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.

Under New Management

Let’s test this out, shall we?

I’m Matt’s wife, Sarah. For the last year and change, he’s been updating his webcomic over at arkyria.com on a semi-regular basis. I can attest to the fact that he is drawing constantly, but most of those make it to his Instagram, not his website. I’ll let you shuffle over to Arkyria if you want that info. While you’re at it, harass him just a bit about getting back to that comic, would you?

While he’s been drooling over copic markers and researching new drawing platforms, I’ve been reading. I just finished my 21st book of the year the other day – it’s not an enormous amount of books, but it’s more than he’s read. I do also enjoy the craft of writing, and I’d like to tiptoe back to that after a few year hiatus.

So I feel I’m as qualified as anyone to dust off the Fictional Discipline mantle and pick it up for myself. I’d love it if you would tag along on this little adventure.

My personal/neglected site is leianajade.com – as of late, it’s largely been ramblings about our four goofball cats.

Go grab yourself a drink and let’s get fictional.