Crafting a Story, Completing a Jigsaw Puzzle

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Crystal Klimavicz

Crystal Klimavicz

Today we welcome Crystal Klimavicz as a new blogger. Crystal has just published her first novel, Falling through Trees. A daughter of New England, Crystal moved to north metro Atlanta 16 years ago with her husband. She has worked in the healthcare sector and has a master’s in healthcare management. For three years, she and her family lived in Ukraine, where she served as president of IWCK, the International Women’s Club of Kyiv, a charitable organization. 

When I met with a publisher regarding my first novel, Falling Through Trees, I mentioned that crafting my story had felt much like working on a jigsaw puzzle – a large-scale puzzle with many small and intricate pieces. The publisher simply smiled and asked me to expand on the analogy. I explained how I had visualized the process of writing my thoughts down, page by page, as if it mirrored the process of fitting together hundreds or perhaps thousands of individual jigsaw pieces until they interlocked and formed a ‘perfect’ picture. (Of course, the word ‘perfect’ here is laced with a measure of irony, as writers know there is no true perfection in writing, but merely inspiration in its grace.)

My first blog posting addressed the subjective comparison of the process of writing to working on a jigsaw puzzle; I explained that it’s one that reverts to my childhood days. I grew up in a relatively small town without siblings around jigsaw_puzzle 1who could have been instant playmates for an outgoing and conversationally needy child. I spent many quiet
afternoons doing crossword puzzles, playing Solitaire, and working on jigsaw puzzles to keep myself entertained as the Maine seasons came and went, and time dragged by. Jigsaw puzzles were always my favorite, though, for both the length of time involved in their completion and the thrill of finding ‘that’ one special piece that I had been searching for, only to then move on to the next one, and the next… knowing with each new piece that I was incrementally closer to completing the full puzzle.

When I went back and reread my blog, I realized how apt this “writing/puzzle” analogy was, yet on a much deeper level. It took a quick Google search to find a definition of “jigsaw puzzle” to see how intricate the threads of my analogy were woven. Jigsaw puzzle is described as “…a tiling puzzle that requires the assembly of numerous small, often oddly shaped, interlocking and tessellating pieces.  Each piece is a small part of the overall picture and when complete, the interlocking jigsaw pieces produce a complete and detailed image.”  jigsaw-piece

The key word in this definition is “tessellating,” which is defined as cover (or plane surface) by repeated use of a single shape, without gaps or overlapping pieces. You see, although a story is not one-dimensional in nature, it does indeed cover a surface – the surface of the writer’s mind as the idea for the story, its plot and characters, begins to form. In my own writing, once I have an idea surfing around in my subconscious, it’s only when I can see that ‘cover,’ that direction that my story will take, that I can then begin to sit and write it all down. Writing the entire novel becomes a complex, challenging, and sometimes overpowering process; it takes hold of you like a pitbull and thrashes you around without letting go as the cover takes shape.

I began Falling Through Trees by writing down a mere page, perhaps two; the idea for the story had stemmed from a tragedy that I had faced a few years before. My ‘cover’ had been hovering around in my subconscious for so long that by the time I sat down to write, it felt like a breath that had been held inside for far too long, was finally released. I set those pages aside for six months, which allowed my mind to work and rework characters and subplots so that the moment I truly began to write felt natural, and the words flowed freely. The puzzle of crafting my story and all of its unique pieces became a fun and amazing process. I saw the transformation of interactive conversations, storyline ideas, character strengths and flaws, and unexpected plot changes as they formed together into moving paragraphs, completed chapters and eventually a full-fledged novel.  post-it-notes

As I created the pieces of this story, my Post-it notes littered one entire wall of my bedroom with their yellow, curling edges. As the story simmered in my head, I moved the notes here and there around the wall until I knew they were in their right place. This novel became the greatest puzzle that I have ever worked on, and the thousands of pieces that I pulled from within myself to craft it, brought more joy to me than any puzzle ever did.

From this experience, I find that the second half of the definition of tessellating is what is truly compelling for writers, as it refers to the scenario of creating something “without gaps or overlapping pieces.” For this is the key to making a story really ‘work’ in the end – to make sure that the writer has not left gaps in her story, for example, characters without reason, dialogue without closure, or subplots left unspoken for. Likewise, ‘overlapping’ issues in stories refer to the inclusion of unnecessary words or scenes, the moral beating of the proverbial dead horse, the constant rhythm of the words and paragraphs that slowly, sadly puts a reader to sleep.

A good novel should move a reader with each new chapter and shine a light of interest with each turning page, just as searching for that next interlocking puzzle piece keeps its creator at the table, working to see the beautiful image falling through treesgrow and form before her. I would encourage all writers – aspiring or published, full-time or hobby – to think about your story as a grand puzzle. If you storyboard your novels, the Post-it notes will become your puzzle pieces as you work to fit them together in a sensible, moving and capturing way. Take time to make sure each and every ‘piece’ of the puzzle is there for a reason, just as there are no extra pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. Be sure to use the pieces wisely, always building towards the greater good of moving your plot, advancing your characters and working towards the ultimate magic of the final story. Remember, the next time you sit down to write, ask yourself… am I truly keeping the final picture of my story in mind, and am I piecing it all together, just as it was meant to be?

If you have chosen to ‘storyboard’ your novels, is it helpful to visualize the process of crafting and creating the storyboard as your own grand jigsaw puzzle?  Have you tried any other creative visualization techniques to aid your writing?

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11 thoughts on “Crafting a Story, Completing a Jigsaw Puzzle

  1. Crystal, I’m going to Oxford, Ms. later this month to visit Faulkner’s home, Rowan Oak. I hear his famous “storyboard” of “As I Lay Dying” is still on the wall where he drew it.

    • That sounds like a fabulous trip, Christina! Could I sneak away and come with you? I hope you will take some pictures of the wall, and I will certainly read up on it to learn more. It would be so very interesting to see how a master of the written word compiled his own storyboard, versus my own initial, fumbling attempts at making one. Thank-you!

  2. Thanks for the post, Crystal, and congrats on the book! I find that after the initial stuff is all laid out, there is a constant “stepping back” visualization that works for me. Colors, symbols, and key words help me contextualize things, but it’s different for every new work (maybe I just haven’t settled yet:)

    • I absolutely agree! I moved my sticky notes around so many times, I’m surprised they still “stuck”. J

      I began by using different colored Post-its for my different characters, but eventually moved to just three colors which represented the three acts of the story.

      Also, I am very visual in my learning methods so having them all up on my wall made it a constant work in progress that evolved almost daily. Super fun to see!

  3. Thanks for this very clear rendering of your process. My style is more like that of a spider – holding her silk, waiting for a friendly breeze. Breeze comes. She leaps. Sometimes she lands in a fortunate place, and sometimes she doesn’t. She jumps as often as it takes. Yet once those anchors are set, she can spin like crazy. Congratulations on your book, and welcome to the blog.

    • Thank-you, Eve. I loved your analogy! Your comment made me think of Charlotte’s Web – the simple spider that helped bring a naive and lonely swine to his fullest potential through her web creations, her mastery of kindness and wisdom. Even when those who looked on didn’t know what she was creating, she always did. In the end, she produced a small masterpiece in the barn every time; one that brought townspeople in from miles away to read what she had written in her web.

  4. Crystal, I enjoyed your article and your very visual writing process. Anal retentive, or obsessive compulsive, person that I am, my own storyboard is a very structured excel spreadsheet, complete with columns for words per chapter, scenes, calendar dates, etc. Despite what seems to be a highly rigid approach, is actually very flexible, allowing me to change one or more scenes and yet keep control of the whole — not nearly as striking as your multi-colored wall.
    I look forward to reading more of your posts.

    • Thanks, Rona! Ooo, the mere mention of the word “spreadsheet”, however, will cinch my spine and contort my mind (much to my husband’s dismay as the financial guru of our family). No, I cannot say that my process was very structured, but rather colorful and carefree. As I mentioned to Stephanie, I moved my notes around often before I finally “saw” the way I knew the story should move and progress. Now, let’s see how the next one goes!

  5. What a lovely visual of the creative process as you assemble your
    storyline and develop it into a finished product. I am in awe of you
    and the others on our blog who have persevered and actually
    completed a book. Welcome to our wonderful group. You and I
    have a personal connection as well–Amy Lane Burrell is the
    daughter of my longtime friend–what a small world this is–writing
    and books bring folks together!

  6. Pingback: The Journey of Writing… from Ben Franklin to The New York Times to Creative Writing Classes | Readers Unbound

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