Daily Archives: November 9, 2009

The Analogy Machine: Jigsaw Puzzles

First up: Got this email from Mary Kole over at Kidlit in my inbox this weekend:

Congratulations! I’m thrilled to let you know that I’ve picked you as my first place winner for the query contest.

Hurray! The post isn’t up yet over there, but it should appear sometime today. I won a critique of the first 20 pages of my manuscript by Mary Kole herself, who’s an agent with Andrea Brown. It’ll be interesting to hear what she says especially since I’m heading into revision-land right now.

Speaking of revisions, I love doing jigsaw puzzles. Sometimes my family would go skiing in Canada over winter vacations and we’d spend all our non-skiing time playing games. Or doing jigsaw puzzles. Let me tell you: jigsaw puzzles are highly addicting. Not sure why; they’re kind of annoying, too. But there’s something magical about them. The picture only works one way — one single way — and once you graduate to 5000 piece puzzles it literally takes magic to fit everything together.

Revisions are like jigsaw puzzles. Writing in general is like a jigsaw puzzle. Example: I wrote three major drafts of THE INBETWEEN. I mean, major drafts. Each one (althought they kept the same major characters and basic premise) had a vastly (HUGELY CRAZILY) different plot line. And with each one, I’d get to the end (or almost the end or pretty close to the end) and realize that nothing was right. Nothing. The picture wasn’t clear, wasn’t coherent, wasn’t perfect.

So I’d scrap. Think. Begin again.

Problem is, works-in-progress don’t have box-pictures to show the way. You gotta make up the picture as you go and hope it all fits together in the end.

In the end, THE INBETWEEN fit together. I found the right picture and finally dropped the last piece into place. (Some pieces are still kind of loose and sketchy so the puzzle isn’t quite complete. But it’s close.) Still, I’d rather avoid the whole scrap-begin-again process next time. How?

  • Make your own box-picture. (I don’t know what else to call the box-picture. The picture on the box? The jigsaw map? Anyway, you know what I mean). Look big-picture. Try an outline. Or (if you’re anti-outline), at least make some character maps. Sketch out some scenes. Know where you’re going so you don’t end up throwing your jigsaw puzzle out the window into the snow. This is also called —
  • Start with the framework. Remember how you always start jigsaw puzzles with the edges? They’re easy to find. Begin with the pieces that are easy to find: your premise, your main character and his/her motivation. Then see where those take you — hopefully they’ll lead to the center of the puzzle.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment — or backtrack if pieces don’t fit. Really, you are working with jigsaw-like plot pieces when you write. Sometimes you have to fool around. Test things out. Try to link up pieces that may or may not fit together. If nothing seems to be going right, if the picture isn’t shaping up, take things apart again. You can always put them back together.
  • Watch out for missing pieces, a.k.a. plot holes. Get someone else to look over your work — or talk out your ideas with them as you go along. New eyes will spot things your mind automatically skips over. And the worst thing ever is almost finishing only to realize that the final few pieces have disappeared into the couch.

Try this! Show off your jigsaw skill on this super-cool virtual puzzle (impossible to lose the pieces!). My time was 7:03 (because I got distracted half way through) — can you beat me? It’s really satisfying to hear the puzzle pieces click together just like they’ll click together in your book.

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