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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 who 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.”
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.
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 grow 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?