Creative Writing Tutorial: Voyage And Return

Posted at 21:05pm on 20th December 2008

We’ve now looked at five of the seven plot lines which form the basis of all storytelling, and move on, today, to the penultimate Voyage & Return.

  1. Rags to Riches
  2. Overcoming the Monster
  3. The Quest
  4. Comedy
  5. Tragedy
  6. Voyage and Return
  7. Rebirth


Voyage and Return frequently follows not simply a physical journey, but an inner voyage of overcoming something that was previously alien. Thus, faced with something outside your normal experience, you may find your (inner) morals challenged. Or perhaps your belief system; your culture; even a commitment like a love affair, or a marriage. The point of the journey is that however far you may stray your return is the ultimate conclusion. It may be sacrificial in that your preference is to stay. Or it may be a strengthening and deepening experience. But return is the inevitable ending.


In Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn we see a young protagonist grappling with his conscience following his decision to free a slave. And we, the readers, are faced with the dilemma: is it always right to right a wrong? The story, however, does not conform to a true Voyage and Return. Young Huckleberry Finn embraces his newfound values and does not return.


Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe is the classic story of a literal Voyage and Return. Shipwrecked and alone, Crusoe’s voyage is both a physical journey to an alien land – a deserted island - and an inner one of having to relearn a way of life which was utterly different to his previous experience. Battling alone for twenty years, he eventually finds a companion, in the form of Man Friday. Crusoe sets about teaching him the language and mores of his old life - and thus begins his own Return. However, when rescued from the island and returned to England, Crusoe discovers that he has, in fact, embarked on another journey. So much has changed during his 27 year absence, that he is as much an alien in his own land as is Friday.

Other voyage and return stories include the much loved The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe; Alice in Wonderland and, of course, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Goldilocks and The Three Bears. The Biblical story of The Prodigal Son forms the basis of many a modern tale, as does Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit. In both there are elements of wilfulness; a straying beyond the boundaries imposed upon them; an air of self-indulgence – the Prodigal in wine, women and song; Peter Rabbit in his consumption of lettuces.

What these plots have in common is the page-turning technique of putting the main character in a world which is far removed from his comfort zone; a world which, to begin with, he fears; a world from which he seeks to flee and, by the very act of doing so, deepens his entrapment and dread.

And as with all fear, the known responses are flight, fight or facing up to one’s trials. Those who face them, who confront their fear and prejudice, fulfil the elements of another plot line: that of Overcoming the Monster. For in meeting the challenge of their ‘inner monster’ they are developing character and personal growth.

Perhaps, who knows, your own venture into authorship may be a journey with an ultimate destination: a true Voyage and Return which will strengthen your resolve and deepen your reserves. Let me know if you’ve found this helpful; or if you’ve recognised a story in your own life of voyage and return.

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