Putting the Pieces Together Right
Do you like puzzles? I love puzzles. I love to figure out logical puzzles like sudoku, spatial puzzles like Tetris, card game puzzles like Spider. I spend a good amount of time working on puzzles. Why am I telling you this in a blog about writing?
Because writing a book is the same as figuring out a puzzle.
All the pieces need to fit. You have to have everything in just the right order or else the logic won’t work. This is true for both fiction and non-fiction books.
In fiction, events must unfold in a logical fashion, if they don’t your reader is going to get lost. Your characters are going to do things that won’t make sense if they aren’t done in the correct order. And your plot lines need to intersect, flow and blend in just the right way so that your characters grow, the story develops, conflicts emerge and are resolved.
What happens if the puzzle pieces don’t fit together right? You could end up with chaos. Or you could just end up with something that just seems a little off—like when you’ve got a jigsaw puzzle piece that just about fits in the space where you’ve put it but the image doesn’t quite work. You know something is wrong, but you can’t always put your finger on what it is. It just doesn’t feel right.
In non-fiction, once again, you may be relying on either logic to decide what order your chapters should be in, or perhaps chronological order. The question is, do you proceed in the order that you do things or in the order that you realized what needed to be done. There, of course, is no right answer. It depends on the subject.
Lots of authors have fun mixing up the puzzle pieces of their story, deliberately putting them in the wrong order—starting at the end, or in the middle of the story and then bouncing back and forth in time. It can create some really interesting suspense if your reader has already read the end of the book because you put it first. Or you could just confuse people.
I’ve been grappling with fitting puzzle pieces together for a book I’m starting to write. It’s a work of non-fiction—a cross between memoir and motivational literature. I started off writing like a racehorse released from the starting gate, but then the course got muddy and I lost my way. There are more obstacles than I realized and I’m trying to find my way through this maze. I’m trying to fit puzzle pieces together so that they form a coherent whole.
So far, it hasn’t been working.
I thought I’d use that wonderful technique that I’ve used a number of times in my fiction writing when things haven’t been working out right—leaving it be and letting my subconscious work on it while I get other stuff done. The problem is that my mind won’t let go. I’ve been puzzling over it for a few days and I haven’t been able to see my way through quite yet. I think one of the problems is that I’m not entirely certain what the puzzle should look like when I’m done: should it be more motivational, more of a writing book, or more memoir? I haven’t decided.
I’m leaning toward motivation through personal stories, but honestly, I hate those books that are all cliché: I did it, you can too! I wrote a full page of clichéd platitudes yesterday and then threw it out. Hopefully, I’ve gotten that out of my system now and can actually write something meaningful. I don’t have a lot of hope in that direction, but I’m trying. I promise if it’s nothing but stupid platitudes I won’t publish it. Goodness knows we don’t need more of those! No, I want to write something meaningful. Something that can both motivate and guide writers on their journey.
I’m hopeful that once I find the right pieces that fit in this puzzle the writing will flow as easily as a ball through a maze, but I’m still not there yet. It’s going to take some more time to find the pieces that belong in this book and discard those that might belong in some other book (one filled with clichés and platitudes). I’m going to try that great technique of making a list of 10-20 options and then choosing the best. But truly, I feel like I’ve got all these puzzle pieces but none of them are fitting together in just the right way. I need to shape them a little bit more, I think. I’ll smooth the edges, color in the picture on that piece and see how it can fit with the other pieces I’ve created or have planned to create. Basically, the whole thing needs more work.
The good thing is that I love working on puzzles. I’ll ponder this one, trying this and that until it works. Happily, there’s no time limit or number of moves I can make before I have to finish it or give up.
Have you grappled with a book where the pieces just don’t quite fit right? What did you do to solve the problem?
One note here: You’ll notice that there’s no audio version of this blog post. It’s because I didn’t hear from anyone last week so I’ll assume that no one was listening to them. If you want to see the audio come back, tell me!