When plot isn’t everything

Dear Stieg Larsson (and everyone who loves The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo):

Sometimes I wonder, when I turn the page, how much of this is a translation issue. If so, please disregard. If not, we need to have words.

I love a good mystery as much as the next girl. I like kickass heroines and I like twists on old tropes. I’m in publishing, and your newspaper characters stroke my inner narcissist — see! we are interesting!

You had everything going for you. I thought, as an insecure fiction writer, that a strong plot was the best part of a story. Everyone loves this book. I’m late to the game, I know. I was excited. This was going to be good. But 221 pages into your novel, I realize that I was wrong.

Plot isn’t everything. Prolific writing + a good editor, though, may be.

Your prose is SO PAINFUL. Don’t tell me about their technology specs (timeless this won’t be), don’t tell me about HOW they do things, don’t suddenly pop in a sex scene because you’re bored with your own writing.

If you’re bored with your own writing, so am I.

If you don’t know your characters well enough to communicate emotion without qualifying every action with an adverb, I won’t be able to connect with them, either.

If your character is fronting intense security but still reads as insecure, so is your writing and so is our author-reader relationship.

Even a kickass plot can leave me SO BORED if you’re not confident in the skin of your own characters.

Makes me wonder if you’ve ever really been in love or really known someone intimately.

Makes me wonder if you self-narrate your life with “Stieg hesitantly buttered his toast. He knew it would be a long time before he ate toast while he read fanmail over coffee alone in the mornings ever again.” Aren’t you bored?

I will probably finish your book, but I really really want to go wash out my head with Walker Percy now. Should I just watch the movie instead? Do you narrate that too?

Sincerely, [she signed the letter, sighing over her coffee, wishing that she hadn’t chosen to write this on the train when she knew that she would get agitated and didn’t want the other passengers looking her way]


p.s. If you’re thinking of reading this book, go read Elora’s novel instead. So much better.


2 thoughts on “When plot isn’t everything

  1. I love both versions of the movies, but after buying this book I didn’t finish it. And I really really tried, but there’s still a chapter or few left. I love the story and plot, but it’s so hard to connect to what’s actually written. [Mary tentatively began contemplating learning to read Swedish, as an effort to allow Stieg the benefit of doubt, but sighed as she acknowledged that she had not the time nor energy to do so, and further squirmed as she felt ill at ease, realizing that she fluently understands but one language and wondered worriedly if this reflected on her character as an American].

  2. I read the first book but wasn’t able to make it through the second because it was painfully obvious that Mikael Blomkvist was just a Gary Stu (there are literally pages of Mikael’s lover going on about how great he is, including naming him the best lover she’s ever had). However, I am pretty forgiving of the general mediocrity of these books because they were published post-mortem. The manuscripts were discovered after Stieg Larsson’s death and, as such, he was never given an opportunity to edit them for publication.

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