September 14, 2013

What a Funeral Director Taught Me About Writing by Pamela Mytroen

            At a recent interview a funeral director shared five principles for dealing with his clients. They may also work for instilling life into writing:

            1). “Get to know your client,” said the funeral director. Who is a writer’s client? It’s his ideal reader. What issues are your readers facing in their generation?  If you understand their felt needs, you may target your writing more accurately.

            2). Be a good listenerThe funeral director said, “At first let the families talk. Just listen.” This applies well to writing. In fiction, draw up character charts and then have a conversation with your characters. Get to know them. In non-fiction, listen to your interviewees. Find out what makes their heart skip a beat. The more you know them, the better you can represent them on paper.  

            3). It’s all about the details. Certainly in non-fiction this rings true. If you misspell their name or contact info they may never trust you again. If they don’t want certain information in the paper, respect that, even if you think it is less of a story. In fiction the details include a well-drawn character, a fully-realized problem, and a visualized setting. Some novels begin with the details and others start with action. Either way, details are like the clothes on a skeleton: they bring a character to life. (Well, maybe not in the funeral business...)

            4). Acknowledge the heart-beat. The funeral director mentioned that the trend is swinging towards no funeral service. But he feels that everybody, no matter how insignificant or demoralized, deserves acknowledgement that they lived and breathed. In fiction, this rings true for all characters including the villain. If he or she is always portrayed as evil through and through, the common reader can’t relate. All villains have something humane about them and this is what causes us to wonder if they will carry through with their evil plot or not. That seed of humaneness keeps us turning the pages. In non-fiction, it’s that emotion that keeps the reader interested also. Whether the article is about an event or a business interview, it can be boring and dry unless some honest emotion is revealed.  Who wants to read about how to invest and how to build equity? But, if the article highlights one person’s financial journey, their joys, doubts, and victories, the reader is much more likely to stick around. 

     5). "Sometimes you just have to leave the room" The funeral director mentioned that sometimes the family gets distracted with long buried hurt and anger instead of moving ahead with the funeral plans. Do you ever feel that your writing project is stuck and is not moving forward? This funeral director tells his clients that he has some work to do in another room and that he will be back in 15-20 minutes. This is good advice for the writer too. Take a mental or physical break from your writing. When you return to your work you may feel refreshed and see things in a new perspective.

This funeral director seemed to know a lot about infusing life into writing. Try following his advice and people may end up dying to read your stuff.


  1. It's amazing how well this comparison works, Pam. This funeral director might be surprised and impressed with your attentiveness to the details he or she revealed and the lessons about writing you extrapolated from them.

    Excellent beginning, ending, and everything in between. Thanks!

  2. Some great advice if I don't want my writing to end up with the funeral director!


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