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Reading Excuses—10/31/22—JWerner—The Witch and the Ostrich, ch. 2 & 3—4403 words (L, S)


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First off, sorry for not changing the date in the email; that's my bad. Anyhoo, here's the 2nd half of chapter 2, and all of chapter 3. 

Last time, Q—journalist and witch—and her companion F—once a powerful necromancer, now an ostrich—were heading to the town of QW to view its gladiator pit, the C, for uncertain reasons. They were jumped by two highwaymen along the way who quickly met their doom, and when Q discovers the highwaymen had passes to compete at the C, she gets a feeling that the place is desperate for combatants.
After an explosive event within the forest they're traveling through, they're met at QW's front gate by B and J, two town watch whom Q bribes to let them into town.
Hope you enjoy!


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Pg 1 "Her eyes watered as something close to horse crap that had spent a few years bathing in vinegar and truffle oil crawled its way up her nose and started scraping at her frontal lobe" This is some awesome imagery! I could almost smell the stench while I was reading.

Pg 2 "B yanked her paw away with a yelp." Wait. I thought B was a human. Did I miss something?

Pg 4 "The woman blinked. “I didn’t, though.” This bit has some nice character building. The woman's nonchalance is a nice contrast to the personalities of the rest of the characters.

Pg 4 "“Enjoy your stay in Q, miss S." Miss should be capitalized. 

Pg 5 "I’m the only unfortunate gobshite what can hear you." That can hear you?

Pg 14-Wow. Q, just ditches F like that. I was laughing so hard. 

I really enjoyed this. You have a really distinctive voice and are great with imagery. Everything about the story is bizarre in the best way possible. Your characters are unusual (In a good way.) and I'm exited to learn more about them. I can't wait to read your next submission!  

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I don't have a ton to say about this sub in particular. Again, the characters and style are very distinct and humorous, which is definitely the biggest strength of the piece. It also seems like we get what is maybe the inciting incident at the end of this chapter, and little hints as to what the plot will be. 

My biggest note about this chapter, which I also wrote a little about in the LBLs, is that the ending, at least for me, doesn't hook me as much as it could. Yes, F is kidnapped and his talismans might fall into the wrong hands, but Q doesn't seem to care about F being gone, so why should I? It's in-character for her, but not terribly gripping. If I had encountered this story in the wild, I would probably continue reading because of the aforementioned humor and style, but not necessarily because I actually want to see what will happen to F. 

As a reader, I assume that either Q will be forced to save F against her better judgement, or that the POV will switch to F. 

Overall though, good sub! Excited to read more

Opening doc now!


“Which was definitely a first” Really? She’s never smelled a bad town?

I see later down that wasn’t really what you were getting at

“hagh, fine” nice, I can really hear the plugged nose

“as the Queen” she must be really smelly then…

IMO slum is not particularly worse than shantytown, at least not enough to draw a significant difference between the two

Nice descriptions, I can envision the town very well

“half the charm” nice

Pg 2

“pods of haggard” I like “pods” here

“shot out” some more good characterization here

Pg 3

“and-slash-or she ends up” had to reread this phrase to realize what it was. Also, doesn’t need the second “she” in the sentence, so it can read “she gets us both killed, and-slash-or ends up sending…”

Pg 4

“those pits” what kind of pit? A violent and brutal one? Could she not have guessed that from the fact it hosts an annual fight to the death?

“maximum warning” lol

“brain fluid” lol

“snatched back the ID back” repeats the word “back”

“streaks of color” a little confused by this. Because the sweat smeared the ash off?

Pg 5

Some good dialogue here again

Pg 6

“conjoined with the wall” I’m not sure if conjoined is the right word for what you mean

“digit it” digit in it? Also, does she have abnormally thin fingers? Because you normally can’t touch your own eardrum without a pencil or ear swab. Or does she have large ear canals? It mentions further down that she has long fingers, but length isn’t really the issue here

Pg 7

“A scream erupted” Hah!

“Q longer than that” I smell foreshadowing…

“went upstairs to her room” should say “she went upstairs to her room” otherwise the sentence lacks a subject

Pg 8

“stop. Feckin. Doing it.” The last sub also had an instance of this type of punctuation. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it is more effective the less it is used and I did notice it

“stinging nettle” this is interesting to me because it implies that it was somehow painful for her to do

Pg 9

“was savvy enough” F doesn’t seem like the kind of person to do this, but I guess it would be an act anyway if that were the case

“vomit out” nice

Pg 10

“single shining beam” if it’s coming from inside a marble, shouldn’t the light go out in all directions? I have a hard time imaging a single beam

“one harvestable” hmmm interesting…

Hopefully she doesn’t need that later when shenanigans inevitably go down

Pg 11

“started spreading” spreading where? You just said it was in her entire body, so where does it have to spread? I think something stronger could be used here

Pg 13

“sometimes the sandman had sometimes” repeats sometimes

“in his way of getting killed” I’m not sure about the phrasing of this. I think maybe “stand in the way of his getting killed”?

“what to do in the case” This is relatable.

Pg 14

This last part seems very in-character for Q, but if she doesn’t care about F, then why should I, the reader?

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Similar to @ginger_reckoning, your characters are fun to read and very unique. Just for that, I'm having fun reading this. But the back half of this submissions lagged a bit, as I still don't really know what the plot is, or what the characters' aims are. I'm also not really sure what the relationship between Q and F is. It seems like either of them could just leave the other and everything would be for the better. Why are they stuck together?

The whole sequence of going to the stadium and back seem like a bit of a page-filler. Not a lot happens, and I wonder if it could be combined with going there tomorrow, or at least cutting the description down a lot.

I also agree with Ginger about the ending. Since we don't know of any loyalty between the two, and Q actually enjoys that F is taken, there's no real tension to move on to the next chapter.

Still, I'm interested in reading more!

Notes while reading:

pg 1: "had thrown to kill that freakishly huge arachnoid"
--now I'm wondering where this came from and what the story is here.

pg 2: The handshake here is weird. I'm wondering if Q is doing something sneaky?

pg 3: "by talking with an apparently mute ostrich"
--So I guess F communicates telepathically? That wasn't clear before.

pg 4: "her two gold coins—quickly palmed off these ladies"
--I guess that was the weird handshake then?

pg 5: "maintain a legitimate combat arena"
--oh yeah, that's what they're doing. I'd forgotten.

pg 6: "When Q was asked to do a review of Queensworth’s gladiator pit"
--Oh, she was asked? This would be good to have in the first chapter.

pg 8: "Somehow she’d done it, and it was too big of a hassle to try and figure out how to undo."
--It's getting a bit long through here for them to find accommodations and get to whatever they're doing.

pg 9: "they’d been saddled together."
--Also, I'm unsure why F and Q are traveling together when they seem to be enemies. Why doesn't F just run off?

pg 10: still going pretty slow through here. Might cut back on the description a bit to tighten things up.

pg 13: "Now she just had to wait until midday the next day for the actual match."
--Still pretty slow through this section. I don't know why she needs to evaluate this stadium, so it doesn't seem very relevant to me.

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On 10/31/2022 at 10:36 AM, FlowerGirl said:

Pg 2 "B yanked her paw away with a yelp." Wait. I thought B was a human. Did I miss something?

She is; I'm just using 'paw' as a synonym. 

On 11/2/2022 at 9:20 AM, ginger_reckoning said:

This last part seems very in-character for Q, but if she doesn’t care about F, then why should I, the reader?

Fair enough. I'm not sure I want to pivot and make Q go after F, because that's not really the characterization that I'm going for with her, and it would probably be difficult to reconcile with the rest of the story. But I'll definitely think about it. 

On 11/3/2022 at 9:00 AM, Mandamon said:

pg 1: "had thrown to kill that freakishly huge arachnoid"
--now I'm wondering where this came from and what the story is here.

pg 3: "by talking with an apparently mute ostrich"
--So I guess F communicates telepathically? That wasn't clear before.

pg 9: "they’d been saddled together."
--Also, I'm unsure why F and Q are traveling together when they seem to be enemies. Why doesn't F just run off?

Basically, it happened offscreen during chapter 2, while B and J were in their tower. It's why Q and F are covered in ash (well, really soot).

I'll try to make that clearer.

I'll try to make that clearer too, but basically, as far as F is aware, Q is his only chance to turn back into a human. So he's keeping an eye on her. As for why Q keeps F around, again, that will be revealed further down the line.

Thanks again for reading, everyone! I'll definitely address the mechanical mistakes (so sorry about that) and will probably adjust chapter 3's pacing. I'm hoping my next submission will convince you to keep up with the plot.   

Edited by JWerner
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I like the characters and the dynamic between them, but this chapter lagged a bit. I wasn't caring too much for all the detailed descriptions of the town in and the inn without much happening. I felt like the mc was a little careless leaving the valuable thing in her clothes when she sent them to get laundered, and didn't get why she used / ate the thing that was supposed to be very powerful, just to fly somewhere she could've walked and take notes. I also didn't understand her reaction to the ostrich being captured. That confused me. So overall,  I think the strength of this piece is the characters and their banter, but the downside was not much happened until the very end.  

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14 minutes ago, shatteredsmooth said:

I like the characters and the dynamic between them, but this chapter lagged a bit. I wasn't caring too much for all the detailed descriptions of the town in and the inn without much happening. I felt like the mc was a little careless leaving the valuable thing in her clothes when she sent them to get laundered, and didn't get why she used / ate the thing that was supposed to be very powerful, just to fly somewhere she could've walked and take notes. I also didn't understand her reaction to the ostrich being captured. That confused me. So overall,  I think the strength of this piece is the characters and their banter, but the downside was not much happened until the very end.  

Seems to be a consensus here that chapter 3 drags, so I'll try and fix it up.

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  • 2 weeks later...


(p1) - "low to the ground" - LOL.

"It’s almost as rank as the Queen" - I don't understand.

How is the town "worthy"? I don't follow.

"manmade bridges" - What the kind of bridges would there be, in this context?

"half the charm" - LOL.

"freakishly huge arachnoid" - Was this in Chapter 1? Probably WRS, not sure if I'm supposed to remember this.

(p2) - "had the money for it too" - Money for what, getting here? Not entirely clear, IMO.

"clutched each other from dark corners" - what, as in pulled each other out of hiding? Not clear.

"slung her musket off her shoulder" - 'unslung', IMO. Slinging would be the act of putting the musket on the shoulder.

"whether she had theft insurance" - It seems vanishingly unlikely to me that any kind of insurance exists in this world. But, I'm still struggling to get a handle on what kind of setting this is. If there is no financial services industry, I don't think you can make jokes about insurance. And, if there is a Fin Serve industry... what on Earth kind of world I this?

Did the guard tell them her name in the last chapter? That's weird, and now they're shaking hands? I don't understand why the guards would take any interest in them after their guarding (and bribing) was done. 

(p3) - Surely Q knows whether it's the talisman or not, doesn't she?

"on her belt" - Whose belt? "She gave him a sarcastic grin" Bess did? "She jumped at the sound" - Is this Q? I think there's a change in who the unnamed female is in this sequence, which is a bit confusing. Also, the premise that the boy would "sneak" across all that open ground... I couldn't find it amusing because it just didn't seem plausible.

(p4) - "Q shouted" - (a) use of a exclamation mark and 'shouted' is pretty heavy; (b) I'm not invested in Q's sudden horror. She's come over pretty hard-nosed up to now, and suddenly she's losing her sh1t over some random urchin?

"end of the universe" - meh. I don't think meaningless exaggeration is up to much as a comic device, not on its own.

"Enjoy your stay... miss Sch...." - Miss Sch - the title is part of the name.

"for maximum warning" - Okay, I'm going to bleat on about accuracy of phrasing for a bit [Press 'SKIP' to continue]... I think some phrases are enshrined in the English language to such a degree that the brain expects to 'hear' the phrase as soon as the first word falls, because the context is right, or maybe the first couple of words are in that form. So, here, my brain sees 'for maximum' and expects the next word to be 'effect'. When it's not 'effect', the brain (I really don't think it's only me) rebels. This is compounded when the replacement word doesn't really fit grammatically, and probably is squared by the fact that the same word has already appeared in the sentence. I've gone on at this length because there are various instances I think where this occurs. "Flies on food"... Okay, I can see that that works, but the "more likely" expression is "flies on sh*t", so again, my brain stops reading for a microsecond and thinks, 'Huh, that's a bit weird'.

"didn't expend too much brain fluid" - There's another. (a) I'm expecting to hear "too much brain power"; (b) pretty sure that fluid on the brain in any form is a bad thing; (c) I doubt the brain expends any fluid in conscious thought taking place (because, b, above). I think humour needs to be internally consistent, or logically inconsistent. So, 'about as much use as a chocolate teapot' is funny (people seem to think, more often than not) because you could make a teapot from chocolate and then pour boiling water into it, it just would not be a very good idea, and we can all imagine the hilarious result ensuing from the attempt; (d) F is a necromancer, so he should know enough about the human body to know (b) and (c), ergo, my issue is compounded by not believing that the character would say this.

Sorry to blether on. It's a subject that I am very invested in: how does comedy work. I think a lot of people who make comedy approach the subject with a significant eye for detail, because there are factors involved that can be studied and understood.

"two-fingered salute" - This could mean a variety of things, as the available range of emojis indicates.

"Or that they were being tailed by" - suspect it's a typo: "weren't". The first thing she's checking is a negative, so he second needs also to be a negative, in fact, I think "or" should be "and".

What is she nervous about? I'm feeling an inconsistency in Q's emotional reactions.

"Close." - What was close? Don't understand.

(p5) - "lack of trigger discipline" - But I thought that the other guard shot the crossbow on purpose to warn off the kid?

"In somewhere you’ll never reach" - Suggest cutting "In", duplicating 'somewhere'.

"help me figure out where" - What does it matter if he figures out where? That's not the point of the threat. I don't know why he would ask that. The important point here is that she's (mock?) threatening to shoot him. Surprised that he seems to ignore that. I think last time I had an issue, here and there, of there being banter for banters sake, and this feels a bit like that. I'm not keen on banter displacing story.

"parlour furniture" - LOL.

(p6) - "stuck his fingers in his ear" - coins usually come from behind the ear, and there is a good reason for that, you can't get more than one finger in your ear. This is a touching moment, but I'm thrown out of it rather by the obvious logistical issues that could so easily be addressed. Also, Q sticking the finger in too far... not convincing, because why? Has she so little control over her own body that she can't look down an alley and regulate finger movement at the same time? I don't think so, from the woman who can pick the pocket of two guards while having a conversation with them.

"whose inn budget just went down two shiny pegs" - 'had just gone down'

"When Q was asked to do a review of Qw’s gladiator pit, the first thing she thought was, “Aw, shite" - 'her first though was...' - shorter, better timing of the gag.

"Qw was the kind of name you gave a city when it has had no actual..." - tense agreement.

Why have we gone into present tense all of a sudden?

(p7) - "turning around and marching straight back to B" - really though?

"possibly owned by racists" - I don't understand how she reaches this conclusion.

"scraped the new grime off of her face" - suggest 'from her face'. I'm convinced any worthy editor would say that was better form.

"We'll lodge here" - I thought they had already decided on the inn: this feels a bit like we're going backwards.

(p8) - "to room with some priests who were passing through town" - how is this any cheaper than him rooming with her?

"she twisted her key into the lock" - "in the lock", surely. How do you twist the key into the lock?

"paisley quilts" - Quite telling that she finds a room like this questionable, it's very well equipped compared to the tent the kids in the alley were sleeping in. Also, I think "Paisley" usually is capitalised, as a proper noun.

"She started at the sound of F’s voice" - Why? He's been talking in her head since the start of the book, why is this time any different from any other time? "he was doing this again" - What? I don't understand what's different here from the last 20(?) pages.

"Making him telepathic in the first place" - I don't think we've been told why she did this -- the telepathy, but also the transformation itself -- and therefore references to it are mildly annoying, to me. If we have been told that's maybe WRS on my part, but a reminder would not go amiss here... if we've been told.

"First, she'd imagined him..." - Oh, that's quite brilliant. I don't mean the concept, I mean the timing. When I read "she'd made sure of that" I'm immediately thinking 'I wonder how she did that', and then bam. Nailed it... if you'll pardon the expression.

(p9) - "her so-called sisters" - wait who is this? This feels like a teasing piece of some of the background that I'm missing about the nature of the world.

"to this day undisturbed." - I know I'm quibbling a lot (as it might be described, although I take back none of it, details are important) but that's a good thing. I've established over 10/12 years of critiquing that me commenting at greater length and digging down into small details is a sign of how good I think something is, and how I'm a bit frustrated that it's close to being really excellent and keen to try and help the author improve it. This paragraph here, for me, is just perfect in ever way.

"The fathers have taken to discussing" - Oh, WAIT, I've got why she jumped, it's because he's not in the room with her? I didn't get that. Might need to hang a lantern on it? These two have been together every step of the way, in every line, and just because it was stated that she'd rented separate accommodation for him, I did not immediately assume that he was in that accommodation now, because it was not stated (I think).

"sans in the view of men of the cloth" - grammar: suggest "sans the presence of men of the cloth", because 'sans' is French for 'without', therefore reads as "without in the the view of men of the cloth"

"vomit out rust-red water" - fabulous description.

"almost a whole minute" - doesn't seem all that long. Would take at least that to run warm in many modern homes.

"wasn't even hot" - right, but is it warm, stone cold? What is it? I once heard on a writing podcast guidance against describing what something is not, which stick with me as being eminently good advice, for this kind of reason.

"chattering like a nervous dental patient" - Hmm, why would a dental patient be more likely to chatter than any other kind of patient?

(p10) - "freezing her b** off" - Description implies that the water is colder than the air in the room, so, is she not more likely to remain freezing by staying in the water, and to find that it is warmer out of the tub? The use of the phrase here bothers me, because it's not an instantaneous thing, freezing the b** off. I feel like usually it's used as a description of a continuous state: "I'm stuck out here freezing my b** off", as opposed to this sort of "as soon as the window opened, J froze their b** off" form.

"put her dress back on" - confused: why did she put the dress on directly after renting it from the woman, when Q knew she wasn't clean, and would know she'd need to take it off almost immediately?

"to give Q her clothes" - Oh, wait, so the inn-keep took her clothes to wash them? I don't think that was explained before.

"Off she was to the Cr, then" - I don't know what this means: is the Cr a place? That's not immediately obvious: "Off she went to the Cr" would be clearer.

"Just didn't feel like it" - As character motivation and interiority, this is... it's not good, not compelling and engaging, makes her sound like a privileged d**k. I still have a clear image of the starving kids in the alley and the moment she tried to buy off her conscience.

"in her jacket’s inseams" - I don't know what this is. Is there a compelling reason not to just say "seams"?

"...an entire building" - another perfect paragraph (IMO): sets up a question, answers it clearly, then provides a very satisfying and surprising illustration.

"plus the soul of a necromancer" - Bah, you've lost me here. This smacks of the writer twisting the character around to react in a specific (very unlikely) way in order to illustrate a necessary point. This is a rare thing, it requires the soul of... not just any person off the street, but a necromancer to build, and she is contemplating using it BECAUSE SHE CAN'T BE BOTHERED WALKING?! Just screams 'not believable' in my reading head.

"F started singing" - back to my point about the discontinuity in blocking (IMO), i.e. F not being in the room. A simply fix is to hang a lantern on it both in the original instance where he did not follow her to her room, and then again here with something like "Somewhere in the  building, F started singing."

(p11) - "given into that temptation" - "given in to...", IMO, because she had 'given in' (surrendered).

"...bridal shower" - Bwah-ha-ha-ha. That's brilliant :lol:

How can a town be misshapen? it's whatever shape development and topography dictates. This line makes no sense, IMO. It's a good idea, I think, but it has to make logical sense to work as a gag, IMO.

"butter-soft ripples of twilight" - fabulous, just fabulous.

"they used that river to their advantage" - who is they?

"gators and flesh-eating piranhas" - For me, this is another of these annoying hints at a background to the setting that is being is being withheld from me.

(p12) - "resumed her human form" - Well, as noted, nothing has happened to dispel my earlier opinion that this was a massive waste of a valuable resource. It just makes me question (and tend to dismiss) the character's judgement, and therefore start to turn against her. She could have walked that in, what, five minutes?

"it ended up being locked" - logical of wording: it has been locked the entire time before she got there, so it doesn't end up being locked just because she finds it, which is how this reads to me.

(p13) - "a good idea to familiarize herself with the route" - acht, this feels like reverse justification to me. In fact, it even heightens my dissatisfaction with her wasting the MacGuffin, because it didn't occur to me at the time of my original complaint that she would have to walk back! So, I feels to me like she's just destroyed a Faberge egg to save a Über fare. Feel like her though process in this aspect has been really weak.

"A half-hour walk later" - Still not worth a Faberge egg.

"the DD of U the E" - ROFL.

Oh, oh, "flicked the DW off down the hall" - that's fantastic. I don't really understand that threat though. I'm trying to remember, did F possess the artefact in question? I though he did, so why would he waste such a powerful artefact just to make a threat like this? I am not at all sure I understand how it's a threat, either.

"didn’t look like they’d been pilfered through" - Same concern as before, I'm confident this grammar is 'unconventional' and therefore disturbing (to me anyway, and maybe to an editor).

(p14) - "in case the actual parchment was poisoned" - Nice detail. Nice bit of tradecraft there.

"Red Lady" - Is she a redhead? Not sure where this epithet comes from. Maybe it's me who has forgotten.

"never see him again" - Oh, this is brilliant. Already feels like a twist, not what I was expecting at all. Nicely done.

"the priests F had been rooming with" - Which she put him in with, essentially.

"Free at ------- last!" - LOL, not the reaction I was expecting.* Therefore, a nice double-take moment, but (*) I think there is a a bit of a disconnect here. I mentioned before that I don't think it's been clarified why Q turned him in to an ostrich. And setting above, below or within that particular detail, I am unsure what drive their relationship. Yes, they have excellent banter (sometimes a little overmuch that dilutes any suggestion of plot), but I don't understand the emotional connection between them, and that hampers my investment in things like this, her reaction to his kidnapping, amongst other things. I don't understand the emotional setting of the story, and I feel that it's holding me back. There is hints, like her mentioning battles with her father, but I feel like I'm taunted with these details, but not given enough to truly immerse myself in the story.

Oh. But I don't understand. The whole basis of the plot is F competing in the arena. That has just been removed, replaced with his kidnapping, but there is no suggestion of what she's going to do, or even really how she feels about it, beyond an initial emotional reaction. I've gone from having a tenuous plot, to have not plot at all, or rather next to no character motivation at all.



I'm frustrated by this, because I love loads of it, but there are some big pieces missing, for me. The main character's emotional landscape is missing. I don't really know how Q feels about... pretty much anything. I don't know her past, and I know very little about her present. There are odd hints: hatred of father; sympathy for urchins; antipathy towards F - but I don't understand the basis of any of it, or what her actual motivations are. Writing an article for her job is not a motivation, not enough to carry a story.

This seems to me like a case quite a lot of stuff being withheld from the reader for dramatic effect, but that doesn't work (IMO) when it leaves me all at sea without a basis to connect with the character.

After being quite slow for much of the chapter, things happen in the last few pages, which is good, but again there are issues holding me back from engaging that are quite frustrating.

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