Reading Obituaries for Character Development

One of the things I was thrilled to have again now we’re back in Texas is home delivery of the Sunday newspaper. I really missed my Sunday funnies.

And the obituaries. Often the newspaper where we previously lived didn’t even have an obituary section.

Yes, I read the obituaries. I also make a habit of stopping at cemeteries to walk around and read epitaphs on tombstones.

Morbid? Not really. There’s so much to learn from gravestones and obituaries.

All the years of a person’s life are summarized in a few short paragraphs or, in the case of epitaphs, there’s only a line or two. Some obits tell of lives well lived or a life taken too soon, long fruitful lives and sudden loss.

But obituaries are not only a notice of a death; they are great sources of what a life was about.

Some stories tell sobering tales. Some describe ordinary lives with important or interesting jobs. Others tell of mundane or grueling work.

I find descriptions of odd achievements or wild adventures and quirky lives. Still others reveal lives of generosity with time and money.

I’m partial to the photographs. Looking into a face tells a story too. Even the choice of which picture to use can reveal much. Why did the family choose a picture of a much younger grandparent or a photo in uniform when a veteran passes?

Sometimes an obituary reveals a person was far more than who and what we see. Recently, the obituary of an acquaintance told of wide interests about which I knew nothing.

Reading obituaries (and tombstone epithets) makes me appreciate the gift of life more.

They are a stark reminder that life does not go on forever and can serve as a reminder that perhaps I should be more grateful for family and friends.

Obituaries and epithets can be a great writer resource, too.

Full story plots can spring forth along with ideas for character names, backstory, life experiences, and relationships between characters. Even the listing of birthplaces and burial sites gives ideas for setting locations.

Reading obituaries also reminds me that someday my smiling face will appear with a few inches summing up my life. Maybe, to be on the safe side, I should pen my own.

Writing your own obituary to spare your loved ones the task is a trend these days, you know.

What about you? Do you read obituaries only when you hear that someone you know has died, regularly, or not at all? If you never read them, why not?

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