The puzzle of writing

The main question I get asked as a novelist is: How does the creative process work for me?

It is a great question. It is a very open-ended musing. And there is an interesting story behind it . . .

For me it comes together like a puzzle, only the first piece is the most interesting part of the story and is usually smack dab in the center. You know how you usually work on a puzzle from the side pieces all around the edges before you get a good idea of what the central image is? Ideally you have a starting point and it spreads one step at a time from beginning to end. Unfortunately, novels in my mind do not naturally unravel to my view in this way. Neither do puzzles for most. It is a little different for each person. Can you picture how it works for you?

My first novel attempt was complete fiction and started with one poignant scene. I immediately wondered why I could not think of ever seeing that moment in a movie or the pages of a book. As I thought about it I decided it was too good not to write down. The problem is that this was only one piece of the puzzle. But I am a problem solver. All writers are. We create problems to solve. Our lives are the story within the story and we are constantly in conflict with how to resolve whatever story we are working on.

My second novel attempt had more of an outline. I feared this would take away from the creative process. Could I even stay interested in my own writing long enough to make it interesting for someone else? I realized there was a balance of seeing the whole picture but not too much to eliminate the intrigue of the connecting details.

If you have ever put together a puzzle you can probably guess where I am going with this blog post. Puzzles have structure, and patterns, and pictures, and they all come together in a certain order, but not a consecutive order. Writing is like that. You try to find pieces that connect one to another. It all should fit within the same framework. You create a skeletal outline, you group together like parts, and you write everything down. Soon the grand picture starts forming and sections, or chapters, take shape. This is how it comes together for me. If I have a great idea I write it down and then I let my mind think of how to use all the important parts or elements of novel writing: beginning, middle, end, point of view, setting, plot, conflict, resolution and what not. The ideas get drawn out in panoramic detail. I outline it and separate the ideas accordingly. I dedicate time specifically to writing it down and manipulating it until everything fits just right. The details take plenty of finesse and fine tuning. All and all, the puzzle comes together.

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