Liane asks:

As a reasonably new celebrant (2016) my question to you both is how can I improve my skills and knowledge on writing ceremony scripts? How do you guys keep yourselves updated and up-skilled in this area?

Can you recommend any resources, websites etc to increase my creative bank (example quotes, styles of weddings)?

What framework do you both use when creating your wedding script?

Once again, Josh and I have VERY different views on this, so we’re answering this one separately 🙂

First up, it’s really important to know that ceremony writing is a very personal thing, and EVERY celebrant approaches it differently. This is just the way I do it, and that’s not to say it’s good, bad or other. It’s just the way it works for me and has evolved over my celebrant career.

My bank of material

Over the past four and a half years as a celebrant, I’ve built up, as Liane calls it, a bank of material that I choose from when writing my ceremony scripts. It’s all loaded into a single Word document template, separated into the different parts of a ceremony. So I have a bunch of bits to choose from for honouring deceased relatives, for a family blessing, for a community blessing, for all the little segue bits throughout the ceremony (e.g. introducing the vows, introducing the rings), for words on love and marriage, and for a blessing at the end of the ceremony. My entire template is currently 30 pages long. I also have separate documents with readings, wording for rituals, and suggestions for askings, vows and ring ceremonies for my couples.

I have a similar template for funerals with different opening quotes, words about grief, introductions to reflection time, committals and concluding words. Similarly I have lots of readings I can refer to if the family requests my help in this area.

Both my wedding and funeral templates are set out in the order of a traditional basic ceremony, with sub-headings for each section, so I’m simply following the normal pattern as I’m building the ceremony.

How did I put these templates together? How do I increase it when need be? When I first started I did a lot of Googling to find ceremony samples; you’d be amazed how many celebrants post entire ceremonies publicly on their websites. I still do a lot of Googling for quotes and readings when I don’t have quite the right thing in my collection. I also own a bunch of books with ceremony samples in them; the biggest issue I’ve found with a lot of the celebrancy books currently on the market is that the wording in them is quite traditional, conservative and old-fashioned, and it doesn’t really suit the way I speak or deliver my ceremonies. When I look at some of my early scripts using those bits and bobs I got from those books, I do cringe a bit! But I love to read, so I’m always happy to add another book to my collection. I’ll pop a list of the books in my collection at the bottom of this post.

Along the way I’ve joined a whole bunch of celebrant Facebook groups, and on a weekly basis (at a minimum) someone will ask “hey, has anyone done a handfasting? What wording did you use?” or “how do you all manage honouring deceased relatives in your wedding ceremony?” or “does anyone have a great reading for this type of person?” etc etc etc. Celebrants in those groups I belong to are all exceptionally generous with their material and happy to share. Most of them probably nicked half of their material from someone else too! So I copy and paste the bits I like, drop them into my template or my additional documents, and there they are, ready to use when I need them.

Having said that, it’s very rare that I’ll use the bits exactly the way they were written by whoever I’ve copied them from. I’ll usually tweak bits that I feel don’t flow, or that don’t match the type of language I’m comfortable with. I’ll also tweak bits to match the couple I’m marrying, to make those somewhat generic words fit this particular couple better. I’m also starting to find that none of the wording I have on file fits some couples, particularly same sex couples. I’ve been writing a lot of completely original content for my same sex weddings, because there are important additional factors in a lot of their relationships that aren’t so relevant for heterosexual couples, particularly if they’ve been together for a long time, or if they’ve dealt with a lot of adversity throughout their relationship. Most of my same sex couples also want to include some material about their feelings about marriage equality, about how it came to be, and about their joy at having their relationships validated in this way. So all of that has needed new content. Of course I’m not above reusing and tweaking the content from one same sex marriage for another same sex marriage, cos it’s all awesome, and I figure why reinvent the wheel?

Personal writing framework

For weddings, I write the couple’s story from scratch every time, but even that follows a kind of set outline based on the questions I ask them. I talk about how they met, what were their first impressions of each other, when and why they fell in love, the proposal story, then I direct the story to each partner to tell them what makes the other smile about them, what drives them crazy, and what they love about each other. I finish up with what they’re both looking forward to about being married and doing together in the future.

Similarly for funerals, most families ask me to write and deliver the eulogy, which again is from scratch every time but also follows somewhat of a set outline because I’m telling a life story. I like to tell this as much in chronological order as possible, inserting the tribute speakers along the way at the appropriate moment. For example, if the deceased’s best friend is giving a tribute, I’ll talk about how and when they met and then ask the friend to speak. I prefer to do that rather than have the eulogy as a block and then a bunch of speakers one after another. It doesn’t always work out that way, but that’s my preference when possible.

Improving your creative writing

The final part of your question that I want to answer (which is really the first part!) is about up-skilling and improving your skills and knowledge. The way I work is very much about re-appropriating other content that I like and that fits with the couples I work with. I don’t do an awful lot of original creative writing. I’m an excellent writer when it comes to retelling information I’ve gleaned from somewhere else, whether that be a couple’s love story, a eulogy, or all the legal information I write about for this website, and I’m an excellent writer when I’m sharing my own experiences. (I’m also exceptionally humble ;).)

However I don’t feel that I’m a great “creative” writer; when I sit at my computer and try to write about love and marriage or about grief, I have absolutely no freaking idea what to say. I can look at a piece of prose and go oh yeah, that will fit this couple, but I’m terrible at coming up with the ideas or sentiments myself. That’s okay with me; I’m happy with the way I work and my clients always tell me how much they love my scripts.

If you’re interested in writing more creatively, in tapping into those sentiments and ideas and coming up with your own content, but you want to improve in this area, go out and find yourself some creative writing courses! It doesn’t matter what they’re specifically about; creative writing is creative writing, no matter the content, and taking some courses in that space will help you write creative ceremonies in your own words.

Who does it differently?

I’m super keen to hear from people who do this differently; who write their entire ceremony from scratch, or who have set templates that their couples choose from. Let us know in the comments how you do it, and how you build up your bank of ceremony material.

Books in my collection

As mentioned above, I bought most of these books when I first started as a celebrant and I don’t use a lot of the wording in them today. But every now and then I’ll dip into one if I’m really searching for something I just can’t find anywhere else!

The Essential Guide to Gay and Lesbian Weddings, Tess Ayers and Paul Brown
Wedding Vows: Finding the Perfect Words, Michael MacFarlane
The Heart and Soul of Celebrancy, Sally Cant
Ceremonies & Celebrations: Vows, Tributes and Readings, Dally R Messenger
The Funeral Celebrant’s Handbook, Barry H Young
Saying Farewell to Those We Love, Barry H Young
The Practical Handbook for Celebrants to Welcome, Celebrate and Farewell, Ruth Van Gramberg
Funeral Resources Guide, Australian Federation of Civil Celebrants
Wedding Resources Guide, Australian Federation of Civil Celebrants
Celebrating Love’s Special Moments, Vlady M Peters
Create Your Own Inspiring Wedding Ceremony, Wendy Haynes
A Practical Guide to Celebrancy, Association of Civil Marriage Celebrants of Victoria