Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Writing Metaphor in 750 Pieces

by Julie Tollefson

Last weekend, while we waited for Ice-pocalypse (a no-show at our house in the end), my husband pulled out a jigsaw puzzle. We put on music, opened bottles of our favorite local brew, and began piecing those 750 tiny bits into an idyllic rural scene.

And that’s when I learned something new about my husband of 25 years. We have completely different approaches to solving puzzles.

He examines each piece and tries to determine where it fits in the big picture. “Is this part of the turkey, do you think? It’s got to be the turkey, right?” I glance at the piece he waves in front of me, but if it’s part of a turkey, it’s not a part I can identify. Instead, I search for shapes and colors, my focus so completely on these details that when we step away for the night, I’m surprised to see a picture taking shape. (I shouldn’t be. That’s the goal, after all. Sky, trees, and a bit of turkey—nice!)

Sometimes (often?), my approach to writing closely resembles my puzzle methodology. I concentrate so totally on developing a scene or a bit of dialog or a character’s actions that I lose the bigger narrative picture. I have to metaphorically step back and take stock of where the story is and where it needs to go.

The details are important, very important, but they are part of a whole and each one has to work hard to fit into that whole.

Things that make a gloomy day less gloomy.
Oh, and one other classic lesson reinforced during Ice-pocalypse weekend applies to both puzzles and writing: Sometimes, you just have to step away (maybe read a good book by the fire, sip a good whiskey) and come back to the problem with fresh eyes.

What's the most surprising thing you've learned recently? How do you spend your time when Mother Nature threatens?


Jim Jackson said...

Mother nature is pounding us with a thunderstorm currently. Impressive lightening show before it arrived. In the distance we heard tornado sirens, but not close.

I love watching storms, so if it's a good one, my nose is often pressed against a window watching the storm's progress. But for a day-long soaker, I'm content to curl up with a good book.

~ Jim

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

During our annual January ice storm in Atlanta, we discovered a great tradition: clean out our closets and bookshelves day. During daylight, the kids dumped books and clothes into the upstairs hall, the clothes for storage for a younger sibling or donation, and the books claimed by a new owner or the library book sale. As darkness fell, each kid was issued a flashlight for night-time reading.

Shari Randall said...

On the puzzle note, I also go for shapes and color. I wonder if this is a Mars/Venus thing? Last time we made a puzzle we had several house guests. Everyone had their own method! It was great fun because everyone attacked the "problem" puzzle from another direction. If I derive any writing advice from that, it's the old there's more than one way to skin a cat adage.
We just had a nice sized snowstorm with fluffy snow - beautiful and not too much trouble. Nice to walk in then curl up and bake and read!

Julie Tollefson said...

Jim - Crazy weather in your part of the country - stay safe. I do enjoy curling up with a good book on a grey day.

Julie Tollefson said...

Margaret - That's a great tradition! Love it!

Julie Tollefson said...

How fun to get your house guests involved in the puzzle, Shari. I find any time we have a puzzle out (about once a year), anyone who stops by ends up helping a little.

Kait said...

So glad you missed the ice storm. The south is expecting more awful weather today. We're in for some heavy rains and winds ourselves, but thankfully, we are just out of the tornado belt - unless it unches south a bit. I have a feeling hubby and I may actually break out the Monopoly game we bought a few months ago.

Rain and wind make me long for soup, a good book, and a comfy chair - check for all three today. A nap is not a bad idea either.

I love puzzles (shape and color for me too) but alas, a houseful of cats have cured me from trying to accomplish them. Too bad, I used to love them. Cats see them set up. They wait quietly until they are partly completed, then they scream "slip and slide" and fly through the air to the table - all four paws extended causing pieces and cats to fly everywhere followed by cats running off in all directions.

Warren Bull said...

You and your husband sound like my wife and me. I try to put pieces in based on the whole picture so i like to orient the puzzle in one direction. l like to put subassemblies together.

Julie Tollefson said...

Kait - I'm glad we missed it, too. Some folks to the south were not so lucky, and my cousin was without power for 5 days afterwards. Not good.

I laughed out loud at your description of the cats launching themselves at the puzzle. Our cat watched us work on it, but from a distance. The look on his face said "Why are you bothering with that when I want to sit in your lap?"

Julie Tollefson said...

Warren - That is exactly how it worked in our house. John put together little piles of pieces he thought belonged to the turkey or the tractor, and then I'd swoop in and say "hmm, that color looks like it belongs over there"!

Gloria Alden said...

Julie, I haven't worked on a jigsaw puzzle in years. I can see why you want to glue the back and frame it. As for something I learned recently, I'm blogging about it next Thursday so I
don't want to mention it here.

Julie Tollefson said...

Gloria - Ha! You've hooked me! Eagerly anticipating Thursday's post!

KM Rockwood said...

I had an uncle, a disabled veteran, who was really good at jigsaw puzzles. He'd start with the four corners and work around the sides, then in from there.

Once he got a puzzle that was obviously packaged in the wrong box (colors were nothing like the picture on the cover) but he managed to get it put together anyhow.

And then there was the time when he opened a new (sealed) box, sorted through the pieces for the corners, and ended up with five of them.

Julie Tollefson said...

Oh, KM, FIVE corners! That could either be a fun mystery or a frustrating hiccup!