Friday, March 4, 2011

On Writing and Puzzles—by Maryann Miller

lighthousepuzzleOne of my hobbies is working jigsaw puzzles. One of my husband's hobbies is finding a puzzle to make my life difficult. He has given me puzzles with no edges, puzzles with little or no contrasts - like a baby seal in a snowbank - and puzzles within a puzzle that had 16 corners and 650 edge pieces. He smiled a lot when he gave me that one because I am a fanatic about doing edges first and he couldn't wait to watch me twitch.

birdpuzzleOn the other hand, my husband didn't think this round puzzle with a mere 440 pieces would be much of a challenge for me, but he didn't take into consideration the shape of the pieces. They are all curved. And some of them connect by matching the outer edge of the curve into the inner edge. Until I found a few pegged pieces that could hold those pieces together, they would separate at the slightest touch. Imagine what happened when one of the cats decided to jump up on the table and slid across the puzzle.

horsepuzzleI am a horse lover, so my husband buys me puzzles that feature horses. At first glance, this puzzle looks like it could go together fairly quickly and easily, but since there are only two major colors, pieces could fit anywhere. Which painted horse does this brown piece go to? And is this white piece part of the snow or a patch on a horse?

While working that many-edged puzzle recently, I started to see a correlation between jigsaw puzzles, writers, and stories. We all have different approaches to story. Some of us like to get all our edges - plot points and an outline - in place before trying to put scenes together. But what happens if we can't do that? In my current WIP, the sequel to Open Season, I never have had all my edge pieces in place, and have been writing scenes as they come to me and going back to tie them all together.

That is probably not the most efficient way to work, but I remember what Diana Gabaldon once said at a writer's conference about how she writes. She said she writes in one continuous flow, often jumping from scene to scene without a clear transition and smoothing it all out in the rewrite.

So I guess it is okay to write without all the edge pieces in place.

And sometimes those scenes don't hold together until you get a pegged piece to anchor them.

As for contrasts, we need to make sure we have plenty of them. Don't leave a reader holding a piece of the story and wondering if it is in the right place.

And when the writing is not going particularly well, you can always take a break and go work on a jigsaw puzzle.


Thanks so much for your post today, Maryann! I know Maryann through the blogging world and she’s always got fantastic posts on the Blood Red Pencil blog as well as her own. And, when I read bios like Maryann’s (see below), I realize that I need to diversify more as a writer!


bookjacketpicture-2As a journalist and author, Maryann Miller amassed credits for feature articles and short fiction in numerous national and regional publications. The Rosen Publishing Group in New York published nine of her non-fiction books including the award-winning, Coping With Weapons and Violence in School and On Your Streets, which is in its third printing. Play It Again, Sam, a woman's novel and One Small Victory, a suspense novel, are electronic books available on Kindle, Nook, and other e-book reading devices. One Small Victory was originally published in hardback.

Cover-2010-optimizedA mystery, Open Season, is a new release in hardback from Five Star Cengage Gale. A young adult novel, Friends Forever, is her first book for BWL Publishing Partners. She has also written several screenplays and stage plays and performs in community theatre in venues around East Texas. You can find Maryann on Facebook and Twitter, on her blog and on her group blog, The Blood Red Pencil.