Writing an Underwater Adventure and Not Getting Wet

Wreck of Giannis D

I remember this happening in a few Dungeons & Dragons games.  We’d be land-based heroes with the occasional ocean adventure involving ships.  Then, our group would be thrown a curveball in the form of a quest that takes place nearly entirely underwater.  It can throw a group off because the tactics aren’t the same.  In fact, this is a different adventure than anything our adventurers ever met.  Needless to say, it’s also why I don’t do this very often.  Lots of things to consider.

The one time I went all in with an underwater adventure is a story in The Life & Times of Ichabod Brooks.  I thought it would be easy and did what I could to make it as similar to a land adventure as possible.  Magical devices were given out to assist with breathing, swimming, and the pressure one would face.  Since this was a short story, I didn’t go all out with explanations.  So, I don’t think I touched on every challenge that comes from this adventure.  I did just enough to demonstrate that the heroes had to take precautions.  Looking back, I think I’d do a few things differently just to spice it up, but it still works for what it was.  This is another reason I began thinking about this specific topic.

As I stated, going underwater brings about multiple questions.  Will the heroes be using magical items or traveling in a machine?  Are there dangerous animals in the water?  How will heroes deal with breathing, temperatures, pressure, and movements?  All of this needs to be factored in because most readers have experience with water.  Even kids get a sense that being underwater makes it harder to move and impossible to breathe.  So, you have to tackle the basic questions to make this adventure believable.  After all, the unfriendly and deadly terrain is part of the challenge.

I think some authors mix underwater adventures with ocean voyages too.  Aside from the latter having a boat, there are other differences.  Most importantly, is the scenery.  An ocean voyage is rather lonely with nothing to see for miles besides water.  You can’t always have an island in view.  Underwater is similar in that you may have total darkness, but you need a visual.  So, authors always have things glowing or give the heroes lights to reveal the scenery.  Being underwater is like being on an alien planet in that you see formations and life all around you.  Things will loom out of the darkness instead of gradually approaching from the horizon.  There’s a deadly beauty to being underwater unlike the isolation of journeying on a boat.  It’s an important aspect of this scene that can make the difference between vivid and flat settings.

The decision to go underwater is a rough one for authors.  Unlike other terrains, you can’t just want to an area and go exploring with the right gear.  This is a region of the planet that will have its own mountain ranges and rival the size of continents.  Fantasy worlds tend to mimic Earth in land to water ratios, so you’re looking at a greater area to explore.  Heroes can’t just drop into the ocean at any point.  They need a reason to go, especially since they’d see it as a riskier adventure than anything else they’ve done.  One can see how a person would be more comfortable facing extreme heat or cold than the possibility of drowning.  Part of that is because there’s a sense you can counter those issues with gear or retreating.  Submarine or water-breathing ring breaks at 1,000 foot depth?  You’re going to die without question.  So, a lot of preparations have to be made by the heroes for the readers to get a real sense of the danger.

I’ll get more into this on Wednesday and Friday.  I think there’s a lot more to unpack on the challenges here.  Of course, I’m talking about heroes who aren’t able to naturally function underwater like Aquaman and sea elves.  This is all about taking a land-based hero into the uncharted depths.  The possibilities of what they find are endless, which is what makes this so much fun.  You can create nearly anything down there and the tension is easy to maintain since everyone has a fear of drowning.

So, what do you think of underwater adventures?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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9 Responses to Writing an Underwater Adventure and Not Getting Wet

  1. L. Marie says:

    I read Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea ages ago. I used to read Aquaman and Sub-Mariner comic books back in the day. I’m even old enough to remember the TV show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea I loved the Aquaman movie starring Jason Momoa. I liked the Disney animated movie Atlantis So I love a good underwater adventure. I didn’t hate on Jar Jar Binks and the Jedis visit to his city either. I’ve never written an underwater adventure because I’ve never snorkeled, so I’ve never spent much time in the ocean. I know writing takes imagination and I should give it a shot someday.

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    • The only underwater show I remember watching was Seaquest and that was years ago. I was more interested in space and fantasy stories, so I didn’t pay much attention to the other underwater tales. ‘Thunderball’ might count as a movie though.

      Liked by 1 person

      • L. Marie says:

        I forgot about seaQuest. There are so many great underwater stories! Some episodes of the old animated show Jonny Quest featured underwater adventures. Such a fun subgenre.

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  2. Interestingly, I am currently playing Subnautica, a survival game set on a water planet. You do have to think about surfacing to breathe in Subnautica, but basically your character wears a wet suit the whole time and your main weapon is a diving knife. So there isn’t a lot of switching around armor/weapons like in a lot of video games. On the other hand, the game is very forgiving in some aspects, such as you don’t want to worry about chilly temperatures or getting the bends when coming up for air.

    If you don’t want to worry about technicalities, you could take the approach Rowling did in her Potter series, and have characters drink a potion that transforms them into a fluid-friendly shape. The main challenge then would be having enough of a potion supply to prevent accidentally reverting to an air-breathing shape.

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    • I remember seeing a YouTube review of that game. It got a good score even with a few flaws and glitches. It was all about exploration and crafting from what I heard.

      Fantasy usually creates a big technicality for underwater action. Rings of water breathing were always a popular accessory in my old D&D games.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s a fun concept, and I’m excited to see what you offer this week.

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  4. Have not done any underwater adventures but I like where this is headed.

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