The only difference is the ending
Rebecca Mikkelson, CBD Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Welcome to the second post in our plot archetypes series. For this post, we’ll talk about two of the archetypes you’ll find out there. Why two? Well, the only real difference between Quest and Voyage and Return is that in the latter, the hero returns, and they don’t necessarily have to succeed in their goal. So what all goes into these?
What are they?
The Quest plot archetype is a fairly familiar one—our hero is on a mission and must complete this either for the good of themselves or the good of those around them; this can be finding a person or a place. The biggest point of the Quest plot archetype is that the hero must leave home to go on the quest. We’ll often see this plot with a group of people that aid the ultimate hero, with the rest being heroes in their own way—for example, the hero could not succeed without the help or sacrifice of a group member. In these plots, your hero must succeed by the end of the story—with some difficulty, of course, because no one likes a Mary Sue and Marty Stu—but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll get a happy ending. (Lord of the Rings, anyone?)
In the Voyage and Return plot, the goals might be a little bit different, but the general premise is the same as the Quest. There is a goal the hero wants to achieve, and they must leave home to do it. These can be plots that involve simply wanting an adventure, finding a cure for a disease plaguing the hero’s village, city, family, or something else that can pull the hero from their home in seeking something new. Unlike the Quest, the hero doesn’t always have to succeed with their goal (though they usually do), but they must always return home and with more knowledge than they left with.
How to write a Quest plot
Much like with Overcoming the Monster, there are five stages an author must hit in order to write a successful Quest plot and Voyage and Return plot. You can break them down into whatever structure style you’d like, but these cannot be left out.
The Call: This will be your inciting incident for either the Quest or the Voyage and Return. Your hero will have a goal to achieve presented to them either by circumstances that they fall into or by someone else needing help (likely a companion that will be going along on the journey).
The Journey: This is the more arduous part of your hero’s story. The journey to achieving the hero’s goals is an intricate dance of success and failure. The hero can’t have an easy journey—otherwise, what’s the point? Your hero will often feel like they’ve made some headway toward their goal, only to be sent back near the beginning in terms of progress.
Arrival and Frustration: Now the hero is where they want to be, their goal just within their grasp. But, before they can achieve that goal, they still have a few more things to overcome.
The Final Ordeal: Ah, finally. The last obstacle before they achieve their goal. This is something only the hero can do, even if they have a group of people with them, like Frodo throwing the One Ring into the lava even though Sam is also there to support him.
The Goal: Now all the fighting’s done, the hero gets what they want out of the whole deal. They’ve found the place, they’ve found the person, or they’ve found the item or items they want. Now, just because they have achieved their goal doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to be happy with their ending.
For a Voyage and Return plot, your final two stages instead will be:
Nightmare: Unlike the Quest, the hero has the possibility of not succeeding. In this stage, our hero will lose hope that they can get what they want and might even lose their life if they can’t push through and succeed.
Escape and Return: Your hero has escaped certain death, and can now return home with the new knowledge that they’ve attained and spread it for the good of the people.
So, where can you find plots that involve the Quest and Voyage and Return? Well, there are several different examples that we can give, so we’ll break them down into their own sections.
The best and the most familiar example I can think of in literature is The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In this, Frodo falls into getting rid of the One Ring to save all of Middle Earth because his uncle, Bilbo, decides it’s time for him to leave and puts the ring in Frodo’s care. Frodo must complete a series of tasks with his companions until he ultimately has to destroy the ring on his own. Most notably, he doesn’t truly return home. He returns for a bit and it turns out that his home is not really a place he fits in anymore, and makes the journey with the elves into the West.
To keep with our Middle Earth theme in books, The Hobbit, is a great example of the Voyage and Return. Bilbo is thrust accidentally—or rather by Gandalf’s design—into the company of the remaining dwarves of Erebor as a burglar because of his hobbit-ness. They are on a quest, while Bilbo is on the journey because he wants to go on an adventure and just happens to have the skill set that they need (sort of). On this journey, he faces many challenges, but ultimately he comes away with far more knowledge of the world than what he set out with.
Sadly, the only example of a true quest show I can think of, Terra Nova, was canceled almost a decade ago. In this, the future people of earth are faced with overpopulation and dangerous pollution threatening the future of the human race. In order to try to save the human race, scientists find a way, by sciencey means, to send people back into earth’s past to repopulate the world and avoid the mistakes that were made before. There will be no going back, and if they succeed, they will save all of humanity.
One of my favorites is a constant story of the Voyage and Return plot. Not every episode of the Stargate series (SG-1, Atlantis, or Universe) is a true Voyage and Return, but easily 70% of them are. In these series, teams comprising of soldiers and intellectuals, whether scientists or archeologists, travel through the Stargate to other worlds in order to learn more about how the other people on these planets live and how to get technology to save them from outside threats. In the episodes, something new is either learned about the people or the enemy, and the main characters generally return home safe and sound by the end of each episode.
One of my childhood favorites, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, teeters on the edge of Voyage and Return and the Quest plot, but ultimately it falls under the Qest because Milo doesn’t return home. In this, Milo is in search of the lost city of Atlantis to prove to the world and gain knowledge of the people and their stories if he can find it. His search for knowledge is what starts to push it into Voyage and Return, but with his decision to stay there is what truly makes it a quest.
Our last example is a cult classic. Back to the Future signifies even by its name that it will be a Voyage and Return in that they’re going to the past, and then back to the future. Marty McFly goes to the past with his weird adult friend that no one questions throughout the whole movie, and he must ensure his existence by making sure that his parents end up together in the past before he can return. You might be asking where the knowledge aspect of this comes in, and it’s him learning about both his parents and the mechanics of time travel before he goes back to the future.
Join us next week when we talk about the Rags to Riches plot!
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