Obituary Clichés: What to Say Instead

Obituary Clichés: What to Say Instead

A few years back, I wrote a magazine piece that the editor criticized for containing too many clichés. The new opening sentence in his edited version began with “Tall, leggy blondes…” Turns out it’s tough to write without using clichés—shopworn,...
Writing about Smells in an Obituary

Writing about Smells in an Obituary

Image credit Image courtesy of Aqua Mechanical, Orem, Utah. Licensed under Creative Commons. Steaming waffles. Dana Brown Safari coffee. Zest soap. Petunias. Cool, wet grass. Firewood. Those are some of the scents and smells I associate with my grandmother. If I were...
Do Obituary Templates Shortchange the Dead?

Do Obituary Templates Shortchange the Dead?

If the idea of filling in a few factoids is a lot more appealing to you than the prospect of starting an obituary from scratch, you’re in good company: According to Google Trends, the search term “obituary template” is way more popular than “obituary writing.” If your loved one had a generic personality and lived a cookie-cutter life, by all means—use a boilerplate template. It’ll capture your loved one’s uniqueness with all the joy of a 1040 form, minus the refund.

Toss the Template and Tell the Story

Toss the Template and Tell the Story

The narrative arc of a person’s life naturally moves from cradle to grave. We’re born, go to school, attend college or learn a trade. Most of us get married. Most of us get divorced. Most of us have children. Some join the military or open a business or...
Tragic Death and Obituary Writing

Tragic Death and Obituary Writing

This post first appeared on December 29, 2017, just after the Bronx apartment fire that killed 12 people. Since then, “Tragic Death and Obituary Writing” has become one of the most popular posts on this site. The year 2018 has given us senseless deaths in...
Making a Mountain Out of a Dime Bag

Making a Mountain Out of a Dime Bag

Last year Ryan Saffrhan was shot to death in New Orleans shortly after trying to sell a dime bag of marijuana in a sketchy part of town. The New Orleans Times-Picayune described the event in a hybrid piece that was part news story, part obituary. The paper quoted...
Sexism and Stroganoff

Sexism and Stroganoff

The 2013 New York Times obituary for Yvonne Brill, a rocket scientist, infamously opened with a description of her her housewifely charms: ”She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three...

Sample Barf Draft of an Obituary

Journalists use the term “barf draft” to mean a rough draft that’s written (or recorded and then transcribed) all at once, without stopping to think or correct yourself or look up missing information. Once you create a barf draft of an obituary, you...