I haven’t quite finished with Oscar’s struggle against the waves, and after that I’m going to throw in a few more challenges before Harry gives his confession. I don’t just want to add trouble for trouble’s sake, though. I also want to develop character and plot. Take, for example, Harry. Thus far he’s been the clueless fool, but I want Oscar and he to start having a more nuanced relationship.
All of which is going to make this middle section a fair bit longer. Maybe too long. But I often find it’s best to throw in all the ideas that seem promising, and then it’s always an option to carve out the best version of the story afterwards. So on we go!
Keeping Up Speed)
Oscar’s boat was slow to answer the call, its propellers spun valiantly, but the vessel was nearly double its normal weight, and as it crawled towards the peak of the wave it grew slower and slower. The stern tried to follow the path of least resistance, tried to tip either to one side or the other, and Oscar had to spin the wheel back-and-forth to counter its shying. He poured everything he had into the engines, forcing the craft to obey!
Then came a sudden blow from behind and the sound of crunching. Oscar’s boat had slowed down faster than Harry could turn his own boat out of the way!
“Harry!” Oscar shouted in anger, but then he felt the push. Harry’s vessel was still pressing forward, and even against the slope of the wave, Oscar realized he was accelerating again. So he snapped his eyes back forward and steered his way through the top of the wave. The surf finally broke over his prow, and the boat gained speed as it rushed down the wave’s backside.
“Alright, Harry, that was lucky,” he pulled the mic back to his mouth. “But you keep your distance on the way up these waves, you hear?”
Oscar didn’t hear any response, but then realized he still had the button on his mic locked down. He released it just in time to hear the last of Harry’s reply.
“–and I’m sorry.”
“I don’t want your ‘sorry,’ Harry,” he shot back. “Just competence.”
Well this segment was entirely new, and the next few will be as well. I like to think that I’ve been able to get back into the original voice of this story, but I’m curious to see whether that’s true when I read it all together.
I have mentioned that my reason for adding these new pieces is to make the journey feel more exhausting, but I don’t want to be making things longer just for the sake of having them be longer. Pacing is important, but if a scene is only present to keep the pace right, then you have architecture that is superficial. Better to have scenes that pull double duty, both helping maintain the proper cadence and developing plot or character.
This was why I had this piece build up to the point of Oscar criticizing Harry for only having apologies and not competence. Oscar isn’t just throwing out a random insult in the heat of the moment here, he is expressing a much deeper wound. Consider how that line will take on a greater meaning when the audience finds out that Harry’s incompetence resulted in the death of Oscar’s son. “Sorry” doesn’t carry any weight at all after something like that.
Oscar dropped the mic to the desk and busied himself setting the throttle. Through the next dozen waves he tried to maintain a steady clip forward. It was an agonizing balancing act. They needed to move forward quickly enough to make headway against the waves, but that meant consuming a lot of fuel, which the two of them were running dangerously low on. Harry, who had been fighting against the storm for longer, was running particularly low on it.
“Oh–oh–” Harry’s concerned voice came over the radio.
“What is it?” Oscar demanded, but just then he felt the strain of Harry’s boat pulling back against his own and he knew.
“I’m out of fuel.”
“I–I think so.”
“Don’t you have a spare tank?”
“Yeah, I used it already!”
They came to the rise of the next wave. Oscar’s boat started to burst through the crown, but Harry’s boat wasn’t able to maintain speed. It held Oscar’s boat like an anchor, and he felt himself moving backward with the wave. Harry cried out in fear as his boat cut low through the water’s rise, drenching his deck, and threatening to smash the windows on his wheelhouse.
“You there?” Oscar demanded as they finally broke through to the other side.
“Run out to the front of the boat, here comes my spare tank.”
Oscar locked his wheel in place, grabbed the plastic tank from under a seat, and dashed to the back of the boat. He paused to pour a fifth of its contents into his own fuel-starved engine, then he stood with his foot on the stern and threw the canister through the air into Harry’s waiting arms.
As Oscar looked backwards he tried to pick out the Broken Horn, to determine if they were far enough away to turn around. That spare tank had only had a gallon of diesel remaining, and divided across the two of them it wouldn’t last even an hour. Were they far enough from the cape to turn around now?
And in answer to his questions he saw only blackness. The Broken Horn wasn’t visible at all through the darkness that pressed close to them. Oscar couldn’t even see forty yards distant. Perhaps they had pushed away from the cape, or they might have been sliding even closer to it. He couldn’t tell. When they turned, they would have no way of telling how near the dangers were until they were right upon them!