Need Ideas or a Writing Boost? Read Your Newspaper’s Obituaries

Obituaries are fascinating. We learn so much about the people who have passed away – not just what they did, but who they were. Their passions and hobbies, likes (and sometimes dislikes) triumphs, joys and even sorrows. Their names and faces leap off the page and they become so much more than ink on paper. They become people. Real people, who lived and loved and died. As an author, obituaries provide a wealth of story material. I’ve gotten character names from reading obituaries and story ideas. I’ve learned things I didn’t know and came across connections I would have never made otherwise. Try these on for size:

  • Donald Doutrich raced against Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough.
  • Jeanne Recht loved to drive, too. She liked getting lost. She’d choose a road she had never been down and keep making turns to see where she’d end up. Sometimes, she’d drive for days. Alone.
  • George Wise’s favorite pastime was sitting on his backyard swing, and Edward Etzweiler loved to boogie board at the shore with his granddaughters, their families said.



Screen Shot 2013-09-06 at 9.56.52 AM          Screen Shot 2013-09-06 at 9.56.40 AM

Column by Buffy Andrews, journalist by day, author by night. She is Assistant
Managing Editor of Features and Niche Publications and Media Editor at The York
Daily Record/Sunday News in York, Pa. You will find her on a plethora of social
networking sites, from Twitter and Facebook to Tout and Rebel Mouse. She also
teaches webinars on digital content marketing to journalists and writers. She
writes middle-grade, young adult and women’s fiction. Her debut novel,
The Yearbook Series: Gina and Mike, from Limitless Publishing is out.
She has more novels being released this fall and in
2014. See her official website here.



Mojo, aka Michael Johnson, loved the beach, too. Especially Sea Isle. He loved the sun and flip flops.

The sea breeze also called to Terrance “Terry” Gardner. He enjoyed deep sea fishing, in the surf and on the pier.

Porgie “Patsy” Welk and her husband, Nick, liked the outdoors, too. They visited 50 states and camped in 49 of them.

Maybe you were one of Clair John Stough’s customers. He was a Rutter’s milkman at one time.

Or perhaps you spotted Walter “Junie” Hannigan Jr.’s dairy cows in the pasture back in the day. He was a hard worker. Even after he sold his cows he continued to work on the farm.

Then there’s Lola Braham, who felt very strongly about donating blood to the Red Cross. And Mae Foster, who liked to shop, read and dine out.

And we can’t forget James Woodard, who had an aromatic fragrance, melodious voice and impeccable wardrobe.

Or Ronald Werner, who was considered one of the best left-handed bowlers in the state of Pennsylvania.

Or David Wherley, a Golden Knight on the U.S. Army Parachute Team. He made more than 7,500 parachute jumps.

These folks didn’t make the nightly news. Their names weren’t printed in a big headline on the front page of a newspaper (although they all were printed in the York Daily Record, York, PA). But, reading their obituaries, I would have enjoyed meeting each of them.

(Why writers should put their e-mail online for all to see.)


Aside from obituaries, your local newspaper (whether you read it in print or online) is a treasure trove of potential story ideas. (Especially the police blotter.)

Local news stories that come to mind that could translate into fiction include:

• A woman sees a commercial on TV, makes a call and ends up talking to the man who can finally tell her what happened the day her brother was killed during World War II.

• A teen shoots and kills his high school principal then himself in the cafeteria.

• A brother is nearly decapitated and his older brother is convicted of his murder.

• A woman who knows she’s genetically predisposed to get Alzheimer’s disease starts living her life as though every day could be her last with full sanity.

• A man walks into an elementary school and attacks teachers and students with a machete.

• Child endangerment charges are brought against a man whose children (ages 2 to 13) were allegedly living in squalor with no electricity, heat, water or functioning toilet. Among the allegations are that the children were uneducated, hidden from the world, denied medical and dental treatment, never received immunizations and did not have Social Security numbers or birth certificates.

So the next time you’re looking for a name or a story idea, read your local newspaper. You might be surprised at the gold nuggets you’ll find.

(Pitch agents at a writers’ conference.)


Here are a few places to find names in the newspaper:

  1. Obituaries
  2. Dean’s lists
  3. School honor rolls
  4. Marriage licenses
  5. Birth announcements
  6. Court docket
  7. Police blotter
  8. Divorces
  9. Wedding and engagement announcements


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Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:


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