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How to Write Your Own Personal Odyssey


Homer’s Greek epic poem “The Odyssey” pitted its hero Odysseus against great and strange obstacles on his return home from the Trojan War. The title itself has become a commonplace word synonymous with any journey. By following Homer’s narrative structure and by substituting events in “The Odyssey” with experiences from your own life, you can write your own epic and transform yourself into a hero.

Creating Voice and Format

Write your epic as you would any story. To allow your voice to emerge, write naturally and plainly. Identify your tone early on, whether tragic or comic. Use concrete details when describing personal events. The length of your odyssey will depend on how much of the source material you use. For example, students of Wenatchee High School in Washington State are expected to produce at least 12 pages for their personal odyssey, including narrative text, illustrations and a map. Alternatively, your odyssey may be a novel.

Defining Your Destination

Homer’s epic revolves around the central goal of Odysseus -- to return to his home of Ithaca and his wife Penelope. Every significant event in the narrative prevents Odysseus from achieving this goal. To parallel this structure, define the goal of your odyssey from the onset. Maybe your Ithaca is your childhood home or that trip to Paris you really want to take. It can be a literal place or a metaphoric one representing an intangible goal, such as happiness. Envision your goal as a polestar, toward which your narrative always moves. Everything that happens comes between you and this goal.

Battling the Cyclops

In “The Odyssey,” the Cyclops is a cruel, one-eyed giant who devours Odysseus’s men and imprisons the hero in a cave. Through strength and cunning, Odysseus escapes, though the Cyclops later appeals to his father Poseidon to punish the hero. For your odyssey, think of a great and brutal obstacle: a monstrous boss who won’t give you a promotion or even your own inner critic -- the gargantuan bully of self-doubt. Whatever your Cyclops, be descriptive in chronicling its defeat. For example, you might write, "My one-minded boss staggered back when I told him I was quitting, my letter of resignation the final blow that rendered him speechless." Also explain how your Cyclops might cause further complications later in the journey, in the same way the creature sought revenge against Odysseus.

Resisting the Sirens

The Sirens of the “Odyssey” are beautiful singing creatures that lured sailors to their doom on the rocks. The Sirens represent temptation. Identify a major temptation in your odyssey, something dangerous and irresistible that, if not avoided, will lead to your demise. Your sirens could be certain friends who are a bad influence and draw you away from your goal. If you’re writing a humorous odyssey, your sirens could be delicious yet harmful items in your diet, pizza and beer perhaps, which cause you to gain weight. Describe how you beat temptation. For instance, regarding pizza, you might write, "Though the yeasty smell of the dough and the savory smell of the sausage made my whole body quiver with hunger, I rose resolutely from the table, told my dining partners I would not wreck my diet, and hurried to the fridge to retrieve my tofu salad." This example, though humorous, demonstrates how epic struggles in your odyssey can be applied to your personal struggles in everyday life.

Reaching Your Goal

At the end of “The Odyssey,” after returning to Ithaca, Odysseus is able to outsmart and defeat the many suitors trying to replace him and steal his wife. In a similar fashion, describe that last-ditch effort needed to secure your goal. Your goal is in sight, but there is one last challenge you must overcome. Maybe it’s something or someone you didn’t expect at the finish line. Describe your final burst of determination and any feelings of personal triumph. Thus your epic will come to a close.

About the Author

Scott Neuffer is an award-winning journalist and writer who lives in Nevada. He holds a bachelor's degree in English and spent five years as an education and business reporter for Sierra Nevada Media Group. His first collection of short stories, "Scars of the New Order," was published in 2014.

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