By Annette Rey
Recently I posted on the subject of owning a variety of books outside your genre or general field of interest. I suggested you read them from a writer’s point of view and then experiment with your own writing in these new areas. This is one tactic I use to beat writer’s block.
In that vein, let me introduce you to a completely odd book – certainly not run-of-the-mill selection – I picked up at a sale that has widened my reading experience and has also given me a few laughs.
The book is The Dead Beat by Marilyn Johnson, published by Harper Collins, 2006. She says, “Obituaries are history as it’s happening.”
The cover expounds to say: “The Dead Beat will gratify the reader with a survey both humorous and poignant of the wonders enfolded in the pages of an ordinary newspaper and including many marvelous tales relating to lost souls, lucky stiffs, and the perverse pleasures of obituaries.”
As I said, not run-of-the-mill, not the average book, not a book the general population might be attracted to. But it is a book chock full of interesting occurrences and individual human drama. It’s a book that makes the reader feel he is observing, in secret, the lives of unknown people in the description of their deaths.
Does this seem morbid to you? Well, not if you are a writer or you are a person who is just plain curious. And how skilled a writer must you be to write a person’s life story and demise in a space the size of the average sneeze?
The author spends some time going through the various ways an obituary can be written. Just plain facts can be detailed or the writer can flesh out the life story and subtly add humor, sort of as I just did.
A succinctly, well-written memoir (obit) has the power to attract those who develop a hobby collecting them. The ability to say much using fewer words is a real art and should be practiced more often – think flash fiction. Think how using too many words to say the same thing leads to boring reading.
Among others, the author mentioned coincidental events like the deaths, within one day of each other, of the scientists (age 92 and 93) who isolated vitamin K and vitamin C. There are enough of these occurrences to make one think there might be something supernatural about them. And one can Google “bus plunges” and get a load of the drama of these stories. Or find out about a plain-looking pharmacist who went undercover for the government and helped jail narcotics ring leaders and henchmen.
My interest in this book is to reap my own unique crop of story creations based upon scraps of material within its covers. The scientist idea makes me think to create a story of sabotage within the pharmaceutical industry. Bus plunges evokes the cruelties of fate. And I could describe my hero as non-descript, a mousy-looking man instead of the usual tall, dark, and handsome. These are intriguing ideas (and more) I gleaned from The Dead Beat, a book about obituaries.
Do you see how I break writer’s block? I don’t give up farming ideas from unlikely places.
You can do the same.