine your story being finished. Know that one day it will be finished. We just have to wait and keep on editing.

So if you have been edited your story over and over again, ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I afraid of completely starting over with a brand new idea and a blank document?
  • Is this work publishable or could it be sentimental and just for me?
  • Do I love this story enough to wait 5-10 years to publish– all the while editing it over and over again?

All three options to the young writer’s editing dilemma are valid; they just depend on you and your story. So what are you going to do?

God bless,

Gabrielle