Sunken Tomb Empowered

Welcome to my weekly series “Designing from Bones”, using archaeology and the artifacts of human history to find and design stories. Last week we explored The Great Dismal Swamp to discover the communities and adventure possibilities lying within its murky waters. This week we will add a final element, a re-emerging Ming Dynasty tomb and search for the potential inherent in combining all the elements seen so far in this series into a story world.

It takes many elements to design and create a story world. Where does the story begin? What is the general setting? Where will the story end? Who will adventure through this landscape and carry our story? Whether you are a plotter or a pantser, at some point, each of these important questions must be answered. Over the next two weeks we will delve into the possibilities together to birth a powerful world for our hero to travel through.

The Sunken Tomb of the Ming Dynasty

Built in 1386 by Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang of the Ming Dynasty to honor his ancestors, this magnificent tomb was itself entombed underwater in 1680 when the Yellow River changed course to merge with the Huai River and form what is now Hongze Lake. In the 1960’s a drought revealed the tomb for the first time in nearly 300 years, but at the request of local residents, who wanted to honor the sanctity of their ancestors, the tomb was submerged once more by act of the Chinese government.

Recently, the water levels have dropped dramatically with a sinkhole being the most likely cause. The tomb is once more exposed, revealing a beauty of design worthy of the great dynasty that built it. Some of the now visible bricks still bear the signature cinnabar coloring of the Ming Dynasty after three centuries underwater!

For the purposes of story world creation, we will move this ancient tomb to the Great Dismal Swamp (the general setting) and designate it our end location. Envision, if you will, what these two elements in combination offer when placed in various genres.

Fantasy/Horror/Science Fiction/Thriller

Rumors have abounded for centuries about the Palace of the Lost Kings. A place of wonder and wealth. Yet that wealth brought rebellion against the gods. Angered by the arrogance of these mere mortals the gods cracked the earth and sank the mighty palace entombing all within for eternity. Ages past and the waters became stagnant, corrupt, a swamp bringing chills to the dreams of children.

And then, in the muttered last words of a dying treasure seeker, the Palatial Tomb of the Lost Kings returned.

Add magic and mythical beasts and a Fantasy Quest is born. Will it be for treasure? Or to stop a vile menace from awakening?

Or perhaps, the menace is already awake and preparing to strike back against the gods and the living after centuries of growing hatred. Horror is born from such things. How can the terror be stopped? Can the gods help or must humans stand alone? How many will die to find out and which lucky ones will live?

Move time into the future and/or place this tomb on the swamp world mentioned last week and Science Fiction finds a home. What will challenge our star wandering hero? Technology versus the Supernatural? The discovery of human cultures older than those on Earth? Or maybe an alien life form that would see Earth as a five-star restaurant if only it could acquire the heroes star ship.

The tomb is first noticed by a spy satellite when a burst of light or energy emits briefly from the swamp. Now a pulse is registering in geological detectors throughout the region that cannot be associated with earth tremors or quakes. Welcome to a Thriller. What will our team of investigators find deep in the swamp? Will they be able to stop what they find there?  Or will it escape into a populated area nearby? In the end, will the hero be able to resolve the situation through normal means or will a mystical ceremony that they may or may not believe in be required?

Paranormal Romance/ YA

Every night our heroine walks the borders of the Great Swamp, searching for the light from her fathers boat. Though she was a young child when the swamp claimed him she yet believes that one day he will return. Then one night the light is there, tantalizing, will-o-wisp seducer, calling out to her with soulful whispers. She struggles against the danger following it presents but her desire to seek her father is a greater force, resonating in the depths of her heart. She follows the light until it enters the majestic doors of a long forgotten tomb. Compelled, she enters.

Is this the final resting place of our heroines father or a ruse by an ancient being that has watched her dedication to her fathers memory and longs to have such love bestowed on it as well? Perhaps an incubus calls to her and if so, who will save her from being devoured? An unseen supernatural lover or the ghost of her father, paying back the devotion she has shown? Any of these leads to Paranormal Romance.

By making our heroine younger and lessening the overall danger this same story becomes a YA Paranormal Romance. I’m sure by now that your creative juices are flowing and you can see further YA possibilities as well. What if friends join our heroine or see her wander into the swamp and follow? Teenagers acting impulsively or in a fit of angst, pushing out to explore the world on their own terms and finding both harsh and beautiful realities in the mists and tombs of the swamp.

Next week I will add in the other two elements, where does the story begin and who will adventure through it, in order to deepen the story and breathe life into it. I hope you’ll join me.

Can you see other elements that would work well in this setting? Is there anything you’ve learned from history or myth that would add an extra spark to the story?

The article on the newly emerged Ming Dynasty tomb can be found on Xinhuanet.

Looking for more great ideas and information on writing? Check out my previous “Designing from Bones” entries. Want to know how to make blogging and social media a powerful tool? Try Kristen Lamb, author of We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social MediaAre you there blog? It’s me, Writer

Peaceful Journeys!

About Gene Lempp

Gene Lempp is a writer blending elements of alternate history, the paranormal, fantasy, science fiction and horror for dark and delicious fun. He unearths stories by digging into history, archeology, myth and fable in his Designing from Bones blog series. “Only the moment is eternal and in a moment, everything will change,” sums the heart of his philosophy. You can find Gene at his Blog, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, WANATribe, Google+, Pinterest and StumbleUpon.
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13 Responses to Sunken Tomb Empowered

  1. What an interesting idea for a post, Gene. I studied anthropology and archeology in college and have always been fascinated by the subject. I wonder if you had a chance to see the PBS program that was on recently about the Chinese Terracotta Warriors? I only saw part of it, but it was very intriguing. They end up talking about this color, chinese purple, that was found on the warriors and the magnetic properties the pigment generates. Has ramifications for physics apparently. Unfortunately this subject matter is WAY over my head so I’m not really doing it justice trying to explain. But here is a link to the transcript for the program. Thought you might enjoy it.

    • Gene Lempp says:

      Yes I was able to watch the Terracotta special. Always been fascinated by the subject and anything that has to do with the history of humans. A fun subject currently is the use of satellites to discover pyramids, Mayan ruins and a very cool project in Mongolia that is attempting to find the tomb of Genghis Khan by using online volunteers to pour over satellite photos. I didn’t fully understand the pigment either, but I do know that the ancients had ways of accomplishing things that are beyond our current understanding.
      Thanks for the comment 🙂

  2. I love your settings. So inspiring. What have you got on ancient walled cities? I may be in need of such thing for my MIP. Was gonna go with a castle…but l like the idea of a walled city with a palace instead.

    • Gene Lempp says:

      I will look into this for you once I’m back from vacation and see what I can find. There are thousands of castles, some with palaces. Some with better reps than others, such as a certain assassins fortress that was known to have a utopia of gardens and pleasures. Let you know what I find 🙂

  3. This series reminds me of how I develop RPG settings. Which is closely related to how I develop fiction settings.

    • Gene Lempp says:

      Actually…that is how I came to love this subject and technique. While I don’t do much with RPG’s anymore I did a great deal in my teens and twenties.
      Thanks for the comment 🙂

  4. Jami Gold says:

    Great post and comments! 🙂 I’m with Sonia – I’ll come to you when I need a historical-ish setting. LOL!

    • Gene Lempp says:

      Hey Jami! I’d be honored to help out 🙂

      Just let me know the specs of what you have in mind. Pretty sure I have a fun one in mind for Sonia. Soon as I’m back from vacation.

      Thanks for the comment 🙂

  5. catierhodes says:

    What a cool idea for a blog post!

    I do a version of this in my writing, but you’ve fine tuned the idea for me. One of my favorite books is Bethany’s Sin by Robert R. McCammon (giving away my age here). In it, the horror conflict is centered on items found at an archeological dig.

    Anyway, thanks for the ideas. I think you should write the YA Paranormal. It would be right up my alley.

    • Gene Lempp says:

      Glad I could help with the fine tuning, anything that improves us as writers is a good thing 🙂

      Actually I came up with several ideas that I didn’t list in the blog, refinements of the ones there that would make excellent stories. Now if only I could find the time to write them all 🙂 Feel free to use any idea from the blog to design your own story around since every writer will germinate the story seed differently.

  6. Man has been always afraid of the unknown, but at the same time very attracted and fascinated by it.

    Ancient sites are greatly inspirational, because all bets are off. We can observe, conclude, imagine, but we can never be sure of them and their story. Same applied to more recent sites, for which we have little information passed on to us.
    Thus, an author can create a world with its own rules related to such a site, without restrictions of scientific evidences. Almost full freedom :D.

    And legends about existing, but vanished places and sites, are even more flexible. There is nothing that can be counter-argued.

    Great post Gene 🙂

    • Gene Lempp says:

      Hey Irene!

      You hit on the key idea to this series. By using an interesting topic or location from history and finding the gaps, the hidden stories and potentials we open up a wealth of ideas. On the other side of things, I’d like to show how we as writers can use very disparate places and histories in order to create a complex and diverse world that will give fertile ground for story and entertain our readers as well.

      Thanks for the great comment 🙂

  7. Pingback: Swamped with Ideas « Gene Lempp's Blog

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