Ciao, SEers. I’m back again today with one of the Seven Basic Plots as defined by Christopher Booker. If you’ve missed the others, you can find them here: Rebirth, Tragedy, and Comedy.
Today’s post covers the basic plot type Voyage and Return.
This plot sees the protagonist go to a strange land and face adversity on his way home. His travels are fraught with peril, but eventually he returns and is changed by the experiences he’s had and what he’s learned from them. One notable feature of his return is the emotional reaction. This plot type DOES NOT guarantee a happy ending; only a change in the character.
You may notice similarities to the Quest plot type. That’s because the two closely mirror each other. The main difference is that the Quest storyline ends when the object of the quest is attained (there is no return home).
Here is a list of common Voyage and Return stories.
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
- The Chronicles of Narnia
- Goldilocks and the Three Bears
- Gone with the Wind
This is the basic template for writing a Voyage and Return story. I’ll use The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as my example.
- Anticipation Stage and “Fall” into Another World
In this stage, we witness the protagonist in her dull, humdrum life. Then something happens to transport her somewhere else. It could be a portal, a walk in the woods, a fall, a cyclone… The mechanics don’t matter.
In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s life in Kansas is gray and boring. The biggest excitement she faces is the argument with Almira Gulch. She runs away to protect her dog, then a cyclone comes. Whether you believe the cyclone carries her away or her journey is a mental one resulting from a head injury, this is when/how she enters another world.
- Initial Fascination or “Dream” Stage
Initially, this stage is wonderful. The protagonist sees and experiences a life that’s beyond her expectations. While the reader is taken with the beauty or pageantry of what is experienced here, the main character—though enamored with what she is experiencing—has a small sense of unease. This can be quite subtle, but it needs to be there to foreshadow the protagonist’s journey and eventual return.
Dorothy is delighted with the Munchkins in Munchkinland, and she even develops a bond with Glenda. But through it all, even before the threat from the Wicked Witch of the West, she is bewildered by where she is and what the world is like. She is an outsider; she doesn’t fit in. And that leaves her feeling uncomfortable, even among her new “friends.”
In this stage, things take a turn for the worse. The protagonist is faced with one problem after another, and every time she overcomes an obstacle, she’s left with a bigger problem.
Dorothy is making friends to help her on her journey, but she’s also encountering more than her share of problems. The Wicked Witch scares her in the forest and puts her to sleep in a poppy field. She finally reaches Oz only to initially be turned away then finally sent on an impossible mission.
This is the protagonist’s darkest hour. Escape seems unattainable and not only is her failure imminent, her life is on the line.
Dorothy is captured by the Flying Monkeys and taken to the Wicked Witch. An hourglass counts down the remaining minutes of her life, and she is alone with no means of escape.
- Thrilling Escape and Return
This is the payoff. What the readers have stuck around for. At this stage, the protagonist pulls off the impossible and escapes her doom. She learns a vital lesson, then returns home.
Dorothy melts the Wicked Witch and takes her broomstick back to the Wizard so he’ll send her home. In a last heart-wrenching twist, she learns he doesn’t have the power to send her back, and she is devastated. Then Glenda appears and reveals Dorothy had the power to return all along—she just had to learn her lesson first. Reciting “There’s No Place Like Home” like a mantra, she’s transported back (or wakes from being unconscious) and has a new appreciation for her life.
In Dorothy’s case, the ending was happy. But remember, it doesn’t always have to be. Scarlett O’Hara is abandoned by everyone. Goldilocks had a close call with a bunch of bears. The important thing is that they learned something about themselves and are stronger for having gone through the experience.
Have you written a Voyage and Return story? Or do you have a favorite that you’ve read? Let’s discuss it.