Revising The Storm- Week 3

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I have finished reviewing The Storm and have made note of the changes it requires. Now I will go through it piece-by-piece, correcting things as I go. I won’t take the time to detail every wayward comma and misspelling that I come across, but I will give a general description for the changes I am making.

To start off with, I had some problems right at the very beginning of the story. It contains a lot of details that are clunky and awkward, and I want to cut out a lot of these opening statements to focus instead on building atmosphere.

Introduction)

Oscar regarded the endless sea behind him. The muted gray of the water below was almost perfectly matched to that of the unbroken clouds overhead, and these were further blended by the distant wall of rain that bridged the gap between. It created the illusion that there were no separate bodies, but one massive ocean, and Oscar and his trawler were at this moment scurrying from that raised ocean’s advance, seeking to make land before the rain-wall did.

The storm had not been expected until later that evening, and Oscar had had to cut his excursion short without so much as a minnow to show for his effort. Fuel and time spent, but nothing gained. Oscar wasn’t surprised by that, though. Not anymore. Some days just turned out that way.

Most of the time the ocean would yield just enough for the sailors to pay their way, but from time-to-time it cut them short. “The ocean giveth and the ocean taketh,” one might say, but also “it taketh slightly more than it giveth,” so that a men grew a penny poorer each year for trying to live by it.

But also sometimes it was more than just a penny. Oscar knew better than most that in sudden, greedy moments the ocean took more than it ought. More than could ever be excused.

Oscar shook his head at the cold wall of gray and settled his focus back on the docks ahead. He was less than a quarter-mile out and he’d be moored and warming his boots in Lenny’s Tavern within the hour.

That is my new and improved opening. I’m not going to take up the space to copy-and-paste the original version here, but if you want to compare the two here is the link. You will notice that this new version in considerably shorter, 262 words compared to 390! Very little of substance was removed, though, I just tightened up the commentary about how the ocean exacted a slow toll out of the men.

And even with so much fewer words I was also able to add in some new content: that opening paragraph which paints the picture of the distant storm. In my original post the description was literally “the mounting storm” and nothing else!

I’m feeling quite pleased with this second draft. After I get through the whole thing I’ll read it all again and continue revising it, but for now I think I’m ready to move on. Next we have the conversation between Sam and Oscar, and the decision to go out and see what has happened to Harry.

The Conversation)

That you, Oscar?

Oscar fumbled for the mouthpiece of his radio. “Yeah, Sam, it’s me.” Oscar looked to the edge of the pier where the red-and-white lighthouse cast its broad light into the gray. Sam was their lighthouse keeper, their watchful guardian who never lost tally of each man’s going and coming.

Any catch?

“No catch.”

Sorry to hear that, Oscar.

“It’s just how it goes. Everyone else in already?”

All in but Harry.

Oscar’s radio crackled static, signifying that Sam had released the mic. Signifying that Sam would say nothing more until Oscar spoke first. Oscar sighed heavily, dropping his eyes from the lighthouse to the long pier where each of the local sailors had their permanent station. On the far left was his own berth, and as far away as possible on the right was Harry’s. Both empty. Oscar grabbed the mic.

“Do you know which way he went?”

Went for mackerel, around the cape, came the ready response. Probably why I haven’t been able to raise him.

“He woulda seen the storm coming even so.”

He woulda.

“He shoulda made it far by now that we’d see him.”

He shoulda.

Crackling static again.

Sam wouldn’t say it. He wasn’t the sort to try and tell people what they ought to do. He was the sort to let them decide it do it themselves. And what if Oscar said no? What if he said Harry was a fool for having gone around the cape when there was any storm warning at all, and that if he was caught in a gale now that was his own affair? If Oscar said that Sam probably wouldn’t even hold it against him. Sam would know as well as anyone that Oscar had reason enough for it. But then Sam would go out himself. And he would be that much more delayed, that much more imperiled by the storm.

Oscar swiveled his head around the spot and surveyed the horizon. No ship in sight.

“I suppose I better go after him,” Oscar rasped into the mic.

If you think that’s best, Sam approved. I won’t blink an eye until the two of you get back.

“I know you won’t, Sam.”

I still like this exchange between Oscar and Sam a great deal and I changed very little about it. I tightened up the description of Sam and I inserted the bit about Oscar looking at the empty berths for him and Harry. It provided an awkward gap before he acknowledges the problem that Sam has brought up, and it also provides a symbolism of unfinished business remaining between the two men.

I also inserted the bit about how Sam would come out to find Harry if Oscar didn’t go. I felt it was awkward to switch from saying that Oscar had enough reasons to not check on Harry to suddenly him volunteering to do exactly that. Whatever happened to those reasons? I think this small addition provides a reason, though intentionally a weak one. It is enough to get Oscar out where I need him to be.

Come back next week as I’ll continue with the next section of the story, cleaning as I go.

Revising The Storm- Week 2

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I’m continuing to review my short story The Storm, making note of all the areas I wish to improve on as I go.

  • There is a line I just came across that has me utterly baffled.

    This put him at a slant to the waves, and now they were beating like Poseidon’s drum against his hull

    I honestly have no idea how I came up with the expression “beating like Poseidon’s drum.” I am not familiar of any legend that associates Poseidon with the instrument, and a quick Google search cannot find any either. It seems very irregular that I would have made it up out of nothing, but I don’t know what other conclusion to make. I’ll certainly be cutting that out.
  • There’s also a disorienting bit when Oscar starts having a conversation with himself. Its too melodramatic and the references to his tragedy are too obscure. They’ll most likely just confuse the reader. I’ll cut this out as well.
  • Let’s call out something positive, though. I don’t remember where I got the idea to have two boats tethered together, pushing their way through a storm, but it presents a very striking visual, one that I’m not aware of in any other story, and it is an excellent symbolism for the drama between my characters. I think this is the single strongest element of my entire story.
  • Another bit I feel quite positive about is Harry’s confession. His admission reads well and I like how it is interspersed with scenes of Oscar losing control of the wheel. There is some tidy-up to do, but this is a very promising scene. Given that it is the climax of the entire tale its a good thing that it works so well.
    I think that I could lean into it a bit better, though. I want to add a small piece to the plot right before. The storm will be beating down hard and the two men will stop making progress forward. It will be a hopeless situation, which will finally bring Harry to make his confession. He is divulging the truth to try and convince Oscar to just let him go and save himself.
  • I currently have things so that Oscar unconsciously puts his hand over the controls, as if to drop the line to Harry’s boat, and he is surprised when he sees it there. I want to rework that part so it isn’t just a subconscious accident. I want him to fully contemplate disconnecting the other sailor, heavily weighing the option, frozen by the choice until he is saved by the beam of the lighthouse falling on his vessel.
  • I need to fill out the final homestretch a little bit. The story needs more about how they rush the rest of the way to the beach. And then I need to add some more after that, too. I like the idea of the men going off to talk to Sam at the end, unsure of what the future holds but heading that way together. Right now, though, I’m reaching that conclusion too abruptly, and I need to provide some space for it to breathe.

And that brings us to the end of my read-through! To tell you the truth, when I first selected this story I didn’t think there would be much to change in it. I had very fond memories of writing it and felt it was already pretty close to its ideal form. I am now considerably humbled to see how many parts of it I actually have a problem with!

But I do feel that there is still a very good story to be found inside of there. It’s been compromised by awkward phrases, uneven pacing, and silly typos, but it is in there nonetheless. I caught glimpses of it as I read along and I’m excited to bring it out fully. Let me see if I can give a general description of what that ideal story looks like, and the main points that need to be changed to realize it.

This is a story about two men dealing with incredible loss and anger. The setting and the occupation are meant to reflect how they have been weathered down and turned salty over the years. They might appear slow-going on the surface, but there are many layers of dramatic depth beneath, all of which are going to force their way out in the eye of a violent storm.

It is a story that should be full of rich imagery. I need to practice the art of capturing a complex visual in a few, well-chosen words. It should be a story that transports the reader right onto the windswept deck, and I want the audience to feel as exhausted at the end as my characters are. I could see the ideal story being quite a bit longer than its current form, or at the very least feeling quite a bit longer. I want to hone in on that sense of gripping at the wheel for hours, holding on for dear life.

But having a great deal of rich imagery is not the same as an excess of poorly-written drivel! There are a lot of bits where I am trying to explain the way things are when you’re an old sea dog, something that I know absolutely nothing about! This is an allegory, not an actual job description and I should keep my focus where it belongs.

There is very little that I feel need to change from a structural point of view, though. All the main story beats should remain the same, just with each moment being enhanced or trimmed as mentioned above, all of its splintered edges sanded down and polished to an even shine.

And that is what I will start working on one week from now. Come back then to see how it goes!

Revising The Storm- Week 1

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Here we are at the first post of my new series: The Editor’s Bench! Here I will select one of my short stories and take it from its first draft stage to something worthy of commercial publication. I will be focusing exclusively on the short stories that are my favorite, the ones that I feel showed the greatest potential, and I will be working on them for as long as the process requires. I may be overhauling a piece for a very long while if I feel that that is what is needed for it.

These are the steps that I intend to take in my revising process, but I will likely modify them as I gain more experience at it:

  1. Read through the current story. Summarize what it would look like in its ideal form and how it differs from that now.
  2. Cut, refactor, and add scenes until the story is generally in the desired shape.
  3. Make multiple passes to correct misspellings, grammar mistakes, and awkward phrases.
  4. Repeat the above three steps until the story is in its ideal form.

I have decided to do the first of these revisions on my short story The Storm. I have chosen it because it is a shorter, simpler piece, one that I hope will let me gently ease into this editor’s role.

So without further ado, here are my notes from reading through the story.

  • The first thing that stood out to me was the awkwardness of my story’s introduction. I mention my main character Oscar, give a very slight description of his setting, go off on the philosophy of the old seamen in this hamlet, and finally pull everything back to the present moment when I introduce the story’s central problem. I believe that my intention was to reflect Oscar’s free-associative mind and how it drifts from one thought to the next. Actually reading through it, though, is a bit disorienting. I’ll want to revise this beginning to be a bit more structured, and to make sure than any transitions from one topic to another are clear.
  • Another element that is standing out to me is the ways that I am trying to add flavor to the story, such as when I talk about how the sea slowly wears down the lives of those that live by it, how the gains and the losses even out in time, and how the lighthouse keeper is sustained by a portion of all the sailors’ profits. Some of these details do contribute to the overall atmosphere, but others feel a bit forced. I’ll lean into the ones that work well and cut the ones that don’t.
  • I do want to call out one thing that I think works really well, though. I really like this exchange between Oscar and Sam:

    “Do you know which way he went?”
    Went for mackerel, around the cape. Probably why I haven’t been able to raise him.
    “He woulda seen the storm coming even so.”
    He woulda.
    “He shoulda made it back far enough already that we’d see him now.”
    He shoulda.


    There is a lot implied by those two-word agreements from Sam. He never tells Oscar that he ought to go out and search of his fellow seaman, but the way he emphasizes the “would” and “should” makes clear that he feels something is wrong and ought to be looked into.
  • I also like the occasional one-liners that keep signaling to the reader that there is some history between Oscar and Harry, a history that is going to be unveiled in due time. You see that in lines such as these:

    It wasn’t the first time things had gone wrong in a storm for Harry.
  • One thing that I’ve been noticing even since the beginning is how I need to lean into my description of the sea itself. This, admittedly, is a weak area of mine. I usually skirt around set descriptions, rushing headlong into dialogue and action instead. Before I may have had the excuse of a tight deadline, but now it’s time to get down to business and dress this piece up properly!
  • I’m also noticing that I ought to reference the storm in gentler terms at the start of the story. It feels like it’s already pretty heavy as Oscar goes around the cape for the first time, which lessens the sense of escalation as the story progresses. I’ve got to improve that sense of gradual, rising tension.
  • I’m also going to make note of the fact that I have a fair number of awkward phrases and basic typos to correct. As I’ve tried to wax lyrical with my prose I’ve run into some silly, unnecessary descriptions, such as:

    All at once the crackle of static changed to a small voice, timid and broken, yet tinged now with fresh hope.

    “Yet tinged now with fresh hope” tacked onto the end like that doesn’t flow very well, now does it?
  • I’ve just reached the point where Oscar throws Harry the line and the description of that event is unnecessarily complex. Relating the details of physical events can quickly become unwieldy, better to find a couple short sentences that give the reader the gist of what happens and they can work out the rest for themselves.
  • Here’s an example of how I extended myself too far and made a phrase worse for it:

    “Don’t mention it.” It wasn’t a polite deference. It was an order, and Oscar surprised himself at how much of a growl it came out with.

    It’s almost a good line, but I dragged it out for one statement too many. Drop the “and Oscar surprised himself at how much of a growl it came out with” and it becomes much better. A classic example of less being more.

Alright, I’m going to call it good there. Next week I’ll give my analysis of the second half, and then we’ll actually start making some changes. See you then!