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.
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 Media & Are you there blog? It’s me, Writer