Write on the Sound: Quest Narratives

Write on the SoundI had the pleasure of speaking at the annual Write on the Sound writers conference in Edmonds, Washington, yesterday. I talked about Quest Narratives, one of the oldest and surest ways of telling a story. Here’s some of my advice about how to organize a quest narrative.

Writing a quest narrative

  1. Describe the object of the quest and why it’s important. You don’t have to start the story with this statement, but it should come near the beginning, explaining why you’ve arrived in New Guinea, for example.
  2. Set out on the quest. What do you bring? How do you prepare? Who goes with you?
  3. Describe the journey and the difficulties of achieving it.
  4. Describe whether you achieve the goal or not.
  5. What did you learn from it? Don’t have to achieve the goal, but have to say something interesting about failing to achieve it. For example, Peter Mathiessen’s The Snow Leopard is a quest narrative, about his trip to the Himalayas, to see a rare snow leopard. He never in fact sees one of the animals, but through his journey there learns something important about himself. This is a kind of Zen ending to the quest narrative, but he certainly carried it off as The Snow Leopard won the National Book Award.

This is the kind of approach I take in my Seattle writing classes, Travel, Food and Wine writing classes, or online writing classes.

The Quest Narrative

A quest narrative is one of the oldest and surest ways of telling a story. The Odyssey is essentially a quest narrative, with Odysseus’s journey back to his wife and son serving as the basis for the quest. Since then there have been thousands of quest narratives written, including King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable, detective stories, Moby Dick, and many others. I’ll be teaching a writing class on the Quest Narrative today at the Write on the Sound Conference in Edmonds, WA. Please stop by to say hello!