Tuesday, December 29, 2009

It's so puzzling

By Pamela
I spent my formative years braving the harsh Indiana winters. During the roughest weather, you’d typically find me hunched over a jigsaw puzzle, thawing out after a day of playing in the snow.

These days, I skip the playing in the snow part (easy, usually, since I now live in Texas) and just spend the colder months with a puzzle-in-process on the dining room table. It’s a good way to zone out, spend some quiet time with a child or two who might drop in for some bonding, or kill time in between commitments.

As my mind wandered while working on the latest puzzle, I thought about how similar puzzle making is to constructing a story.

Start with the border/plot

The easiest way for me to get a puzzle started is to frame out the picture. Separate all the edge pieces, get them together and I get a good feel for how large the puzzle will be.

The best way for me to write a story is to first determine the plot. What’s the main idea of the story that all the action will center around? Get the plot to come together and I get a good feel for where the story needs to go.

Separate like pieces/themes

After the border is done, I try to group similar colored pieces together into piles. In this puzzle, I have pieces that go together based on cookies and candies. If I get stuck on one area, I can switch over to another pile of sorted pieces and get them to fit together to drop in later.

Once I know what my story is about, I can plan out themes and scenes that have started to form in my mind. Although my storylines typically play out consecutively, if I get stuck on what comes next, I might switch over and write a scene that takes place in chapter ten, even though I’m still writing chapter five. Because I know where the story is going, I don’t hesitate to write even the last chapter, way before the book is done.

Periodically check the floor/memory for missing pieces

Sometimes I will search around for a particular piece forever before realizing that it has fallen to the floor. If I retrieve it before the dog gets to it, I feel relieved to finally put it in its rightful place.

Sometimes I will panic because I thought of a clever line or ironic twist to add to my story and then, by the time I get to my computer (or find a scrap of paper), I can’t remember what it was. If I make a note to myself (Or tell it to Joan, in hopes that she remembers it—as I did today over breakfast!), then my brilliant idea is not lost. And, if I do forget it, I console myself by saying it must not have been so exceptional after all.

Make sure all the pieces are properly connected

I tell the kids, when in doubt, hold up two pieces to the light (or turn them over) to make sure they’re a perfect fit. Sometimes two pieces appear to be mates when in reality, they’re just close. Better to be sure than to continue and realize it much later, when the poorly connected pieces make the surrounding ones not fit.

I’ve loved a line or scene in something I’ve written, only later to discover that it really doesn’t fit the story. Then, as hard as it is to highlight a section of text and hit delete, it’s better to take it out than to make it derail the story.

Once the puzzle/story is done, sit back and enjoy it a while before tearing it up

It takes days to complete a 1000-piece puzzle, so there’s no need to quickly disassemble it and put it back in the box. I enjoy the result of my effort for a few days. And there’s always another puzzle to do.

It takes many months for me to write a 70,000-word manuscript, so there’s no need to quickly tear it up. I take a few weeks (or months) to let it sit before delving back into it for an edit, enjoying the result of my effort. And there’s always another story to tell.

1 comment:

  1. Good post. I like this analogy. By the way, it was Miss Ruby's line about 3 things. (cryptic, huh?!)


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