From Greek Grave to Story Inspiration
For this post, I read an article with the express purpose of finding story inspiration. Usually, it just happens as I go along whether I want it to or not. First, I will summarize the article for you but please read it for yourself here. Then, I will tell you how this article prompted my creative wheels.
I studied Ancient Greek history for my graduate studies. I was constantly coming up with story ideas during classes and as I researched my thesis. So I decided to use something about Greek archaeology for my first inspiration post. I found “This 3,500-Year-Old Greek Tomb Upended What We Thought We Knew About the Roots of Western Civilization,” by Jo Marchant on the Smithsonian website. It is over a year old, but it is about a remarkable find. And since I’m using these articles for story inspiration, the date isn’t all that important.
The Article Summary
Archaeologist couple, Sharon Stocker and Jack Davis made their amazing discovery near Pylos, Greece not far from the Palace of Nestor. The area is frequented by archaeologists due to its connection to the heroes of Homer’s Iliad. Nestor was a major player in the war and a friend of Agamemnon. The Palace of Nestor represents the culture of the Mycenaeans, a precursor to the Greek culture that came to dominate western civilization. Another culture, the Minoan, also had great influence over the region. The relationship between Mycenaean and Minoan civilization is contested among historians and archaeologists. Some think the younger Mycenaeans forcefully ousted their Minoan predecessors. And that’s where the discovery of Stocker and Davis comes in.
The items found in the griffin warrior’s grave showed a complex combination of Mycenaean and Minoan artifacts. Minoan iconography was present and there is evidence that they understood the symbolism and perhaps had adopted it and the corresponding practices. This points to a more equitable relationship than previously believed. It also indicates that the Mycenaeans weren’t just the uncouth brutes that earlier scholars had made them out to be. The Mycenaean and Minoan civilizations were the direct ancestors of one of the greatest peoples of western civilization. Knowing how they rose to power and fell into obscurity is of no little interest. This find lends important clues that will doubtless be studied for years to come.
The article itself was written in a story-like style that blended the narrative of the discovery and greater context of the find into a flowing piece of informational prose. We got to know the archaeologists, the cultures being studied and the earlier scholars who had made discoveries and laid the foundation for the current dig. It was an enjoyable read on its own and I encourage you to check it out if you haven’t already.
The Story Inspiration
Upon finishing the article I was left with several impressions, all of which could lead to a future story. The first thing I usually start with is a nugget of world building. This leads to frustrating hours of trying to figure out how to fit actual people into the world and make a real story. Therefore, I have been trying to take advice from writers everywhere and start with a character.
There is the obvious struggle between monolithic civilizations, but that does not lend itself well to flash fiction. Then we have the thrill of discovery portrayed by Stocker and Davis. Or I could focus on the life of the griffin warrior, the nameless man whose grave was lovingly robbed by the archaeologists. My favorite of these is some take on the warrior’s point of view.
I work in many aspects of the Fantasy and Science Fiction realm so I need to narrow it down. In this case, the genre is inherent in the POV I chose. In this case it will be a fantasy. Not the wizards and elves kind, but the ghost story kind.
Now I need a conflict for my character, something to give the story…well, a story. There was a particular quote from Stocker herself that first got me thinking along the lines of a story. Then the author supplied the second half that clinched it. The conflict between these passages provide me with the conflict of my story. Stocker’s quote:
“How could you not be moved?” says Stocker. “It’s the passion of looking at a beautiful piece of art or listening to a piece of music. There’s a human element. If you forget that, it becomes an exercise in removing things from the ground.”
I personally have always been drawn to the romantic notion that a real human person, with family, dreams, and struggles, has been here before me. Has touched the ancient things I am touching and made them with purpose. This quote appealed to me and brought me back from my analysis of the article to the gravity of its contents. The second quote, however, undermined this feeling of maudlin historicism.
“Around her, plastic boxes of all sizes are piled high, full of artifacts from the warrior’s grave. She opens box after box to show their contents—one holds hundreds of individually labeled plastic bags, each containing a single bead. Another yields seal stones carved with intricate designs: three reclining bulls; a griffin with outstretched wings. ‘I still can’t believe I’m actually touching them,’ she says. ‘Most people only see things like this through glass in a museum.’”
Here, we go from Stocker’s romantic musings about the person she’s revealing in a new era, to the sterile storeroom where he and his possessions will reside for some indefinite time. She feels privileged to be in contact with these items, as well she should, but doesn’t seem to see the discrepancy. Even keeping them in glass cases for others to admire in passing is a long way from the grave in which they were deliberately placed.
From these passages I have extracted the seeds of a story. I will use the ghost of the skeletal warrior as my POV character and the transplantation of his possessions and remains as the conflict. I will color the story with the nostalgic feelings I myself got when reading the article and finding the passages above. As for the ending well, you’ll have to come back Friday to find out about that.
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Let me know in the comments what you think about the story elements I picked out of this article. Would you have used a different POV?