I’ve been sharing my work on this story with a writer’s group and getting some feedback from them. They’ve helped me to see the need for more variety in my descriptions of the storm. I don’t mention temperature or smells at all, and I hardly include any sound. Instead I have a lot of very-similar visuals about the waves and the darkness. I use different adjectives each time, but it’s still a repeat of the same picture. I also revisit the same obstacle many times over and over, that of the boats trying to push up a wave and getting tipped to their sides.
Honestly it’s been a little discouraging, having put in this much time and still finding such fundamental shortcomings. However, seeing the problem is the first step to being able to correct them, too. At this point I’m nearly at the end of the third draft, so I’ll push through to that, and then I’ll look into replacing my repetitions with something more inventive.
For now, let’s move forward with today’s touch-ups. Here’s the link to the latest draft if you want to compare it to this new version.
The wave hit, and all the world became water. Its torrent poured into the wheelhouse and slammed against Oscar, knocking his feet out from under him. He tried to get his bearings, tried to make sense of the wind and the sea, tried to figure out what way to maneuver his vessel…but his mind refused to process these things anymore. The last drop of resolve had been wrung from his body, so that all he could think to do was surrender to oblivion.
Cut down on this moment of Oscar’s mental and emotional exhaustion. As I’ve stated several times in this act, I really feel like less is more, and the reader will better grasp what I’m saying if I don’t spell it all out.
“Oscar…” Harry’s voice came softly over the radio. “Let’s face it. We’re going to both die if we keep up like this. But I’ll bet you still have enough fuel to get around the cape…if you weren’t towing me anymore that is.”
“But I am towing you.”
“Oscar, I knew it would be you who came for me. I just knew it would be you. The sea knows I’ve done wrong by you…and it’s brought you here to make things right between us.”
“Harry, please stop. I don’t want—”
“I lied to you Oscar.”
The next wave stretched twice as high as any previous. Oscar let go of the mic, fastening both hands to the wheel and bracing for impact as Harry continued.
“I told you that when I took your son out sailing he forgot to tie down his safety line in the storm. But James was too bright for that. He secured one for himself and for me. He did it just as soon as we were in real trouble. Then we dashed around the boat like mad, trying to tie everything down. I went up to the stern and he went aft. The boat just kept reeling from side-to-side, and each time seemed like the one that would finally throw us in the drink.”
A mighty crack sounded as one of the lines on Oscar’s boat snapped.
“Each wave swamped us, half drowned us! I was praying and cursing with every breath I took. Some of the rigging was loose, so I made my way back to the mainmast and threw knots off and back on, pull them tight as I went.”
Oscar flung his arms our for balance as he slid down a water-hill sideways.
“Then the next wave fell on us, the biggest one yet. It was a froth! I couldn’t see. I couldn’t feel what was in my own hands. It seemed like an eternity, but finally it washed away. I was facing towards the rear of the boat and…and I saw nothing. James–he…he just wasn’t there anymore.”
A tide of water swept into Oscar’s cabin. He slipped and fell to his knees, head rolled back, fingertips gripping the wheel.
“I undid his safety line, Oscar. I–I don’t know how I could have…but I did. Somehow in all my blundering I pulled it up along with all the other knots and then that wave hit us and took him out to sea. I–I killed him!”
Oscar’s eyes flowed steady streams. His mouth was open but silent. His whole body heaved as it expelled the last of the air from his lungs. His hands twitched on the edge of the wheel handles.
“And I didn’t have the courage to tell you the truth, Oscar. I let you believe your son was lost because of his own mistake, because he forgot to tie his lifeline in the first place. But that was nothing but a pure lie.”
Oscar’s heart beat heavily inside him. Beat like it would tear him right in two. The pounding of his heart was matched only by the pounding of the waves against his boat. They buffeted his vessel where they would and he did nothing to stop them.
“I undid the wrong lifeline that day, Oscar, and for fifteen years later I’ve been waiting for someone else to untie my line because I’m too much of a coward to do it myself. So…so why don’t you go ahead and cut me loose now? Let me go and make for shore while you still have a chance.”
Little alterations here and there, some lines removed or moved around, reducing the flashes of Oscar being overwhelmed by the sea so that Harry’s confession feels more unbroken. Overall, though, I’ve considered this to be one of the stronger parts of my story and I still do.
There’s just over 1,000 words left in this draft, so I’ll finish that next week, then move on to my next iteration, in which I will primarily focus on restructuring that troublesome middle.