My husband and I love to put together jigsaw puzzles. The puzzles we like best are made from photographs of scenery, which to us, seem almost to tell a story if you look closely. Before we begin, we know what the picture will look like. I study the picture, then set it aside until we’ve finished. So how do I work on it? I look for shapes and how they fit together, for colors and varying shades, for textures and patterns and themes.
I find it interesting that in writing, authors approach their stories in a similar way. They have an idea of how their story will look in the end, but they have to put it together piece by piece. Who will the protagonist be? The supporting cast? Will there be an antagonist? Where is the story set? Is there a theme? What are the main conflicts, the main plot, and the sub-plots? And what about the threads that hold everything together like the border of a puzzle?
Unlike most jigsaw puzzles, novels are multi-dimensional. Okay, there are some 3D puzzles, but not many. From beginning to end, novels usually consist of three acts—Setup/Inciting Incident, Confrontation/Middle, Resolution/Climax. But if you look at the story from top to bottom, you’ll see layers, too. On the surface, we have the main story and any sub-plots. Hidden, semi-hidden, or quietly lingering at various levels below that, we usually have subtext: thoughts, reflection, internal monologue, internal conflict, secrets, lies, misunderstandings, misdirection, red-herrings, and foreshadowing. On an even deeper level are the personal histories of the main characters—their lives up until the story begins, their backstory wounds, their ancestry. These histories affect their behavior and thoughts. If the author utilizes this information, they will create well-rounded characters and give the readers someone to care about and relate to.
I think it’s the multi-dimensional aspect of writing that intrigues me the most. It’s also one of the hardest things to learn how to do. But it’s well worth the effort.