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I am dedicating a whole chapter for a funeral in a short story and there is no way to cancel it because that would leave a gap. Yet, almost every writing website warns about falling into a clichéd description and an overdramatic dialogue and they rather advise of adding any special thing that makes it feel non boring. How can I not just keep describing the same events that a reader could find in any funeral scene? How can I add a value and make it distinguishable?

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    Why do you have to show the funeral scene? If nothing of note happens, then why bother? Even if something interesting does happen, why can't you just have the characters mention it afterwards? You say you are writing a short story. A short story doesn't have any pages to "waste." If a scene isn't strictly needed, leave it out and put in things that really matter - but only the things that really matter.
    – JRE
    Nov 29, 2022 at 11:10

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Here are a few possibilities:

  1. Something unexpected happens during the funeral.

Add some drama that could hint at deeper drama. For example, a fight breaks out between the two relatives, someone stands up and accuses one of the people present of murdering the person, or, if you want to go for shock value, the people open the casket and find that there's nothing there.

That would take the entire story in a new, interesting direction. There are so many ways to catch the reader off guard.

  1. The funeral itself is unique.

What do you think of when you think of a funeral? Images that come up would probably be people dressed in black. A casket. A sermon. Heartfelt eulogies. But this is not universal.

Culture can greatly change what the funeral looks like. Where is the deceased from? Mexico? Kenya? India? Was their father from Honduras and their mother from China? Every culture has a different idea of what a funeral and burial are like, so a person with a complicated cultural heritage might have a very unique funeral.

Religion will also affect the funeral. What if the deceased is a Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Wiccan, Catholic, or so on? What if they're an atheist? How will that affect the funeral?

Location also matters. If the deceased is a sailor, they might want a burial at sea. If they're rich it might take place at some expensive hotel. What if they were eccentric and wanted to be buried in Antarctica? That'd be quite the experience.

  1. The funeral moves the plot forward

What is the relationship between your protagonist and the deceased?

If your character was close, they're probably crying their eyes out. If they were enemies, your MCs might be thankful they're gone. If they were strangers to each other, your character's probably only there to comfort someone else.

Any one of those situations leads to drama and character development. Learning to cope with losing a loved one is hard. Comforting a friend who's grieving is also hard. Even losing an enemy isn't fun because death is never fun to think of.

So what does your character do?

They might cry, give a heartfelt eulogy, or make a scene. They might use this moment to reveal some deep dark family secret.

"You think X was a great person, but I know the truth. They're a monster! They killed my brother."

Did the deceased leave a will or something? That could be central to your plot. It's not uncommon for some powerful figure to leave a complicated will and send everyone on a wild goose chase. It's the premise of Ready Player One.

"Yeah, hi. I'm the creator of the virtual reality you're all dependent on. First person to find this Easter Egg owns my company and all my money. Good luck."

Or the 39 Clues route.

"You can get a million dollars or go on a round-the-world trip searching for a mysterious family secret. A secret that could determine the fate of the world. Which will it be?"

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I'm at a loss how to answer such a question when I don't know your story. At a risk of giving you banal basics, a few simple pointers...

  • Keep the characters in character. They don't suddenly lose all personality because someone has died, do they? Let them keep their quirks.

  • At the same time, they are affected. So have them act their feelings.

  • Empathise.

  • You don't have to describe the whole thing. If only a scene or two is important for the story, choose those and skip the rest.

  • Is there something otherwise unusual that the deceased character or their loved ones would be likely to want? Include it. Don't worry if it's kind of silly. Silly lends very well to emotional.

  • Embrace mundane reality. Someone needs to bring flowers. Children don't have a lot of sense for timing their remarks. Weather doesn't cooperate with anyone and the cemetery can be completely covered in mud. (Not poetic rain. Ugly, attire-sullying mud.)

  • And sure, avoid overdramatic dialogue. Real people don't become epic poets when they attend a funeral, so no reason for your characters to do the same unless that's how they speak habitually.

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A funeral is largely ritual. That is to say, it is formalized cliché. This is pretty much true in every culture, the only difference being the specifics of the ritual.

If you step too far away from the ritual you have a huge chance of creating farce, probably not what you want.

The main chances you have to introduce novelty are

  • The sermon that the priest gives and,
  • The eulogy that somebody close to the departed gives.

The priest may stick to a ritual sermon unless there is something special about this funeral. So, many times, the only spark-of-color is going to be the eulogy. It's a good place to insert characterization of both the departed and the person giving the eulogy. And possibly in the reactions of people hearing the eulogy.

However, I can suggest an example funeral sermon that really did crackle. In the movie Photographing Faeries Ben Kingsley plays the Anglican priest of a small village. And in the movie, his character's daughter dies. So it comes to him to give the sermon at the funeral. It is quite a memorable sequence.

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First thing is first, is that Funerals are cultural and a lot of the "cliché" is based on a generic culture. For example, in European based cultures, the the traditional colors of mourning are black. But in Sinosphere cultures they are white.

The Cliché in Western Media is the burial which is actually part of the funeral, and is usually the part shown because it's the traditional "Final Goodbye" and the dispersal from that is normally at a leisurely pace, allowing for plot points to be discussed OR to have a bunch of characters from the story return to the scene to serve as a final curtain for their actors (Think of Tony Stark's Funeral in "Avengers: End Game").

I would recommend consider the deceased and their culture and look into a funeral service from that culture and what they are like. It can take different forms. If the decease was aware his/her death was imminent, they might have provided instructions for their funeral... maybe even a self-Eulogy or message for the living. A person who may have been known for their humor might encourage their funeral take the form of a "Roast" while other creatives may have tributes calling back to their careers.

And of course, there's always the opportunity to "Put the FUN in Funeral".

The idea here is that the deceased would not have wanted to be mourned but celebrated or that the family do something fun to remember him. Often the ceremonies will have a scattering of ashes at a place that is important to the deceased and where they were happiest. Others will be encouraged to remember silly moments with the person. Some families will find humor in the events of the day and how they are not typical of the funeral (I was once in a funeral where the funerary procession got lost, and wasn't helped that it was early December and the driver of the car put on Christmas music... and the music trended to the most inappropriate songs for the mood ("I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" was heard twice in the rotation) and we were in hysterics when we entered the Cemetery and quickly tried to compose ourselves. Given the decease's dislike of "proper behavior" in such settings, I joked with my friend that while we might have appeared to be the most disrespectful car in the procession, we were in fact the one that was honoring "what he would have wanted" the most.). At another funeral, we established a family tradition of "Tailgating the Funeral" (which is that we provide food and drinks at the viewing for the family away from the guests... typically using a van trunk to put out the spread.). It's to give the family in mourning some space to recollect themselves away from people they might not know well, but the fact it looks like a tailgate did not go unremarked.

Other times humor can be found in the awkward things that are said, as people are generally trying to be sympathetic but might awkwardly say something (I once saw someone accidentally hit on the widow.).

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My first idea upon reading this is that, when people go to funerals, they tend to retreat into their own heads. So write the whole scene from the perspective/focusing on one person and their thoughts. They can see things happening, but don't really care. When the funeral ends, it seems to them like it only just started because they never really took part.

Or, you could do it like Letranger and have the person only pay attention to the physical aspects of the funeral, only observing things as they happen, not as they are in any symbolic sense. Like someone giving a speech.

... Bimmy got up to give a speech. It was about... Something. I couldn't really tell. All I could think about was his tie, how it was stuck out just a little too far. Every time he ducked his head, to keep from crying or something, it would pop out just a little bit. ...

I assume your main character isn't a sociopath, however, and may feel some empathy for what they see other people going through. Or at least what they think the others are going through. It could be a projection of the protagonists grief, as they instinctively don't want to face the pain themselves, so they tell themselves they're crying for someone else crying for the reason they don't want to cry over.

Or they could fall asleep.

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