Revising The Storm- Week 13

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I left the rewrite in quite a dramatic place last time. Harry was finally moved to point of confession, and had just made it known that he was directly responsible for the death of Oscar’s son. I’ve taken another look at the sequence that follows in my original rendition, and I think it’s pretty good, however there is a change that I’ll be making to it.

Specifically I’ve realized that I don’t really provide a moment of silence for the audience to empathize with Oscar. Rather than flood them with descriptions of what is happening and what everyone is feeling, I want to be very sparse with my adjectives, creating a space for the reader to fill in their own feelings. Let’s give it a try and see how it goes.

In Shock)

If the storm still raged outside Oscar couldn’t say. Either the wind had actually gone silent and the waves had dissipated and the lightning had ceased flashing, or else he had just stopped hearing and seeing all these things. All that he could perceive were the words of Harry’s continued confession.

“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 the other knots… 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. He gripped the wheel by only the very edges of his fingertips, his hands twitching on the cusp of letting go.

“And then I didn’t tell you the truth about it all, Oscar. I let you believe your son was lost because of his own mistake, but it was mine…. I undid the wrong lifeline that day, Oscar, and fifteen years later I’m still waiting for someone else to untie mine because I’m too much a coward to do it myself… So why don’t you let me go now and make for the shore?”

Well, there we go, the story has made through its climax! My one lingering thought is that there may be too many interruptions in Harry’s speech to talk about the storm raging and Oscar losing his grip. Or maybe it’s a good thing, blending his heartbreaking words and the pounding of the sea into one. At the end of finishing this draft I’ll take another look at this segment in the context of the entire story to decide.

Now, in my original take I had the beam from the lighthouse fall on Oscar’s eye almost immediately. And as it did he realized that he had subconsciously placed his hand over the button to cut the line to Harry’s boat. But I don’t want this to be an accidental thing anymore, I want him to actually grapple with the decision.

I want to handle this delicately, though, I don’t want the moment to feel like drama for the sake of drama, and I don’t want to make Oscar into a villain. So I’m going to have him wanting to cut the line, but struggling because he can’t convince himself that he would be doing it with a noble heart. He’ll try to tell himself that he has already done his duty, but he will know that these are justifications, and that pushing the button would in reality be an act of vengeance. I’ll give it a shot now and see what I think.

The Inner Struggle)

Oscar’s heart beat heavily inside him. Beat like it would tear him right in two. The pounding of his heart was matched by the pounding of the waves against his boat. They buffeted his vessel where they would and he did nothing to stop it.

He dropped his gaze to the controls before him. There, on the left, was the button to release the line from his boom. He could press it, and it would finally cut this cord that bound him to Harry. And there wouldn’t be anything wrong in pressing it. Just as Harry had said, they couldn’t survive this together, so he may save what he could: himself. Any other sailor would do the same. No one would say he hadn’t done his duty. He had tried, he had really tried. But there had to be a limit! There had to be a point where he had done all that he could and it just didn’t work and he could let it go now. At some point he had to cut off this weight that dragged him down.

Oscar rested his palm on the control panel, fingers stretching in the direction of the button, but his arm refused to extend enough to let them reach it.

Because no matter how justified he might be to cut off this rescue on paper, there simply was no way for him to press that button that wasn’t vengeful. There was no way to separate his emotions from the action, to be able to say in his heart that it was a calculated matter of procedure, and that it had no malice behind it. There would be a malice. The act would not be innocent, because he could not do it from an honorable heart.

Besides—Oscar looked out at the black horizon—what did it matter anymore? It was already too late. Whatever life had remained in him was already expired into the storm. The struggle had taken all that he had, and there was no more desire to find his way out of this place.

And as Oscar stared into that void, welcoming oblivion, a strange discoloration appeared in the dark before him. It was a patch of black that grew lighter and lighter, yellower and warmer, larger and larger. Or rather its edges grew larger, but it center grew smaller and more focused. And then, all at once, it pierced through the storm and became a shining light. A light that was tearing through mist and dark and night to fill Oscar’s eye.

“Sam?” he croaked.

Well, there’s the new material and I think I like it! Though the thought did occur to me that this story could branch off to end in a very different way from my original version. I could write it so that Oscar cuts ties with Harry, watches the man sink to his doom behind him, and just as Harry’s prow descends beneath the waves Oscar sees the light. And now this light would not be a beacon of saving grace, but the hard lantern of condemnation!

There’s definitely a strong and deep emotion to that, but I believe the catharsis of redemption is both more powerful and more worthy. Perhaps I didn’t lean into that theme of redemption as strongly as I should have with my last iteration, but this time around I’ll try to do it justice. Come back next week as we dive into that!

Revising The Storm- Week 12

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Today I’m looking to transition from my new material into the original story, connecting at the point of Harry’s confession to Oscar. From there I expect to follow the same basic plot, though with the usual trimming and enhancements as I go.

So this first section today will be my bridge into what was written before. I’ll be describing the sailors’ floundering in the waves as they lose complete control of their boats. Let’s see how it goes.

Losing Control)

Oscar reached for his mic to bark out new instructions but out of the corner of his eye he saw that Harry’s boat was careening down the back of the wave on a collision course for his own! So he clutched the wheel and throttle instead, frantically maneuvering to get out of the way. He nearly managed to clear a path, but the two boats still scraped their sides alongside of one another. Harry’s boat kept descending down, while Oscar’s lingered in place, and soon the line snapped taut between them again, spinning Oscar’s boat around in a circle.

“Come on!” Oscar snarled, desperately fighting to get control of the situation. But they were at the low point between waves, and the next one was already bearing down on them. They were anything but prepared to ride through it. Oscar’s own boat was sideways to the oncoming wall, and Harry’s boat was swaying back and forth unpredictably.

Oscar’s hands fumbled back and forth over the controls, but there were too many competing forces at play to account for them all. Each turn or acceleration just seemed to add to the chaos. He had worn his nerves all the way down, and he couldn’t keep doing this any longer.

The heaving wave was upon them now, and Oscar gave up trying to find a clever maneuver through it. He just held onto the helm, held onto it dear life. The wave hit, and all became utter chaos. The rolling torrent poured into the wheelhouse and slammed against Oscar. His feet slid on the wet floor, and his clenched fists twitched left and right as he fought to maintain his balance. His eyes roved right and left as he tried to get his bearings, tried to make sense of the wind and the wave and his vessel. But his mind failed to register these things anymore. It had had enough trying to be clever. All was a pure cacophony, and he felt as if this was his first time standing at the wheel, absolutely clueless in what to do.

Yet for all his confusion, there was at least one thing that remained perfectly clear and certain to him. And it was doom. A doom that was so wide and so vast that it crowded out any other comprehension from his mind. At long last, after years of threatening to do so, it had come for him.

Well I’ve certainly ramped up the sense of mortal peril with this last section! I wanted to have Oscar fighting for his life for as long as he could, but finally collapsing as the burden of dragging Harry’s weight overcomes him. Of course this isn’t merely physical, it is all a type for the unsaid truth between these two men about the death of Oscar’s child.

And now, at long last, here is where we reconnect with my original writing. I’m going to have to adjust a few things in this piece for it to fit in with the tone of what I’ve just written, though. I need Oscar to seem broken, not hostile. Let’s see how it goes.

The Confession)

“Oscar…” Harry’s soft voice spoke over the radio. “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 that is.”

“But I am towing you Harry.”

“Oscar I knew it would be you who came for me. I just knew it would be. 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 yawned twice as wide as any previous. Oscar let go of the mic, fastening both hands to the wheel and braced for impact.

Harry continued. “I told you that when I took your son out sailing he forgot to tie down his safety line in that storm. But James was too bright for that. He secured one for himself and for me. He did it just as soon as he knew we were in real trouble.”

The boats tilted upwards for the approach into the wave, like ants trying to scale a mountain. The wave’s broad slope created a wide surface for the wind to roar haphazardly down, shoving the nose of the boats erratically to right and left.

Still Harry went on. “That hour 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. He wasn’t sure which one it was and he didn’t check to see.

“Each wave swamped us, half drowned us! I was praying and cursing with all the breath I had left. I made my way back to the mainmast and kept throwing knots on and off at every turn. Trying to pull out the slack and tighten them better.”

Oscar’s boat broke through the crest, but rolled far to its side. He flung his arms our for balance as he slid down the water-hill sideways.

“Then the next wave washed over us, the biggest one yet. It was a froth. I couldn’t see. It seemed like an eternity, but finally it washed away. I was facing towards the rear of the boat and…and I saw nothing. Just nothing. James… wasn’t there.”

Oscar’s boat hit bottom and a tide of water swept into the cabin. Oscar slipped and fell to his knees. He gripped the wheel only by his fingertips, trying to hold his way through the wave unseeing.

And with that we’re back into charted territory! I like the handoff I came up with, and I’m anxious to reach the end so that I can review the whole thing all over again. Hopefully just a couple more weeks to get to that.

Revising The Storm- Week 11

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Increasing Danger)

Oscar spun the wheel to the left, coming thirty degrees from perpendicular to the waves. The next crest rolled into them and there was the unsettling sensation of being tilted far to the right as they glided up it, then rolled steeply back to the left as it left them in its wake, the boats threatening as they sloshed back and forth to roll all the way over at any moment.

“Whatever fuel we’ve got left, burn it now!” Oscar ordered, turning his throttle up to maximum. With new life the vessel churned forward…then came a jerking halt as the line ran taut and Harry’s vessel dragged Oscar’s back.

“I’m trying, I’m trying!” Harry grunted as he struggled to get his controls to respond. “There we go!” he crowed as his engines came fully to life. “Oh wait, no!” they cut out again after just a few seconds, causing the rope between them to snap taut again. “I think–maybe–” the engines came back for another moment. “Oh come on!” the engines cut out once more.

Oscar ground his teeth together. This relaxing and tightening of the line would snap it in two in no time. Much as he wanted to surge on ahead, he would just have to pace himself with what Harry’s boat could handle.

“Is it steadier at lower speeds?” Oscar asked.

“Yes, the engine holds if I don’t throttle over twenty percent.”

“Alright. You keep it there. I’ll tug.”

Oscar slowed his boat down until both he and Harry were travelling at the same, slow speed. Then he gradually sped up, until the line between came back to full tension. From there he added more power, but only in small increments, accelerating both boats together as one. It was working…but they were less than half the speed that Oscar’s boat could have gone at on its own.

Just continuing along our way in the final act. I’ll be honest, I’m not paying very close attention to my review notes as I add one new scene after another. I just know that this part of the story needed to be developed further, so I’m feeling my way through , then I’ll cast the same eye of scrutiny on this new material as I did on the original.

I know that reading through a story and writing through it are two very different experiences, but I do feel encouraged that I have had far more of a sense of actually being in the storm alongside of these characters. And that’s exactly the change that I’ve been working for: making the audience feel like they’ve been through a long and momentous struggle. And now I’m just going to keep ratcheting up the tension. Here we go!

Ratcheting)

“Come on, Harry, come on,” Oscar mumbled, willing the other man’s boat to spring to greater life. Every now and again he looked over his shoulder to keep bearings on what was going on behind him, and each time he saw Harry’s boat being an anchor, weighing him back into the storm, and he despised Harry for that. “How many sailors have to die under your hand before you’re through?” he muttered darkly.

Then he looked to the front, still watching for any sign of the cliff-face, or better yet, of the lighthouse. He saw neither, yet by looking so earnestly his mind started playing tricks on him, making him think he had caught a glimpse of one or the other out of the corner of his eye.

Oh was that a moving light?! No, just a reflection of sheet lightning on the rolling wave. Was that a rock springing out of the dark in front of him?! No, just one cloud moving past another.

“Turn deeper, Harry. “Let’s bring it to forty degrees!”

“Alright…if you’re sure…”

“No, I’m not sure of anything anymore.” Oscar replied, but only to himself. He was surprised that they still hadn’t seen either the saving light or the damning rock. Had he become more turned around than he realized? Was he actually headed away from the shoreline? His compass said no. Had he somehow travelled further south than the lighthouse, so that now it would be on his starboard side and not his port? But he looked to starboard and nothing was there.

The next wave rolled under them. Harry gripped hard to the wheel and planted his foot against the side of the wheelhouse to keep his balance as he careened to the right and then the left. But his ship still held steady through it all.

“Forty-five degrees, Harry! Make it forty-five!”

The next wave seemed an eternity. By slicing up and down its sides they were spending a lot more time tilted precariously, which meant a lot more time for the water in the hold to collect on the downward side. Oscar tried to feel through his boots how near the floor was to spinning out from under him, his hands twitching on the wheel, ready to throw to starboard at the first sign of trouble.

But then, all at once, he felt a sharp tug from behind, and without even looking he knew what it meant: Harry’s boat had started to roll, and if it did so it would take him down with it! Without thinking about it, Oscar threw his wheel all the way to port, swiveling his boat to be fully parallel with the wave. A sudden torrent of water slammed against the side of the wheelhouse, flooding over his vessel and threatening to swamp him at any moment! But only for a moment, and then the boat burst through the crest of the wave, hung suspended in the open the air, then crashed down on the backside of the wave, hauling at Harry’s boat until it had pulled him back from his roll without a moment to spare!

One thing I’ve been meaning to improve from all these changes is to really push Harry into having a solid reason for coming forward with the truth after all these years. I wanted the likelihood of both men drowning to be very real to finally compel him to come clean.

And, at this point, I think I’ve given him a solid enough reason. So, starting with next week, I’m going to rejoin my original draft of the story where Harry finally makes confession. I can’t wait to pick things up from there!