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tips on writing an obit

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Speedway, Dec 10, 2007.

  1. Speedway

    Speedway Member

    For the first time, I have been thrust into the role of writing an obituary and will be interviewing the appropriate family member of the deceased tomorrow.

    Can anyone provide any practical advice on how to go about this process?

    Much appreciated.
  2. Moderator1

    Moderator1 Moderator Staff Member


    Be respectful. Spell EVERY name and then spell it back. Don't fuck up an obit.

    Say "died." Don't say "passed away."
  3. Magnum

    Magnum Member

    It's really formulaic, speedway:

    Michael Vick, NFL quarterback and lover of pets, died Monday at his home after an extended illness. He was 25.
    Vick led the Falcons to two playoff berths in six seasons ...
    Vick's mother said he loved football, "...."
    He is survived by ....
    Funeral services will be ....

    Look at these if you want to do something a bit different:

  4. buckweaver

    buckweaver Active Member

    Magnum, the example you cited is living proof that there's no formula for writing about the dead.

    Speedway, find a good angle, be respectful, and tell the person's story. Find an anecdote or a trait about that person that only his loved ones knew about, or write about something that everyone in his life remembers him by, or that he was most known for. Or anything in between. Talk to everybody you can, and find out as much as you can.

    And above all, get it right. A person only gets one obituary.
  5. Italian_Stallion

    Italian_Stallion Active Member

    Intriguing subject. I guess I'd think about what I'd want people to ask my family if I kicked the bucket. I'd probably want people to know what makes me tick, what my passions are, what I truly want people to know about my life.
  6. Don't fill your page with "he was a great person/father/husband"-type quotes. While his great person-ness may well be something to include, SHOW, don't tell. That is, if his wife tells you he was a great husband, ask, "Can you tell me about a time he did something especially sweet for you?" If his former teammates say he was a "tough-as-nails competitor," ask them about how he reacted after losses in card games, what dirty tricks he pulled in those fumble piles, etc. etc. In short: instead of telling his life's story with standard-form quotes, try to find revealing little stories to do so.
  7. One thing to add: the key is to capture your subject's uniqueness. Whether you're writing in the standard-obit-form Magnum provided a bit of or writing more creatively doesn't matter as much as that you GET him.

    I think of obits like profile stories of living people - except ones for which I'm not able to talk to the subjects themselves.
  8. Italian_Stallion

    Italian_Stallion Active Member

    Some people are just lazy. Whoopi Goldberg is probably in the book these days.
  9. (K, I'll stop after this one.)

    Finally: don't omit the negative - or SEEMINGLY-negative. Say your athlete had a legendary temper...you have to talk about the legendary temper. And don't be afraid to ask his wife and kids and teammates about it! Chances are, they have great stories on the topic - about trying unsuccessfully to get him to calm down, about the time he lost to his son at driveway basketball and wouldn't talk to him the rest of the day, whatever. Some of the best obit material comes from asking questions you might initially not want to ask. Phrase them respectfully, but ask them nonetheless.
  10. Speedway

    Speedway Member

    Appreciate all the help on this one.
  11. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    Good suggestion. Be respectful, but don't be afraid to ask tough questions. When they're dealing with grief, people want -- hell, they need -- to talk. Try to get them to tell some stories about the person. If you can, see if you can get a son, daughter, or sibling to join the wife when you talk to her. Sometimes once you get a family going, talking about their deceased loved one, they'll start throwing out some great stories like the time he got drunk and tried to fuck the light-up snowman at grandma's Christmas party.
    Or just how he always had time to play catch on the lawn with little Johnny after a hard day's work. Either one works.
  12. HandsomeHarley

    HandsomeHarley Well-Known Member

    When my mother died a couple of months ago, I simply took an obit from our hometown paper and used it as a guide.

    I figured if I did anything fancy, some desk clerk would change it anyway.
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