Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Literary Head Hopping - Stieg Larsson Millennium Trilogy

What I'm Writing: Concentrating on a couple of short stories
What I'm Reading: Stieg Larsson - The Girl Who Played With Fire
What I'm Knitting: My sweater - the back is finished and I've just started on the front

Reading Stieg Larrson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and (half-way through) The Girl Who Played With Fire makes me think in terms of Points of View. Larsson wrote his novels so the reader was constantly hopping from one character's head into another – the POV switches as quickly as the scenes do (and sometimes more so as we jump from head-to-head from thought-to-thought within a single scene). Sometimes it reads as omniscient, other times as simple POV switches. It works in a high energy/action novel like those in the Millennium Trilogy, but even so, it's not the way I write, and not the way I usually like to read.

I tend to write a close third-person POV. I hop into the head of my POV character and stick with him/her to the end. The reader knows the POV character's thoughts, but can't know anything the POV character doesn't know. What ever's a mystery to the POV character is a mystery to the reader. Think of the Harry Potter books – other than a couple of very short forays (think Snape, Bellatrix, and Narcissa at Spinner's End), the books were told completely from Harry's point of view. We didn't know anything he didn't know. Because we were in his head we generally liked who he liked, hated who he hated – right or wrong.

If J.K. Rowling had written from multiple POV's, we may have never had the question/debate of whether Snape was good or bad, whether Dumbledore was really dead, etc. It makes for great 'Aha!' moments when we, and the character, find out the truth. The reader often gets more emotionally connected as well.

As I'm reading the Millennium Trilogy, I find myself enjoying the books, but not really connecting on an emotional level with the characters. And I'll be damned if I can figure out why every woman seems to be a former, current, or future lover for Blomkvist. LOL. I haven't seen anything in his character that's overly attractive. Every time a new female character shows an interest in him, I shake my head.

So, Larsson gets us all used to jumping about, to knowing what every damned person is thinking (even secondary characters who really shouldn't matter enough to be shown their POV), and then he goes and pulls the rug out from under us. We've been hopping into one main character's head all through the first book and the first part of the second book, but then, just when it really matters, just when we want to know what this character thinks of the mess they've fallen into, we suddenly don't go back into that head – at least not in the hundred or more pages I've gotten through since the crime was committed. Sheesh!

Dean Koontz is an author whose POV changes I enjoy. He sticks to the POV of the two (sometimes three) main characters and sticks just to them. He keeps a POV throughout chapters and doesn't switch mid-way through. In many of his books, the MCs don't meet right away, so we switch between them, anxiously waiting for them to finally meet. I really love that format, but my husband, Jon, doesn't so much. He doesn't like getting involved with one character and then getting switched to another. I told him he really doesn't want to read Lord of the Rings, then. I've been known to groan, loudly, when POV switches in LotR after hundreds and hundreds of pages of being in the same character's head. NO!! Bring me back to Frodo!!!

I do realize that many readers don't even take note of POV switches and are probably rolling their eyes at me for being so picky about them, but, hey, it's just the way I am. And I didn't even touch on First, Second, and Third person POV – now there's another whole post! And tense… I could write and write about tense.

How about you? Do you have a POV type you'd rather read. Do you mind jumping from head to head while you're reading? Do you even notice it? If you think about your favorite book, do you know whose POV it's written in? What difference would it have made if it were written in a different point of view? (Yes, I want to know!).


  1. This is so good, Amy. Well thought out and it made me think. You ask some great questions. I have not read the Stieg Larsson books and now I'm not sure I will. Honestly, I don't like stories that keep me fuzzy on who's telling it it. I have enough trouble keeping my wits as it is. I do, however, love Lord of the Rings, though it took me nearly 200 pages to actually start getting into the story, and at times, I was a little lost. POV switches can work if the story itself is so engrossing that you just want to know what's going to happen next and don't care who's telling it. Stories like The Lovely Bones, told in the first person, are easy to follow, though limiting at times and not my favorite delivery of a story. I've tweeted this post (hope you don't mind) and also posted it on my blog. It's too good not share and you're questions have me really thinking about my own writing style. I think I have to tighten things up A LOT after reading this. Thank you for sharing "your point of view." Jackie

  2. Dang, I should have proof-read my previous post. I do have better grammar than what I posted in my previous comment. Sorry! Jackie

  3. Jackie,
    Thank you so much! I'm honored that you felt this was good enough to pass along.

    I really do prefer to read a third person - close point of view where I only have to worry about being in the head of one character. I think I like the closeness I develop with that character (if the writing is good enough to foster it).

    First person POV is being used a lot in YA fiction these days (first person PRESENT tense, no less). I was a bit taken aback when I started reading the Hunger Games and came up against 1st person present, but it worked so well in that story. Hard to write, though, I would think. I'd be afraid of messing up all my tenses. LOL.

    How is The Lovely Bones? It's one of those books I've been meaning to read.

    I'm glad I got you thinking. I love discussions on writing and reading - they really spark my interest.