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Short creative writing stories about journeys

Short creative writing stories about journeys

Short creative writing stories about discovery

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Short creative writing stories about belonging

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Creative writing short stories about love

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Creative writing stories about journeys

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Creative writing short story about war

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Creative Nonfiction: Writing about a Journey, Quest, Pilgrimage



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October 2012

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One way to write a personal narrative in creative nonfiction is to tell a story about a journey. All journeys have a starting point and destination. The journey usually begins with some question, which the central character desires to learn from the journey. Along the path, the character is a participant in a series of events, which impact his/her psyche. The character also faces setbacks and obstacles, encounters a crisis, participates in story that has climax, and ends with a resolution. The journey also provides the character with new insights or illuminations, which help to answer a nagging question. Often the central character experiences an epiphany or a lesson that you learned.

This is certainly true for the creative nonfiction book, ” Into the Wild,” a true story written by Jon Krakauer, about a young, idealistic man who abandons his possessions, gives away all of his $24,000 in a savings account, and then journeys across the United States, then to Alaska, where he dies by misadventure. It is a sad, true story of a journey about a naive man. Near death, dying from unintentional poisoning (He eat poison berries in an effort to prevent starvation), Christopher McCandless, the central character, realizes that “man cannot be an island unto himself.” Happiness must be shared.

Writing about a journey, a quest, or a pilgrimage is a popular form of creative nonfiction. Esteemed writer, E.B White, in his narrative a journey called “Walden”, shares a story about his trip to pay homage to Henry David Thoreau. (You can read it in Creative Nonfiction by Eileen Pollack) He writes about the trip by car, the surroundings at Walden pond, and personal reflections at Walden.

Author Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a bestselling book called “Eat, Pray, Love” in which she shares her journey to find herself after her marriage ends. She shares her reflections and describes the surroundings, adventures, new experiences, people she meets, cuisine, and culture while traveling to Italy, India, Indonesia.

Not only can a writer craft essays about a journey, the writer can also write entire books about a journey. Author Michael Krasny wrote about a spiritual quest in “Spiritual Envy: An Agnostic’s Quest.” Krasny narrates a life story about his struggles with faith, his ambivalence toward religious doctrine, and his desire to answer a variety of metaphysical questions, such as Does God exist?

In this article, I’ll explain how write a personal essay or literary journalism essay about a journey, quest, or pilgrimage from a creative nonfiction perspective. First, I’ll define the difference between a journey, quest, and pilgrimage. Then I’ll explain the elements of a story, followed by an explanation of the narrative arc or story structure. Finally, I’ll identify a few tools and tips for writing about a journey, quest, or narrative.


There are three ways to write about an adventure. First, you can write about a journey. A journey involves traveling to some place and experiencing some epiphany or a lesson that you learn.

Secondly, you can write about a quest. It is a journey in which you seek to find or discover something of value.

Finally, you can write about a pilgrimage. In this type of journey, you travel to some place to pay homage or show your respects to a religious place or religious person, or to uncover something of spiritual or moral significance.

A journey, quest, pilgrimage also includes setbacks and obstacles. For instance, if you are writing about a bike trip, you’d include the significant obstacles you faced, such as the horrendous traffic, rainy weather, bumpy roads. You’d also write about the setbacks you faced. Perhaps you got lost. Perhaps someone stole your wallet. Perhaps you fell off your bike and were injured. Perhaps you were forced to repair a flat tire in the rain.

A journey, quest, or pilgrimage also has a climax or turning point. For instance, the turning point in your bike trip could be achieving the destination and realizing you’d wasted your time. There is also a resolution to your journey. All unanswered questions are answered, and loose ends are tied up.

A journey, quest, or pilgrimage should also include some insight, illumination, or epiphany. Otherwise, readers will say to themselves: So what? What is the point of your story?

In Creative Nonfiction, author Eileen Pollack suggests that a journey, quest, or pilgrimage requires several elements:

  1. A question that the writer has a desire to answer
  2. A destination-where are you going?
  3. Motives for taking the journey.
  4. Observations and experiences as you journey
  5. Personal reflections, insights, illuminations, or an epiphany.

What is a Story?

Whether you are composing a narrative poem, short fiction, or some sort of journey based on real-life experience, the elements of a story are the same. A good story includes the following elements:

  • Central character or protagonist. If you are writing a journey about yourself, you are the protagonist. Every central character has desires, wants, needs, goals to achieve.
  • Conflict. The conflict can be within the character’s psyche or external, such as a conflict with another family member, a religious group, society.
  • Plot. All stories require a series of related events in which the central character participates. As the character moves forward, attempting to achieve a particular goal, want, need, a series of related events unfold.
  • Complication. A good story includes one or more setbacks or obstacles that prevent the central character from achieving a desired goal, need, want.
  • Resolution. A good story requires that all unanswered questions are answered, the conflict is resolved, some sort of epiphany or lesson that is learned from the journey.

And so, when you write about a journey, quest, or pilgrimage, make sure to include character, plot, conflict, complication, and a resolution.

Narrative Arc or Story Structure

How do you organize or structure your story about a journey, quest, pilgrimage? Use the fictional technique of a “narrative arc” to structure you adventure. Writer Jack Hart, author of “Story Craft”, explains the narrative arc in his chapter on “Structure.” This narrative arc has five phases:

  1. Exposition. It is the first phase of the story. The writer provides a backdrop to the story, such as the setting. He introduces the background details of the story, main character, and inciting incident that starts the character on a journey. Sometimes the writer begins with a crisis instead of the inciting incident.
  2. Rising Action. It is the second phase of the story. A series of related events unfold in which the central character is a participant. These related events create dramatic tension. Often there is mystery and suspense. As the character takes the journey, he experiences one or more setbacks or obstacles, which make it more difficult to complete the journey. Sometimes, the writer shares background information as one or more flashbacks.
  3. Crisis. It resolves the complication. It includes the event just before the climax. The crisis takes the story to its main event or climax. It is the point in the story in which everything hangs in the balance. For instance, suppose you are writing about a journey to take a trip. You are at the airport, experiencing conflict about whether to hop on the plane or remain behind. This conflict creates a crisis, whether to begin the journey or not.
  4. Climax. (resolution) It is the main event of the story, and turning point in the story. It is the event with the most tension and drama. It leads to a resolution of conflict and crisis.
  5. Falling action (denouncement) The pace of the story slows, the drama subsides, unanswered questions are answered. Often the writer shares an epiphany or lesson that he has learned from the journey. Sometimes, the writer ends with a quote or final point. The reader knows that the story has reached its end.

Other Techniques of Creative Nonfiction

Your personal narrative about a journey should be written in scenes, summary, and personal reflection. When writing about significant events, write in scenes. A scene shows the reader what happened. It includes action, dialogue, setting, characterization, point of view, imagery.

To explain, use summary. It tells the reader what happened. Your true story about a journey also requires personal reflections. How did you feel? What did you learn? What insights came to you about the people and surroundings and the experience?

Include intimate Details. These are images and ideas only you know. They are images and ideas that reveal a truth about a person, place, event. Readers will not be able to imagine them unless you share them in your writing. In short, you are writing about the intimate details that capture the essence of the story or heart of the story. Intimate details are those that readers will not imagine without you writing the details in your story.

Use the inner point of view. You share what you see, feel, experience as you take the journey, quest, or pilgrimage. If you are writing about your own journey, use the first person point of view (“I”). If you are writing about someone else, use the third-person point of view (“he/she”).

Also include concrete and specific description, poetic devices of simile, metaphor, imagery.

If you are writing about someone else, you’ll be required to conduct research, such as interviewing, immersion, and fact-collection from the Library or Internet.

Your journey requires a theme. What does this mean? You’ll have to determine the meaning of your journey, quest, pilgrimage, and share it with readers.

Tips for Writing about a Spiritual Quest, Journey, Pilgrimage

Here are a few tips for writing about a journey, quest, or pilgrimage:

  1. Avoid using clichés and jargon. Write with fresh and original language.
  2. Begin with a question you want to answer, then take a journey to answer your question.
  3. Engage the reader by telling a true story or narrative about a spiritual journey, quest, pilgrimage. A story includes a beginning, middle, and end. A narrative includes elements of an inciting incident, setbacks or obstacles, climax or turning point, resolution, some insight or epiphany, a universal truth about the human condition.
  4. The best way to structure your story is to use the narrative arc. A story begins with an inciting incident, includes a personal motivation or desire to achieve some purpose, requires setbacks or obstacles, has a climax, turning point, and insight, lesson learned, or epiphany.
  5. Don’t proselytize, which means to attempt to convert others to your religious views and beliefs.
  6. Write with the purpose of informing, educating, entertaining the reader.
  7. Use both scene and summary. Craft scenes when writing about setbacks or obstacles and a climax. A scenes is like a scene in a movie. It includes setting (time, place, social context), dramatic action (something happens), dialogue (spoken words of significant people), intimate details (including details that the reader would not be able to visualize or expect to imagine), inner point of view( experiencing the word through the eyes of the person you are writing about) Use summary to explain, to condense, to compress. Summary means “to tell” or “to explain.”
  8. Use personal reflection-share your emotional truth. Share how the spiritual journey felt to you.
  9. Avoid self-centred writing, focusing on yourself. Unless you’re writing in a personal journal, creative nonfiction writing must be an unselfish activity. Otherwise, readers will stop reading. And so, seek to engage readers with the outside world—the journey itself, the quest itself, the pilgrimage itself.
  10. If you are serious about writing about a spiritual journey, read “Spiritual Envy: An Agnostics Quest by Michael Krasny.” His book illustrates how to write about the spiritual from a creative nonfiction perspective—with scene, summary, personal reflection. His memoir is a personal and philosophical journey in search of God, in search of spiritual meaning and purpose, in search of faith, religion, spirituality, supreme being he could believe in.

In writing about a journey, quest, pilgrimage, always keep in mind that you are telling a true story. As well, you purpose is to inform and educate readers about the journey itself. You must entertain your readers by using the fictional techniques of storytelling, such as character development, narrative, setting, and use poetic devices, such as simile and metaphor. You`ll also create scene, summary, and share personal reflection. Structure your story as a narrative arc. The journey, quest, pilgrimage should end with an epiphany or lesson learned.


For additional information on writing a personal narrative about a journey, read the following:

Short Stories About Journeys or Quests: Travel by Train, Bus, Car & More

In an effort to improve their town, the citizens of Poker Flat expel a group of undesirables from their midst. They set out for the next settlement, making a difficult mountain journey. On the way, they meet up with a couple headed for Poker Flat, who share some provisions and direct them to a cabin to rest.

“At the Fall” by Alec Nevala-Lee

Eunice, a robotic hexapod, is deep under water along with her toroid companion, Wagner. They discover a fallen gray whale. They use it to recharge. Eunice was part of a five member crew that were mapping, analyzing and observing the underwater ecosystem and bringing their data to the surface. Now they’re on a dangerous journey.

This story can be read in the preview of The Year’s Top Hard Science Fiction Stories 4. (46% into preview)

“Precious Cargo” by C. H. Hung

The USS Marilyn Barton is a bioship, carrying a large human delegation. One of Marilyn’s rooms is sagging and has turned a sickly yellow. Doctor Thrasher is working to fix the problem. The life of the ship and the passengers are at risk. Normally, a bioship knows what is wrong with it, but the deterioration happened too quickly in this case. Marilyn needs to be healthy enough to get everyone to Aurigae Prime.

This story can be read in the preview of Beyond the Stars: Infinite Expanse. (23% into preview)

A Forward Movement | Louisa May Alcott

Miss Tribulation’s quest to become an army nurse continues as she boards a night-train in New York. Afterward, she reaches a boat in New London. She relates her interactions with other passengers and the difficulties of the trip.

This story can be read in the preview of 100 Great American Short Stories. (25% into preview)

“Man and Woman” by Erskine Caldwell

A dejected and exhausted man and woman are walking at dawn. When they see a farmhouse in the distance, Ruth believes they’ll be able to get something to eat there.

This story can be read in the preview of The Stories of Erskine Caldwell. (29% into preview)

“The Walk Up Nameless Ridge” by Hugh Howey

Over sixty thousand feet up Mount Mallory on the planet Eno, one of the three climbing teams rests. The narrator is ashamed to admit he doesn’t want either of the other teams to make it. He wants the glory of being the first to summit this mountain. Governments and alpine clubs gave up conquering it long ago. Now, individuals who have climbed the highest peaks on their own worlds try to immortalize themselves on Mount Mallory.

This story can be read in the preview of Machine Learning: New and Collected Stories. (30% in)

Paul’s Case | Willa Cather

Paul gets suspended from his Pittsburgh High School. His father wants him to be a responsible wage-earning family man when he grows up, but Paul is drawn to a life of wealth and glamour, so he decides to go to New York.

Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry | Elizabeth McCracken

Aunt Helen Beck, a woman in her eighties, outspoken and eccentric, travels around to all her relative’s homes to stay for a while.

The Train | Flannery O’Connor

Haze, nineteen, is travelling by train to Taulkinham. The porter reminds him strongly of a man he used to know; he might even be the man’s son. He tries to find a way to talk to him.

Falling in Love | Sandra Birdsell

Lureen’s boyfriend leaves her as he’s done several times before. She tries to go back to her family by bus, but misses her connection, and has to walk thirty miles in the heat.

A Worn Path | Eudora Welty

An elderly African-American woman, Phoenix Jackson, walks through the Mississippi forest to get into town. She encounters many obstacles along the way.

Blue Winds Dancing | Tom Whitecloud

A young Indian-American man, lonely and disillusioned with school, leaves for home to be with his own people again.

The Swimmer | John Cheever

While relaxing at a friend’s pool, an affluent man decides to make his way home by swimming the length of the pools in his neighborhood.

The Furnished Room | O. Henry

A young man searches boarding houses looking for the woman he loves, a small-town girl trying to break in to show business.

Greyhound People | Alice Adams

The narrator boards a greyhound express bus to San Francisco with the feeling that she’s in the wrong place. On the way, a man angrily demands her seat, a woman tells a boy to be quiet and the boy’s mother confronts her, she listens to conversations, and has other interactions.

The Ultimate Safari | Nadine Gordimer

The narrator, a young girl, tells us that her mother and father left one day and never came back. Her village has been targeted by bandits who have taken everything. Fearing for their lives, the girl and her extended family set out on a long and difficult trek through South Africa to a refugee camp.

What I Have Been Doing Lately | Jamaica Kincaid

An unidentified and unnamed narrator answers the door but doesn’t find anyone there. After having a look around, the narrator goes on a dreamlike walk.

The Artificial N!*ger | Flannery O’Connor

Mr. Head takes his ten-year-old grandson, Nelson, on a train trip into the city. He wants to teach Nelson that the city isn’t a great place, so he will be content to live his life in the country.

Stalking | Joyce Carol Oates

A thirteen-year-old girl, Gretchen, is pursuing her Invisible Adversary through the suburbs. She follows it through fields and across roads, and eventually into a shopping center.

Tears of Autumn | Yoshiko Uchida

Hana Omiya is on a ship going from Japan to the United States. She is seasick and nervous; she has some regret about the trip. She’s going to America to marry a man she has never met.

The Ugliest Pilgrim | Doris Betts

Violet Karl is traveling to Tulsa, Oklahoma to get healed by a televangelist—she was struck by an axe head as a child which disfigured her face. As she travels by bus, she meets several people who react to her in different ways.

The Facts of Life | Somerset Maugham

Nicky Garnet is a well liked young man who’s never given his parents any trouble. An opportunity arises for him to play in a tennis tournament in Monte Carlo. Nicky’s father doesn’t want him to go unsupervised.

The Hiltons’ Holiday | Sarah Orne Jewett

After a long day of hard work, John Hilton talks to his wife about their lives and daughters. He has the idea of taking his daughters on a small trip so they can see the world off the farm.

The Blue Jar | Isak Dinesen

A rich Englishman who only cares about collecting rare China is sailing with his daughter when the ship catches fire. His daughter is left behind in the confusion. She is rescued by a young sailor, and they float in the lifeboat for nine days before being picked up.

By the Waters of Babylon | Stephen Vincent Benet

The narrator, a young man, is the son of a priest, and will one day be a priest himself. The people are forbidden to go east to the Dead Places, or to cross the river to the Place of the Gods, except for a priest. There is another more primitive group called the Forest People. He sets out to the east on a journey.

The Sun-Dog Trail | Jack London

Sitka Charley is relaxing after a day on the Alaskan trail. He and the narrator start talking about a painting, which reminds Sitka of an arduous journey he once made. When he was a letter carrier on Lake Linderman, a young woman hired him to take her to Dawson. Then she hires him to travel with her. She is desperately looking for something but doesn’t tell him what.

The Other Side of the Hedge | E. M. Forster

A man stops to rest on the side of the road. He is passed by some people, and also thinks of his brother whom he left behind. He notices a small opening in the hedge that lines the road. He pushes his way through it.

Wild Honey | Horacio Quiroga

Gabriel Benincasa, an accountant, feels a need to leave city life for a while to test himself in the jungle. His godfather warns him that he won’t last in the jungle and tries to look out for him.

The Town of Cats | Hagiwara Sakutaro

The narrator used to take many drug-induced voyages. They had a bad effect on his health. He starts taking long walks, ending up in an unfamiliar, charming town. He relates one such walk he took while staying at a resort.

Identities | W. D. Valgardson

Moved by childhood memories, a man leaves his own affluent neighborhood and goes exploring. He ends up in a seedy area. He can’t blend in because he’s driving a Mercedes.

The Greatest Thing in the World | Norman Mailer

Al Groot, a young adult, enters a lunch wagon and tries to get a deal on a doughnut and coffee. He has been walking and hitch-hiking, trying to get to Chicago. When three men come in for a meal, Al tries to get a ride with them.

The Wisdom of the Trail | Jack London

Sitka Charley is an Indian who has left his own people to learn the white man’s sense of honor and the law. He’s a member of a traveling party led by Captain Effingwell. Only Sitka and the Captain are armed. Sitka warns two other Indians with their crew to carry out their duties properly.

Bitter Grounds | Neil Gaiman

The narrator is dead in every way that counts. He starts driving. He throws away his cell phone and withdraws all the money he can. After staying over at a motel, he meets a man in the lobby who’s waiting for a cab. He offers the man a ride.

The White Silence | Jack London

Mason, Ruth (his wife), and the Malamute Kid are on the Yukon trail, low on food, with a long trip in front of them. They know they will have to eat some of the dogs. They reach a high bank that proves difficult for the weakened dogs to climb.

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains | Neil Gaiman

The narrator, an unusually small man, is looking for a cave on the Misty Isle. He wants to hire Calum MacInnes as a guide. MacInnes is reluctant to go because of the legends about those who take gold from the cave. It is a long journey.

Passage | Kevin Jared Hosein

The narrator was drinking at a pub, The Tricky Jester. One of the regulars, Stew, told a story of when he hiked El Tucuche. He claims to have come across a house in the middle of the mountain, and to have seen a young woman there. The narrator works for the Forestry Division, and knows the wilderness well. He has doubts about Stew’s story. He decides to check for himself.

The Road from Colonus | E. M. Forster

Mr. Lucas is getting old—slowing down and losing interest in things. A forty year dream of his has been to go to Greece, and now he’s there. While traveling with his party on muleback, he pulls ahead of them and arrives at a small inn. It’s surrounded by plane trees, including one that is hollowed out and hanging over it, with water flowing from it. Mr. Lucas is struck by the scene.

Rock Springs | Richard Ford

Earl is getting out of Montana—he’s had trouble with the law and with women. He leaves in a stolen car with his girlfriend, Edna, and his daughter, Cheryl. He hopes for a new start, but he seems to attract trouble.