I mentioned previously that I’m an inveterate reader of the obituary column in my local newspaper. This week I came across a real gem, a loving remembrance of a lady who died at 101 years of age. It was a long column, and I found myself reading every word. The writer had detailed the life of the deceased like a story. I learned of the moral precepts that shaped her character. I learned of the hardship she’d endured — born at the outset of World War One, marrying during the Depression and living through World War Two.
She was widowed in middle age and had to reshape her life, returning to work when she might have been looking at retirement, learning the computer at age 70 and carrying on with her career until she reached 80 years of age. She outlived three of her four children. The story was told with warmth and affection. By the time I reached the end of the column, had had a fondness both for the deceased and for the son who wrote the obituary.
As a writer, I try to make my characters come alive to the reader, but details like birthdate, hair colour and profession, don’t create a personality the reader can root for. Like the man who wrote the obituary, I need to draw a picture of my character that includes motivation (moral precepts), her reaction to events — even if the events themselves are ordinary her reaction will tell us about her. It is the inner workings of the character’s heart and mind that bring her alive. I’ve learned all that in various workshops I’ve attended, books I’ve read, and conversations I’ve had with other writers. But an obituary in the Saturday paper really brings the concept to life.
So, thanks to the loving son who reminded me of some basic rules of story-telling, and introduced me to a remarkable woman. May she rest in peace.