7 Types of Stories: Voyage & Return

A ship on a voyage.

The "Voyage and Return" plot is one of the classic story archetypes identified by Christopher Booker in his book The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories. "Voyage and Return" stories involve the protagonist embarking on a journey to an unfamiliar world. They face a series of trials throughout their journey before returning home, often changed or enlightened by their experiences.

This structure is seen in many classic and contemporary stories, ranging from ancient myths to modern fantasy and science fiction. The contrast between the protagonist's ordinary world and the new world they discover allows for exploration of themes like growth, the unknown, and the concept of 'home.'

Common tropes and elements

  1. The Anticipation Stage and 'Fall' into the Other World: The story begins with the protagonist's anticipation of something exciting or unusual happening. This is followed by a 'fall' or transition, sometimes literally, into another world.
  2. Initial Fascination or Dream Stage: Upon arrival in the new world, the protagonist is initially intrigued by the differences they encounter. This stage is often characterized by wonder and a lack of real danger.
  3. Frustration Stage: As the protagonist becomes more familiar with the new world, they encounter problems or challenges that create frustration or conflict. The novelty of the new world begins to wear off, and the reality of the challenges sets in.
  4. Nightmare Stage: The protagonist's problems intensify to a crisis point, often culminating in a life-or-death struggle. This is the climax of the story, where the protagonist must use all their wits and skills learned on their journey.
  5. The Thrilling Escape and Return: The protagonist escapes from the alternate world after their climactic ordeal, often chased by some threat from which they barely escape.
  6. Reflection and Realization: Back in the familiar world, the protagonist reflects on their journey and experiences. They often have a new understanding or appreciation for their home and life.
  7. Application of the Boon: If the story is to have a lasting significance, the protagonist must bring something back from their journey—knowledge, wisdom, happiness, or a physical token. This often results in a better life for the protagonist or those around them.
  8. A Changed World or a Changed Perceiver: Upon the protagonist's return, either the world has changed because of their journey, or they perceive it in a new way, armed with the knowledge and experiences they have gained.

Example stories to draw inspiration from

This type of story can be found across many genres.

  1. "The Chronicles of Narnia" by C.S. Lewis: The children in this series travel to the magical land of Narnia, where they face challenges and grow as individuals before returning to their own world.
  2. "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll: Alice travels down the rabbit hole to Wonderland, a place of nonsensical rules and characters, and after her adventures, she returns to her ordinary life.
  3. "The Hobbit" by J.R.R. Tolkien: Bilbo Baggins goes on a journey to recover treasure guarded by a dragon and returns to the Shire with a new sense of his capabilities and a treasure of his own.
  4. "Gulliver’s Travels" by Jonathan Swift: Lemuel Gulliver experiences various strange lands and societies, each providing a satirical commentary on English society, before returning home each time.
  5. "Peter Pan" by J.M. Barrie: Wendy and her brothers travel to Neverland with Peter Pan, have adventures with pirates and fairies, and eventually return home to London.
  6. "The Time Machine" by H.G. Wells: The Time Traveler ventures far into the future to see the fate of humanity and then returns to his own time to share the tale.
  7. "The Wizard of Oz" by L. Frank Baum: Dorothy is transported to the magical land of Oz and, after many adventures with her friends, finds her way back to Kansas.
  8. "Outlander" series by Diana Gabaldon: Claire Randall is transported back in time to 18th-century Scotland, becomes involved in the historical events of the time, and must navigate her way back to the 20th century.