Saturday, 30 March 2013

Putting all the pieces together

I love solving puzzles.

Any kind of puzzle. Word puzzles. Number puzzles. You name it, I'll try it.

I love sudoku. I like the way you gradually fill in the gaps, so the more numbers you put in, the more numbers you can then slot into place.

I love crosswords. I especially like cryptic crosswords, where each clue is like a little riddle that needs to be solved. It's one of the most satisfying feelings when you can look at a cryptic crossword after every word has been successfully filled in.

I love jigsaw puzzles. Even really easy ones. If I see one, I'll always try to do it. Except those really difficult ones where half of it is just sky - now that's not fun, partly because it's more like trial and error than real puzzle solving.

I think it's just something about how my brain works. I see most of the things I do as puzzles that need to be solved.

It definitely affects my writing. I suppose thinking about a story in this way is one of the simplest methods around. You have a character + they have a problem + they find the solution to the problem = a story. Simple. Clear. If I analysed most of my stories, I think you'd find they conformed to that structure.

What I find really interesting though is that while my characters are busy trying to solve their problems, I'm in exactly the same position as a writer. I'm constantly writing myself into tricky spots, then having to figure out how to get out of them. Sometimes I think that I spend just as much time on problem-solving as my characters do - and that's what I really enjoy about writing.

So far, I've always managed to figure it out. Sometimes, it's been just in the nick of time. There have been many times when I've sat down to write a critical chapter with no idea how it's going to pan out. And I refuse to allow myself to cheat. No additional characters coming in at the last minute. No deus ex machina. It's up to the characters to figure it out based on what has already been established in the story. Often that's even harder for me than it is for the characters.

I think that when it comes down to it, I see life as one big jigsaw puzzle, and the purpose of life is to put it all together. I know we'll never have all the pieces, so it will never be completely finished. But you can still end up with a pretty good picture.


  1. The thing about jigsaws is they have solutions. I’m not sure life has. Also a jigsaw has a handy picture on the top of the box so you know where you’re headed and life certainly doesn’t have that. I enjoy solving puzzles up to a point. I care less than I used to. We watch a lot of crime programmes and most are pretty formulaic but I rarely expend much energy trying to work out who did it or how or why whilst I’m watching the programme; I know someone did it and I know I’ll find out by the end and I can live with that. I haven’t done a jigsaw in years. The last one was one I had made for my daughter. We turned a nice photo of her into a jigsaw and I made it when it arrived to make sure all the pieces were there. I do download the odd puzzle game for my tablet but if they’re too hard I get bored. If I can solve the thing in five minutes that’s fine but life’s too short to spend an hour shoving blocks about on a screen. Looking at my books, well, there’s not much of a plot to any of them. I don’t fret too much about getting my characters into impossible situations. I just follow my nose and see where they end up and as most of the action takes place in houses and parks and shops and the like finding ways out aren’t exactly hard. I do marvel at those writers who work with layered plotlines but that’ll never be me I’m afraid.

    1. Hi Jim,

      Life may not have a solution - thanks why I get some relief from puzzles. Have a good week.