By Kristi Holl
Starting a new novel can be overwhelming. Our minds jump around as we fill dozens of colored sticky notes with snippets of ideas. Eventually we end up with hundreds of bits of information. Where do we start to make sense of it all?
One summer I found a solution when putting together a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle with my family. Initial excitement at the gorgeous mountain scene on the box was followed by an overwhelming pile of puzzle pieces dumped on the table. Many days later, we had a beautiful picture suitable for framing.
The parallels were clear. After that, I began to use a simple “puzzle method” to plan novels and calm that overwhelmed feeling I experience at the beginning.
When beginning a puzzle, I find the four corners, which provide anchors for my picture. I approach my novel the same way. The four anchors of my story include the setting, my main character, the plot genre, and the theme. (For example, the four “corners” of my novel-in-progress are 1850s England, a vicar’s daughter, mystery, and the 23rd Psalm.)
Plotting and Outlining
Next, in assembling a puzzle, I use flat-edged pieces to link the four corners and make a picture frame. Likewise, in my novels, I next connect the four corners (plot, main character, setting, theme). What are a few ways they are joined?
- The plot shapes character growth.
- The setting influences plot development.
- The main character’s gifts and callings impact the plot.
- The theme (God’s truth that you are illustrating) affects the climax and ending.
Framing the novel is both exciting and nerve-wracking. Always pray as you work. “God will not fail you nor abandon you [but will guide you in the construction] until you have finished all the work for the service of the house of the Lord.” (1 Chron. 28:20 Amp.) I need guidance in the construction!
After the puzzle frame is complete, you still have 900 pieces to fill the gaping hole in the middle. Use the picture on the box to sort the pieces by major color or feature. Leave the small details for last. Likewise, I next outline my novel with major pivotal scenes and unusual features and characters. This gives me some structure.
After adding main features to the center of your puzzle, you will still have about 400 pieces left that are mostly blue and green. Lots of sky pieces. Lots of tree and grass pieces. At this point you grow tired of looking for the “just right” piece. Occasionally you force a “nearly right” puzzle piece to fill the hole. You hope no one will notice and press it down to keep it from buckling.
It’s the same with our novels. But when a character or plot twist “buckles,” the Holy Spirit may be saying, “This doesn’t fit here.” We sometimes ignore the nudge, hoping our critique partner or editor or agent won’t notice the little misfit. But they do. Eventually we learn that when the Holy Spirit tries to “course correct,” we are wise to stop overriding His voice.
Veteran puzzlers advise that whenever you are confused, consult the image on the box. Remind yourself of the final picture. They also warn you to be patient. If you get frustrated, you might abandon your puzzle. Novelists also face confusion and frustration. We, too, need to stick with it so we can eventually say, “I have glorified You [down here] on the earth by completing the work that You gave Me to do.” (John 17:4 Amp.)
So, the next time you must organize a mountain of scribbled notes for your new novel, try this idea. Piece by piece, put it together with the puzzle method.Use this simple “puzzle method” to plan your next novel. @KristiHoll #ACFWBlogs #writingtips Click To Tweet
Kristi Holl had forty-eight juvenile books published with both Christian and mainstream publishers before deciding to write for adults. When writing her eight novels for adults, she re-discovered her love for historical mysteries. One of those novels features Jane Austen. A Dangerous Tide is still housed today in the Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, England.