September 10, 2018 Beyond The Dash

How to Write a Creative Obituary that Stands Out

Writing tips for crafting a captivating obituary

How to Write a Creative Obituary that Stands Out
An obituary doesn't just have to be a list of family members and biographical milestones. Your loved one's story is their achievements, passions, dreams and quirks. Tell the real story. (Shutterstock)

Creative obituaries are becoming more mainstream. As modern values shift, so do our attitudes when handling end-of-life arrangements and memorialization of a loved ones. As our society increasingly favors individuality over conformity, life stories that reject the boilerplate style of traditional obituaries are becoming a trend. 

The signs of a creative obituary

A creative obituary tells a life story artfully. Though the medium is the same, the style and format usually deviates from a standard obituary significantly. Instead of listing factual details about the deceased's history, a creative obituary tells a story. 

Creative obituaries:

  • Take a position

A memorable story has a message. There are many ways to make a point in an obituary—and a strong one at that. Because this is the final record of someone's life, an obituary has the power to deliver tough messages. From encouraging readers not to smoke, to spend more time with loved ones, or laugh more often, there's a way to send a message to those who still have lives to live on earth. Brutally honest obituaries also go viral once in awhile, and usually expose the stories of people who left a bad impression on their survivors.

  • Recount a narrative

Storytelling is a strong way to send a message at the end of a life. However, many obituaries don't tell stories in ways that are engaging, interesting or unique. While a traditional obituary is a lovely way to pay tribute to someone while also simultaneously announcing a death, it won't usually delve into the special, simple moments that made up the deceased person's life. 

  • Employ literary devices

What often sets creative writing apart from factual record-keeping is the use of writing techniques and styles that enhance the story. Metaphors, humor, flashbacks, narrative framework and plot are all devices that can be used to tell a story that packs a harder punch. Though this kind of writing isn't often seen in the Obituaries section of your local newspaper, using elevated language to tell a life story can really help an obituary stand out. 

  • Are well written

Memorable obituaries don't have to be word-perfect in order to captivate readers—but it does help! Nobody should avoid publishing a tribute to their deceased loved one for fear of not writing well enough. If lack of writing confidence is an issue, consider hiring a professional obituary writer to help your family craft an obituary that does the life of your loved one justice. 

  • Give readers a reason to care

There are many ways to reach readers through relatable, meaningful content. People reading newspaper obituaries are looking for familiar faces and lessons. Searching for personal meaning is why passing down old stories of those who have passed continues to be important with each passing generation. 

Traditionally essential milestones like marriage are important to mention, but a standout obituary expands upon these moments with descriptions that show readers what happened, rather than tell them.  

  • Teach readers something about death

Did your loved one ever comment on the nature of life and death? Did they fear God, and faithfully follow a code of religious ethics? Did they joke about dying? Did they have any final instructions for those left to mourn?

Some of the best obituaries share the deceased person's ideas of death with the world. Reflection on mortality—be it serious or flippant—make for a great obituary story. Readers who can glean the deceased person's stance on life and death will finish the story with a greater sense of satisfaction. Mentioning their perspective on death offers readers a satisfying conclusion to the story, and allow them to feel more at peace with the loss. 

  • Play with non-linear timelines

Obituaries usually don't stray too far from chronological storytelling; that is, they start with the announcement of the death, tell the basic life story from birth to death and end with funeral arrangements. This isn't the only way to tell a life story, and deviating from this format signals to readers that this obituary is different from others in the newspaper. 

If you're interested in trying non-linear timelines, link the story together with ideas or themes. Did something significant happen when your loved one was young that influenced the course of their life? Explore that in its own section. For some people, milestones like career achievements, marriage and having children are the most important moments to include in the obituary. For others it was a favorite car, important life lesson or special moment. Carefully choose the moments that will show your loved one's unique character to mourners and strangers alike.

Authentic stories teach lessons about life

For some, the standard obituary is a fitting tribute to the life of a loved one. Folks who prefer to keep their personal lives close to the vest might prefer a conservative obituary, detailing their birth, death, marriage, children, survivors and funeral arrangements.

More and more, people are turning to obituaries to tell life stories, rather than simply announce deaths. When people reach their golden years, their story may be more for their survivors than peers who may have predeceased them. Additionally, families are questioning the value of a brief bio and list of survivors when these details don't genuinely portray the life of the person who has passed. 

Create an Obituary

How you treat your loved one's life story should echo their values and your memory. By using some of the techniques mentioned above, you can elevate the life story of your loved one to be meaningful for mourners, as well as casual readers of the obituaries section. 

Your loved one had a remarkable life. Tell their story, and we’ll publish it online for free.

After creating an online memorial, you can also publish in print in any of over 6,000 newspapers across North America.

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