Cutting the Pieces

Plotting a novel is like making a jigsaw puzzle where you have to make all the pieces yourself before you can start putting anything together.

A novel length piece of work is hard enough to write without trying to thread an intricate plot through it. I love dropping in a surprising plot twist, but I have to be sure that I’m being fair to the reader and that the characters are acting consistently.

If weaving the plot is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle, writing is the process of making the jigsaw pieces. When I start my novels I have a pretty good idea about where I want the plot to go, but it’s only a rough guide. I’m not even sure at that point how many jigsaw pieces I need, I just have a good idea of the shape of the finished puzzle.

As I write the first draft I have some pieces with rough edges that start to fill out the shape that I’d planned. The second draft will involve recutting some of those edges so the pieces fit together more snugly, and maybe even cutting new pieces to fit the gaps that shouldn’t be there. The delight of writing is when the pieces fit together in a way that I’d never intended. Those little surprise twists in the plot are rarely things I’d thought of at the start of the novel. I discovered them along the way, and being surprised myself, I can be sure the reader will find them unexpected too.

Plenty of the panic and desperation in my early attempts at writing novels was brought on by those gaps in the puzzle and the way that the pieces refused to fit together in the way I’d dreamt they would. Those despairing attempts all ended up being abandoned long before I got the chance to find the unexpected combinations, and before I realised how radically a shape can change in a redraft. What’s changed? I couldn’t say for sure, but maybe getting good at jigsaws is a sign of getting old?!


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