Revising The Storm- Week 9

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

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.

Losing Power)

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.”

“Entirely?!”

“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.

“Barely!”

“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!

Revising The Storm- Week 8

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

In my original version of this story I was now approaching the final act, and my main concern at this point was that the resolution came much too abruptly. I want to spend more time focusing on the two men’s struggle to get around the cape, turning it into more an exhausting odyssey, even before we get to the point of Harry’s confession.

I will therefore be bolstering this next scene, and afterwards I will have to add new content before finally coming to the final act.

Holding the Line)

The next wave slammed against the front of Oscar’s boat like a slap across the face. His feet jerked out from under him and he had to catch hold of a shelf to keep from falling.

“Keep it together!” he urged, spinning the wheel further to port to account for how the wave had pushed him off his line.

The boat swung laboriously back, just in time for the next wave to collide with it. This again turned him from his line, and Oscar had to turn the wheel even further to port. The third wave struck and his boat was turned until it was nearly broadside to the rolling current.

“Whoa there!–” Harry’s voice cautioned over the radio. Turning broadside would get Oscar swallowed in the waves very quickly!

For a third time Oscar turned his wheel to port, but his helm hit its absolute limit. His rudder could not turn any further. His boat was moving very sluggishly now, weighed down by the weight of water down in its hold. It would still make its turns, but only if granted enough time. And Oscar simply did not have “enough time” available, he only had the narrow window that lay between each crest of the waves.

“Alright Harry,” Oscar snatched the mic to his mouth, “we’ve got to go head-on into those waves. There’s going to be some tricky maneuvers coming up, so you just do everything you can to stay with me!”

“Alright…”

Oscar locked the mic button down and set it on the panel. He would need both hands on the wheel for this next part.

Oscar knew it simply wouldn’t work cutting across the waves at a slant anymore. They would forget about taking the shortest line past the edge of the cape. The plan now was to turn fully into the waves, push against them, and put some more distance between them and the Broken Horn. Hopefully they could get distant enough that when they spun around there would be time to slice through the water to port, skimming past the cape’s shoals on their right.

Did they have enough fuel for that? Didn’t matter. They just had to deal with the situation now and worry about the rest later.

Oscar braced his legs as the next wave roared up to them. The whole boat creaked as it was pulled upwards, bow pointed towards the sky. As before, the wave was slowly turning his boat to starboard, but Oscar still kept his wheel locked as far to port as possible.

Now came a great whooshing sound and a burst of foam as Oscar crested the wave at an angle. The man swung his head around, watching until Harry’s boat burst through the top of the wave also.

“Harry, hold that angle and give me a little slack!” Oscar called.

Now the old seaman thrust his wheel hard to starboard, opposite the way he needed to go! All the water in the hold rushed over, making the boat careen onto its side. Oscar splayed his toes wide, feeling the vessel through his boots. He waited until the water to hit the hull wall and started to slosh back the other way. As soon as he felt that rebound he spun the wheel back to port as quickly as possible, encouraging the water as it flowed back across the hold and slammed into the other side of the hull.

The rudder and the sloshing water combined to give Oscar that extra push, just enough to finally pull his boat out of its angle and head-on into the waves.

“Now, Harry! Get back in line behind me!”

There came a heavy thud as the rope between the boats ran out of slack and the full weight of Harry’s vessel tugged hard at Oscar’s. Oscar gave a shout and gripped tighter on the wheel as it tried to spin out of control. The water down below barrelled into the stern of the boat, then rolled backwards, slowing him down.

“Full throttle, Harry, full throttle!” Oscar cried, punching his own speed up to maximum. The next wave was already upon them, and they would need all the speed they could get in order to push through. Otherwise it would flip them over backwards!

Well I expanded this scene quite a bit from what I had before, and I’m really like the extra punch it’s delivering! Even with my first iteration I was quite proud of the maneuver I came up with for Oscar: swinging his boat the wrong direction to build up momentum for a counterswing, but previously that segment was just two quick paragraphs. This time I’ve stretched it to more than double the length and added another problem immediately after: that of not having enough speed to break through the next wave.

I’m curious to examine this scene in the context of the larger story, though. Will it give the story that sense of overbearing strain that I want, or will it feel artificially inflated and tedious? Only time will tell.