Homer
Homer, a painting by Auguste Leloir. Credits Wikipedia Commons.

Soft as some song divine, thy story flows.
~ Homer, The Odyssey (bk. XII, l. 566)

Few things are as special and satisfying as a good story. The emotions and feelings you get out of it are quite like nothing else. A story, if well told, can lift you up and transport you to distant lands, distant worlds and even distant times. They’re little escapes from our stressful, quotidian lives, without which we’d simply be hollow. That’s why we can’t really live without stories.

Stories have been part of our lives since the dawn of man. Our forefathers used to gather in groups, around huge campfires in caves, and tell tales of great hunters and animals. A simple look at the graffiti work in the Normandy ancient caves can attest the fact. This continues to present day. We always seek the need to listen to stories, in all forms, be it oral (chats with best mates), written (books, magazines) or visual (movies, shows). However, we also feel the need to share. I think each of us can relate to something that just happened to us, that we’re just dying to tell somebody about. This is the stuff that actually made blogs come to be, the desire to let things out, to voice their deepest emotions/experiences and to, most importantly, to share stories.

However, I feel like the storytelling element in blogs is growing ever thin, with more and more blogs going on a more blunt approach, way too direct and to the point. I read a lot of marketing and tech blogs, and while they’re very good, they don’t really have substance; they all feel somewhat the same. I’ve noticed the same thing in most niches, too. Personal blogs seems to be the only category where bloggers still post in pleasant, story narrative-like environment, and, frankly, that’s really a great pity, because most bloggers don’t know what they’re missing out. People are too busy, they don’t have time for nonsense, they argue. How true that may be, people still enjoy a good story once in a while when reading a blog, even in the most boring of niches.

What We Can Learn From Homer

Hector in the movie Troy
Hector in the movie Troy (2004). Credits I Speak Film

Homer was a Greek poet and one of the most illuminated minds to have ever graced the Earth, but above all he was a great storyteller. His greatest works, masterpieces Iliad and The Odyssey, still manage to fascinate and baffle its readers to this very day, 3000 years after Homer wrote them! Reading Homer, it feels like you’re right there next to Achilles in the mist of battle, alongside Hector defending the gates of Troy or even ramming for Odysseus on our epic journey back to Greece. Undoubtedly, Homer is a master of the art of storytelling and there’s a lot we can learn from him, especially as bloggers.

  1. Be captivating. Everybody hates a boring story. As a blogger, or, if you will, a writer, what you want to do is compel your reader to savor every word you ‘spit out’ and never stop reading your article until he hits the bottom of it. Boredom and unnecessary information are a blogger’s greatest enemies in this situation. Homer said it pretty well actually, “And what so tedious as a twice-told tale.” To achieve this you simply have to be interesting. You don’t have to write the next Iliad, you just need to put it in the right form.
  2. Circularity. What I love about Homer’s books is that I feel like everything is connected there. The events, the characters, the locations; all are connected. Let’s take a look at Achilles, the most beloved character of the Iliad. In battle, he was considered to be invincible; no man could come close in defeating him, however, he had one weak spot: his heel (hence the “Achilles heel” expression when vulnerability is put into context). A well placed arrow by Paris hit Achilles’ heel and the latter fell instantly, dead. If you know your ancient Greek mythology well, you’d know that, as a baby boy, Achilles was bathed in the river Styx by his mother, from which he drew his invulnerability, however, during the bathing he was hold by his heel, and, thus, that portion of his body was left untouched by the soothing waters. More or less, blogging is connected to everything around us as well. You can easily reference details of your posts and interlink with other similar work, so that you can build an easy to read, enjoyable and complete article. But this is circularity in blogging at a superficial level; circularity in blogging, at a deeper level, can be experienced when the blogger, the text, his readers and other bloggers are put together.
  3. Put things into context. A good story can pop-up in the most unexpected places, sometimes these are quite the most fulfilling ones, however, maybe it’s for the best you limit yourself to writing things in the same field. For example, if you’re writing a blog post on “5 of the most beautiful mountains,” you could include a few words about one of your trips on one of the mountains. It definitely make your text more compelling and will add some flavor to it. Actually, the easiest way you can make a usual, blunt post into a story, is through examples. Examples are invaluable in tutorials or guide works, because they help a great deal in the overall understanding of the text by the reader. So if you’re in the habit of writing these kinds of posts, don’t forget to provide some real life applications.
  4. Allegories. Homer used a lot of allegories in his work, very subtlety if may add, coffering new meanings to the seemingly obvious events. Locations, characters and other narrative elements from his story were all given a special meaning, either throw the actual events or even names. Homer used allegories as a tool to present a story that serves another purpose, with a separate meaning. If you’re trying to write intelligent, subtle material about something without effectively mentioning it, allegory, next to irony, could become your best friends.
  5. The People. In his works, Homer usually writes about myths in which various people are put in extraordinary situations, from which they heroically come out victorious or tragically defeated. To me, the greatest lesson that he thought me was how limited both men and gods are. Of course, their abilities are remarkable, out of this world, but in the end they were all vulnerable beings and this humanized them. This was a great treat, because every reader could identify with one or more characters from Homer’s work. Strong as Hector, skilled as Achilles, beautiful as Helen, cunning like Agamemnon and so on. As long as you put an emphatic element in your story, you’re just one step away from making a good story.
  6. Inductive Writing. This is an ever-present element in Homer’s chapters, although not at all as obvious, as you might find in fables for example. In a nutshell inductive writing is the process in which the writer or storyteller relates a certain experience and at the end he shares a conclusion or a few words of wisdom to the reader, who’s been patient enough to wait through the whole thing. If we were to translate this into blogging, it would simply mean that at the end of a particular posts it’s well sought if you’d also write-up a summary of the article. What we’ve talked about, what we’ve learned, what we can learn in the future and so on. Again, if you’re trying to teach something, this is highly recommended. Repetition and recapitulation is the forefront of methodical learning.
  7. Amplification. When writing non-fictional work, relating real life experiences things can tend to get a bit, let’s say, boring. For your post to become captivating, what you need to do is minimize unnecessary details and amplify the most important elements that emphasizes your post’s main idea. Don’t confuse this with exaggeration and lying, though.
  8. Enigmatic endings. A few points above I talked about the inductive writing, in which the prolog and epilogue are closely tied together, however, because his poems are so long, chapters end in different ways, often shocking with dramatic turns of events. As a blogger if you continue to write the same kind of posts, your loyal visitors, that read every post you churn out in their Google reader, you have to sometimes flip the side and exit your monotonous writing habits. Now, what you can do is either end your posts in a unexpected manner, which is fairly difficult, after all you’re writing simple blog posts, not novels… or you can leave your readers decide the ending for you, by leaving room for reader engagement. An open ending to a post always brings out the most comments and the discussions sparked often can prove to be more valuable and information-packed then the article itself.
  9. Memorability. The Iliad and The Odyssey, Homer’s epic two sister poems, are arguably or not two of the most beautiful stories ever told, overcoming all tests of quality, even the hardest of all tests: time. What made the books so good was simply it’s remarkable, well written and well told stories, detaining the contents of a fantastic world. To sum up the main idea behind this as shortly as possible, bloggers should learn that, if they want to make a difference in the blogosphere or the entire world for that matter (why limit yourself, right?) they have to be memorable, by being remarkable.

Adapting Homeric Storytelling to Modern Day Blogging

Trojan Horse
The infamous Trojan Horse, a weapon of destruction wrapped up as a gift. Credits Todd S. Klassy

Without a doubt, Homer was one of the greatest storytellers to have lived, but if he were to be living in present day, how would his blog look like? I’m sure he would’ve been a terrific blogger, if it weren’t for little things like…time. Anyway, let’s have a look at a few things Homer would’ve probably applied, if he was a blogger.

  • Reader engagement. His writing is terribly emphatic and emotive, fact that made readers feel in the mist of the story; the mark of a true storyteller. However, there was no way for him to get in touch with his “fans.” No means of interaction whatsoever, and from this point of view he was severly limited. Thanks to the 21st century’s greatest marvel so far, the internet, any man can now share his ideas, thoughts, feelings, stories, and get instant feedback on his work, instantly. What bloggers, today, can do surpasses any author/reader relationship in the history of writing. Readers can comment a piece, share their thoughts with the blogger and other fellow readers and give suggestions, while the blogger on the other can respond as well though commenting, ask questions through posts, organize group projects, make polls, virtually a bundle of stuff Homer himself would’ve proud to have.
  • Moving beyond words. Words aren’t the only way to tell a story, actually the more channels a story is propagated on, the greater its reach will be. Bloggers have a fast array of tools to permit them to share stories with ease, beyond written words. Rapidly growing phenomenons like podcasts and video-blogs are a perfect way of getting your story out, as a good alternative to written text, and every blogger should at least try them out every once every once in while.
  • Crafting its form. A blogger can complete a story on all possible channel. Besides, obviously, writing it, he can add photos, sound, video and by doing so, surrounded by a beautiful blog design, he provides a whole different level of reader experience. Imagine living through a story by reading it on a book and then watching the movie made after it. Obviously, you’ll both have a better understanding of the story, as well as more elaborated experience. Similar practices are made by bloggers all around the world. For example you can write-up post about something that’s relevant to you, whatever, and then make a podcast on the same subject were you discuss the same stuff you approached in written form, but this time you can also take reader questions and have live engagements with the readers (if you’re a fan of live podcast). This works especially good with reviews, where bloggers post their ideas about a book, record or movie and then upload a video version of the review, to add further depth to the critique. A blog that does this exteremly well is themovieblog.com, a personal favorite.
  • Promotion. In ancient times the only way to narrate a story was through oral form. Few people knew how to read or write, and thus the only a story could be perpetuated and, ultimately, preserved was through oral narrations, or what marketers would call today word-of-mouth. Homers works were truly remarkable, but very difficult as well. It’s amazing when you think about it how spokesmen would memorize hundreds of pages, so that the story could be shared and live on in the hearts of fellow men for thousands of years. Bloggers have no such troubles. With so many means of promotion, today, it’s now fairly easy to get something, even remotely interesting, out. You’ve got forums, social media, word-of-mouth, even other blogs. The possibilities to promote your blogs are highly multiple, you only need a solid based of content.

[digg-reddit-me]Storytelling has been one of the basis of human entertainment, learning and knowledge since the beginning of articulate speech, so, evidently, it has become a part a important part of our lives. Why not make it a part of our virtual lives as well? Part of our most sacred online possessions, our blogs. Whether or not blogging is the next level of storytelling in the 21 century is a hard question to put, but without a doubt, when used properly, storytelling can spark up the most beautiful, enjoyable blog posts. It’s the secret sauce of blogging, if you will. Anyway, go now! Write a story, capture a moment in time and start a fruitful conversation.

Thoughts? Ideas? Anything? I’ll be glad to hear and comment your reactions alongside you.

Oh, and if you enjoyed this article, then please consider stumbling, digging or even saving this little post to your del.icio.us account. Lets make this story big! Thank you, again!

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