Sunken Ships, Lost Crews, and Writing Inspiration

Underwater wreckage covered in coral with diver.

montereydiver on Visualhunt / CC BY

It’s time to get inspired again! If you missed last week’s writing inspiration, fell free to go read about some cool Greek history or skip to the story I based on it. I had a lot of fun writing that story. It’s been too long since I finished a story and even longer since I shared one with anybody. It feels good to get my work out again. I hope it added something to your day too. Now, for this week’s article.

The Article

For this week’s writing inspiration, I read an article from called “Franklin’s Last Voyage” by Allan Woods. It is about two ships, the Erebus and Terror, that disappeared in the Arctic in 1845 and the discovery of one of the Erebus. Franklin, the captain of the Erebus, was looking for the Northwest Passage when they got locked in the ice. The crew and the ships disappeared with little more than a small trail of objects and the accounts of the Inuit to say they were ever there.

Many rescue crews attempted to find the lost ships at the time of their disappearance. One such actually found the Northwest Passage. They talked to the Inuit, who had seen the ships and told them the location of the sightings, but the crews remained hidden. Contemporaries uncovered some small items that seemed to come from the crew, nails, cutlery, tools and the like. But the most telling were the graves. They found “buried or mutilated remains—some alone, some in groups of several dozen” and it was unclear if the crew had been forced into cannibalism or if animals had found the corpses.

Modern seekers have also trekked into the cold to find the wrecks and try to discover what befell them. Finally, a modern search led by Ryan Harris a Canadian archaeologist, discovered the Erebus. At the time of the article, they were still trying to uncover the truths of what happened to the crew as well as find the second ship.

The Writing Inspiration


I’ll start again with choosing a character/POV for the story. My choices are the men from the lost ships trying to survive their icy prison, the contemporary search parties looking for their missing colleagues, the Inuit watching the Englishmen struggle with the harsh terrain they are unaccustomed to, or the modern archaeologists looking for a piece of history.

My first impression from this article was a great visual of someone standing on the ice as it melted and revealed this giant ship that had been hidden there. Of course in my vision the ship was much more science fiction than the large boats that actually went missing. I imagined a post apocalyptic or perhaps pre-technological person standing there in awe gazing on this amazing artifact that was at once ancient and incredibly advanced. I even tried to reproduce this image with disastrous effect. An artist I am not.

Anyway, I started to steer away from this idea for a few reasons. One is that I wasn’t sure what story I could take from this: perhaps one of the people trying to use the advanced technology, perhaps one of the creators coming back to claim it. I let it ruminate while I kept reading and then I found something I liked better.

A search party sent out in 1859 found something that really got my creative juices flowing. They found a stone cairn, basically a fancy pile of rocks made to mark a location, that concealed a note – well, two notes. The first, dated May 28, 1847, said that things were fine. The ships were stuck in the ice for the winter but the captain didn’t seem concerned. However, in the margins, a second note, dated April 25, 1848, said Franklin had died a few days after the first note and things deteriorated fast with 24 men total being lost since arriving in the Arctic. They were already down 5 men from an illness on the passage across the Atlantic. They decided to abandon the ships and head south. That was the last word. Then the article tells of the mutilated bodies that began showing up.

This grabbed my attention like a fishhook. I’ll be honest, memories of 1982’s The Thing flashed through my mind and I couldn’t resist comparing the rest of the article to a suspense/horror flick. Other interesting ideas came to mind, such as the search parties finding an Inuit hut that was filled with items from the lost ships, or even the modern mystery-lovers who lament the discovery of the Erebus. But I was unable to shake the idea of a scary monster story. I had to write from the POV of a contemporary search party.

The Genre

The genre seems rather obvious. I think a contemporary search party POV lends itself well to a historical, Lovecraftian horror story. Although, mine will likely end up more suspense than actual horror I imagine. The trouble will be making it original enough and doing it in a flash fiction format.

I am currently deciding if I should set it in the real world or in one of my design. I often come up with landscapes that don’t line up with real places. Once I get a good visual in my head, I get stubborn about changing it. It’s something I guess I’ll have to work on. But maybe not right now. So, a fantasy/horror/suspense it is.

I have never attempted anything like this. Ever. But I have always wondered if I could pull it off. I guess we’ll find out.

If you found this article interesting or inspiring please share it on Facebook and Twitter.
Let me know in the comments if you have ever written a horror story and how you made it original or what your writing inspiration was.

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