The art of writing an obituary


Ann Wroe has been writing the obituaries in The Economist for 15 years, and she loves it. She gives advice on choosing who gets an obituary in the paper and her process for getting inside the head of the people she writes about. 

For inspiration she looks for obituaries in other papers, and if someone had an unusual career or a unique story she begins research.

"I immerse myself in their lives," she says about researching her subject. Wroe will use Google, autobiographies and YouTube videos to understand the subject's mind. She spends a day or two researching and the next day writes and edits her story.

Wroe's stories highlight characteristics that most would not know about the subject and shed light on how that person saw the world. "I really try to get into the head of the person," she says. "I don’t want to write what everyone else thinks of the person. I want what they thought of the world. It’s a completely different viewpoint."

She is always looking for the most interesting story because she knows that is what readers want. When she does right about high-profile people, she makes sure to give details that round them out instead of painting them in a positive or negative light. If she writes about a criminal, she adds human elements to show that she is still writing about a person.

Contrary to popular opinion, the job is joyful most of the time, Wroe says. "An obit is really a celebration of a life."

Read the full interview here.