Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Pieces of the Puzzle

Have you ever tried to put together a massive jigsaw puzzle without the box cover as a guide?

You know the kind of puzzle I'm talking about -- the 300 to 1,000 piece ones that you find in your grandmother's attic stuffed into a paper (or plastic) bag whose box has long ago disappeared. Or even ones where you've decided "I'm not going to use a guide," which is slightly crazy but I'm going somewhere with this.

It's hard isn't it? You have to try to match pieces together based on edges and the way the colors run in each individual piece. Sometimes you give up for awhile, come back, give up, and if you're really truly tenacious you figure it out after many many different attempts and failures.

Writing a novel is like putting that puzzle together without a guide.

It doesn't matter whether you're a pantser or a plotter. You still have to find the pieces of the puzzle -- in this case the character's history and motivations, setting details, plot lines, background information, research, etc -- and fit them together in enough detail to jimmy the puzzle together. And heaven help you if you try to hammer the pieces together when they don't want to go. All you end up with is a mess of something that doesn't look like anything.

But, if you take the time to match the pieces together into a coherent whole, you get a rush when you start to see the pieces falling into place. You've figured out why the villain is set against the hero; you've got a handle on why the hero needs to go to the Topless Tower of Ilium instead of stay home; the setting is concrete in your mind and becomes a vibrant character of its own. Once all of these "pieces of the puzzle" work together, and your story-puzzle takes shape into the picture it's supposed to be, you soon see that what you've completed is a work worthy of admiration and framing/publishing.

So fit those puzzle pieces together, dear readers, and make your stories into the pictures they're supposed to be. Who knows? Maybe you'll get a bridge, or a farmhouse, or even a castle.


L. T. Host said...


*Ahem. Apparently the five-year-old in me is strong today.

Great post; I certainly feel like I'm trying to juggle 1,000 pieces without the box right now. Wish me luck. Stupid brain not keeping the picture... *grumble.

Matthew Delman said...

L.T. --

LOL! Talk to WF and see if he'll buy it for you as a pre-wedding present.

Oh and good luck on keeping the picture in your head.

Davin Malasarn said...

I often end up working this way, and I find it very difficult. Sometimes--often, I have to throw away the puzzle pieces and think more linearly. I try to find the pieces I need rather than work with the pieces I have. But, it often requires a little of both on my part.

Susan R. Mills said...

This is so true. I've often thought of it as putting a puzzle together. Sometimes I fit the right pieces together, but sometimes I don't. I'll get it done eventually.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I feel like I'm building the puzzle one piece at a time, inventing the pieces as I go, and doubling back when they don't quite fit. And that sense of creation, where everything fits together, is absolutely the BEST part of the whole process - for me, at least.