Home / Writing – Use Obituaries for Developing Your Characters

Writing – Use Obituaries for Developing Your Characters

Obituaries can be an endless source of inspiration and ideas for developing new fiction characters or putting a polish on the already developed ones. Besides, I always find it interesting to read the life stories of people I’ve never met; people who have led interesting lives and did their own thing. Usually I am humbled when I compare the accomplishments of these departed souls with mine.

Let’s for example have a look at today’s Obits from my local paper… so many interesting names that I could’ve never come up on my own.

“Missouri,” for example. Do you know anyone named “Missouri”? I don’t. But what a lovely name for a hero or heroine. Just the name itself takes me to different worlds and possibilities…

What kind of a guy “Missouri” would be? Would their friends call him “Misso” like the soup? Why did their parents name him as such? Did they live in Carribou, Maine but the father was originally from Missouri (and was he wanted by the law?) and he missed his home state so much that he called his son “Missouri”?

“Lacuila” is another lovely name that I came across in today’s obits. What kind of a heroine “Lacuila” would be? Did she work in a department store? Did she win a cruise sweepstakes and visited Alaska and while on the ship dropped that precious hand mirror bequeathed to her by her grandmother from the deck of the ship to the cold waters of Proudhon Bay? And what kind of a chain of events that loss might have triggered? My mind just takes off on that single name… but the name always comes first.

Other gorgeous names from today’s obits: Thea… Olive… Hermogenes… Girard… may they all rest in peace.

Then there are those detailed obits reserved for the prominent deceased. These are usually politicians, senior bureaucrats, artists, or talented folks who made a differences one way or the other. Their well-researched life stories are usually a treasure trove of backgrounders from which you can construct rich and complicated characters.

Look at your paper’s obits with the eyes of a fiction writer today. You’ll be amazed at the unexpected characters and stories reaching out to you in surprising detail and beauty.


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