Tag Archives: novel

The Writing Life: Story Puzzles

puzzle 2I rather enjoy puzzles.  I like them a bit of a challenge, but not too challenging.  500 to 750 pieces is about right, usually brightly colored with lots of interesting things going on in the picture.  There’s a satisfaction to fitting each piece exactly where it goes. To seeing the picture slowly come to life.  To picking up each piece and looking at the juicy bright colors, the hint of the picture, to wonder exactly where it goes or what it is, and see how as soon as it goes in its place, the lines and colors expand to have a new meaning in the context of the pieces around it.

But sometimes I end up with a puzzle that’s harder than I like.  Usually this happens because I shop for all my puzzles second hand (who wants to pay ten bucks for a puzzle when you can get it for one dollar or so at a second hand store).  Which means I’m far more interested in finding pictures I like than paying attention to other details like the size of the puzzle.  While I know 1000 piece puzzles (especially in limited colors) try my patience, I end up falling in love with the picture as something I just really have to try.  Dragon puzzles are especially bad for hooking me like this.  I am not sure why all dragon puzzles seem to have to be in the 1000 piece range.

So, I start out hopeful, thinking, perhaps this won’t be so bad. It is a very splendid dragon, after all.  And at some point am reduced to the frustrating and tedious process of filling in large areas of indeterminate color completely by shape.  Which means trying a piece in ever possible opening until it either fits or gets set aside for later, once the edges are more filled in.  It’s long and frustrating and means the puzzle ends up taking weeks instead of a day or two. I get bored and have to do it in short bursts.  And I mutter to myself about if the dragon is really worth it.  I enjoy the sense of accomplishment when I finish it, but still!

Usually by the time I see yet another dragon puzzle though I’ve forgotten all about this and just have to get it. Sigh. And it happens all over again.

puzzle 1My novels though, bear a striking resemblance to puzzles.  There’s a lot of pieces, they’re supposed to fit together into a coherent whole.  Some of those pieces are delightful and interesting, some of them indeterminate and difficult to place.

Unfortunately my current novel feels more like an 1000 piece puzzle, or maybe a 1500 or 2000 piece one.  And worse, unlike a puzzle, there’s more than one way to put a novel together, it’s just a lot of those ways are bad.  I suspect on most of my books I don’t wait for all those pieces to fit perfectly together, instead I cram them into fitting, particularly all those pieces of sky and background, because they’re too boring to get just right.

Except this novel, it’s one of those magnificent dragon puzzles, I think. I think it has a picture that’s breathtaking, if only I can get it together.  And so I’m reduced to trying each piece, blindly by shape, to see if it fits.  Taking each scene and writing it, rewriting it, rewriting it again.  I think I will have written at least 250,000 words for a 75,000 word book by the end of it, maybe more.  But this is one puzzle, I really want to get right.