A Man Called Ove

While this post attempts to be relatively spoiler-free, proceed at your own risk.

A Man Called Ove is a great read. That’s all you need to know.

But what really impressed me about this book is how it kept me reading even though the main character isn’t (especially at first) all that likable. This is a heavily character driven novel – if you were to make an outline of the plot, not all that much happens. The charm of the book comes from being in Ove’s head and seeing how his thoughts contrast with his actions and how those affect the people around him.

The book is very simple, and maybe that’s part of what keeps it so readable. There isn’t a learning curve – Ove is a curmudgeon, loves routines and wants to be left alone. Though I love a good epic fantasy, there’s something nice about being able to jump right in, too. The story bounces back and forth between the present day and different periods of Ove’s life. As it unfolds, it shows you why Ove is the way he is, and his thoughts and actions make more sense. It wouldn’t be nearly as effective to put all of this information up front. Getting to know Ove is the payoff of the story, and the author succeeds in making that alone enticing.

There are some books, such as The Rosie Project where I, personally, didn’t find the main character’s quirks charming, no matter how much explanation was given. Ove feels more than just a caricature, he feels like someone you know, perhaps even reflecting a bit of yourself. (I mean, we all get upset with bad drivers, right?) If you’re interested in a good study on character, how to make one compelling and memorable, this might be something worth looking into. Of course, I think it’s a worthwhile read in general, but especially for those looking to glean something from it.

The Gravity of Death

The other night, my dad told me about a couple of news stories: one where a boy was crushed in his minivan while trying to reach sports equipment, and one where doctors mistakenly switched a saline bag with formaldehyde. In both cases, the people died.

We can’t turn on the news, or even drive up the road without encountering some form of death. Whether it’s a homicide or road kill, death is inescapable. So I don’t know what it was about these two stories that made me stop and think. These people died. Things happened through no real fault of their own, and now they’re dead – completely, irreversibly gone. No second chances. Their loved ones have had to plan funerals and bury them, and now they’re dealing with grief that will follow them for the rest of their lives.

I realize this sounds a little dramatic, considering that these are people I never met and have no connection to. But there’s a weight to it when you stop and realize that these stories are real people, who have very real families. Just because I am not feeling the grief today doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist for them.

So what on earth does this have to do with writing?

I say all this to remind you that death has weight. Unless you’re killing off a reclusive orphan with no friends, a character’s death will matter to somebody. That doesn’t mean a character’s death has to start a war – unless it does, like Robert Baratheon in Game of Thrones.
But don’t use death like there is no consequences. It’s not a party trick. That isn’t to say that you have to show every character you kill being mourned – but just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. Don’t write characters just to be disposable. Your readers will catch on, because chances are, your disposable characters will feel just that.

Sometimes a character’s death throws a country into upheaval, like with a monarch or other political figure. Maybe it causes a family or person a lot of turmoil – like Cathy’s death did to Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights.

Don’t use death as a cop out. Make it make sense, and make it matter for your character and your story. Don’t forget that death is a big deal, that it is traumatic and stressful. Don’t use death like you would use a dinner party.

The Accidental Prophecy

About four years ago, I decided to take the concept of a story that I had started many years earlier and completely overhaul it. In the end, the two stories had pretty much nothing in common. What was once a space opera became a gritty dystopia, my brainwashed military heroine was now an undercover spy working for a non-government agency.

I’ve never put so much thought into world building without writing a draft. I was determined that I should know exactly what was going on in the world and how it got there. Matt can back me up on all the conversations we had, about how my timeline, taking place a hundred or so years in the future, was a bit of a stretch, but plausible.

Let me tell you a little bit about it:

“The US is largely controlled by corporate politicians – where they may have pretended not to in our time, a CEO/Senator is fairly common.

News is highly entertainment based, after the networks failed to reclaim journalism. Real news is a fairly small, underground thing. Sensationalism rules, which keeps the general public out of politics.

Prisons were privatized. Debtors prisons became legal as consumerism reigned unchecked and politicians stalled on a livable wage. So there are poor, upper middle class, and elite. Nominally, the government still functions the same, to placate people. However, since the FBI is government, funds were probably slashed. Real agencies of justice are privatized.”

One of my villain’s aims was to get the current president impeached so that he could install someone even weaker and pave the way to his own power.

There’s more to it than that, but it’s on a scrivener file rather than a notebook, so I don’t have it in front of me. But you get the idea. At the latest, I wrote this stuff down in late 2014. When I moved to Virginia, I put the story down in favor of something “easier” for that year’s NaNoWriMo.

Then 2016 and 2017 happened and I found myself really creeped out. I had based my ideas on “What if we keep going the same way we are now, and people like Trmp become more common?” I had NO IDEA that Trmp would literally run, and win, and journalists would be thrown under buses, and the FBI would be undermined, and, and, and. Not in our lifetime, not just five seconds after I wrote all that down.

As a writer with a fantastic imagination, don’t think it didn’t cross my mind that I accidentally conjured all of this. Matt assured me that it wasn’t possible, but maybe you can understand why I looked at writing with a little bit of a skeptical eye. I had other reasons for not writing, but part of me was seriously depressed that my bleak scenario for 100 years from now was smirking from the oval office.

Right now, I don’t have any ideas. I haven’t had any rabbit holes to chase in about a year, and I’m at peace with that. I miss writing though. I miss the process, the excitement as characters and worlds unfold in my brain, and I can’t type fast enough to keep up. So I’m opening my arms up to creativity again. Ideas, if you’re out there, come to me. I’m ready. But if you don’t mind, let’s keep it out of the headlines.