Melissa Jayne Kinsey
This book is for the obituary writer who wants to capture a loved one's spirit in a tribute as unique and funny and marvelous as the person him- or herself. It's also for those who'd rather not leave their own obituaries to chance. I've tossed out those dull newspaper templates and replaced them with a fresh, modern take on the obituary. Using examples from the best online tributes, I explain step by step how to preserve the memory of your loved one's life in all its magnificent imperfection. I also show you how to get past that blank screen or page and choose stories and details that add texture and nuance to your portrait in just a few words. The result is an obituary that's polished but real—a colorful, captivating remembrance that does justice to the remarkable person you loved.
A handy guide that demystifies the challenging art of modern obituary writing.
Most people are familiar with the boilerplate newspaper obit, but some may wonder: do we really need to keep writing them in the modern era? “The web has obliterated space limitations and media restrictions,” writes the author in her introduction, “yet obituary writers are urged to follow the same shopworn templates folks used 30 years ago.” The past few decades have seen great shifts toward secularism, confessionalism, and online social interactions. Kinsey, a longtime professional editor and writer, argues that contemporary obituaries should accommodate this evolution in order to properly celebrate the recently deceased. Her debut book is intended as a beginner’s guide to obit writing, offering not only tips on the writing process, but also an expanded notion of what an obituary can be. Modern obits, she says, must celebrate the deceased’s individuality and humanity—even if that means recognizing some flaws—with photos, videos, voice recordings, music, and other media in addition to simple prose. Kinsey tackles such topics as collaborating on an obituary (or writing one’s own), figuring out a subject’s essential qualities, choosing a digital platform, and even photo and video editing techniques. Citing real obituaries as examples, the author takes readers through the myriad options for making sure that an “obituee” doesn’t become a mere name on a piece of paper. The author writes in a colorful, cajoling prose that keeps things light with numerous jokes and asides: “On my very first report card, the teacher wrote ‘Easily distracted.’ What do people remember about your obituee’s habits and behavior?” She also peppers the text with quotes from famous authors and experienced obituary writers. Most illuminating are the excerpts from dozens of real obituaries, which Kinsey highlights to demonstrate successful uses of place and nostalgia and other elements of a thoughtful, balanced remembrance. In more than 150 pages, Kinsey approaches this art from every angle, and although she advocates for highly personalized obituaries, her book works well as a catchall guide to the form.
A thorough, accessible obit-creation manual.
From the Author
When my father died in 2014, I volunteered to write the obituary. No sweat. After all, I'd been a writer and editor for 20+ years. But it was trickier than I thought. Where to begin? Which stories and details would set apart my dad's obit from tributes to other beloved fathers, grandfathers, and military veterans? My Google searches for tips on obituary writing turned up only predictable suggestions: be brief, pound out a string of clichés, add a superfluous list of survivors, and toss in a few harps and angels. The resulting death notice is so bland, it could pass for a LinkedIn profile. My dad deserved more than that—doesn't everyone? Casting about for direction but finding little, I applied what I knew of writing in general and tried to tell his extraordinary story. When I was finished, I resolved to help others who want to remember their loved ones (or write their own obituaries) with warmth, authenticity, and a bit of chutzpah.
About the Author
Melissa Jayne Kinsey has been an editor and writer for McGraw-Hill, Elsevier,Prentice-Hall, and other medical and healthcare publishers. She's a contributor to Slate.com, and her writing has been featured in Fast Company, funeralOne, Midwest Flyer, and elsewhere. Contact her at melissa@HowtoWriteanOnlineObit.com.