What?! I hear you cry. Write a eulogy? But my character doesn’t die! I understand. But writing a eulogy is a wonderful way to distill your character to his or her essence.
I have had the misfortune of losing several family members over the past few years—two great-aunts, a great-uncle, a cousin, an uncle. And since I am a writer and cannot process emotions without writing about them, I wrote a little tribute to each of them on my blog.
Just this past week I had to write a short speech about my best friend, who passed away 10 years ago from cancer. My high school class had chosen to dedicate some new doors for our high school to her, and I was one of the speakers at the ceremony.
What did I learn from writing these eulogies? The eulogy forced me to look deep into the person. Writing about their physical appearance means nothing. I found myself really delving into what made that person special. Why they were unique. What good did they bring to this world. Even if I didn’t write it in the eulogy, I also thought about their mistakes, their flaws, and the contradictions within their personalities. (One of my fellow speakers described our friend thus: “She liked her steak rare and her hamburgers burnt.”)
A eulogy distills a person to their essence.
Writing a eulogy about your character will make you think about them in depth. Forget the physical—that changes over time. Who are they deep down? What have they accomplished (or tried to) in their lives? What mistakes did they make? What flaws did they battle?
A eulogy makes you consider a character’s backstory—and future story. It broadens your vision of the character outside the parameters of your particular book. We are all used to thinking about backstory, but looking ahead can give insight to the character, too. How do they recover from the events of your story? Where do they go from here? Where do they end up?
Some people read the obituaries for character inspiration, but you can also read them to see how the writer encapsulates a life, a person. Study the ones that stand out, the ones that really bring the deceased to life. Also note when the writer talks about people that were perhaps unsavory characters in life. How did they handle that? Then write your own character’s eulogy.
Of course, in your eulogy, you don’t need to be politically correct. You can include all the warts and scars and flaws. But by thinking about your character in terms of a person with a past and a future, hopes and dreams and failures, you will see their essence. Once you know the core of your character, you will be able to stay true to that core, and your character will be stronger for it.
Have you ever tried this? How do you find the essence of your characters?