Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Treat Your Book Like a Puzzle

Books that aren't good. We've all read at least one, most have read an unfortunately higher number of them. There's a lot that goes into making a book good, or not good in this case, so this post is far from a bad book cure all for the writers out there. This is mostly focused on the plot of your book, on of the most complex aspects of any story, unless it's some detailed character study. If you do too little, your plot ends up being paper thin, prone to holes, and quick to sputter out and become boring to the reader. However, if you do too much, you end up with a confused, convoluted story that close to nobody can fully follow, understand, or enjoy.

There are several solutions to issues in plot construction, my solution is to see the whole plot as a puzzle from the very beginning. Even if you've only got a scene or two played out in your head, or only have a character idea and not a concrete story yet, your puzzle is still there waiting for discovery. But, putting together a puzzle you can't fully see isn't the easiest thing. That's where other aspects of your story come to your aid. Characters, setting, and the like will build parts of the plot for you, and give you something to jump off from. Now all you have to do is not overdo or underdo it. But, I know, easier said than done.

Your plot is a puzzle. Every piece has to fit snugly together, otherwise it will come out misshaped, ugly, and straight-up wrong. Unlike most puzzles, however, plots are malleable, you just have to be willing to make the changes. If a piece just doesn't fit anywhere, don't be afraid to throw it aside and create a new one. Kill the darlings that don't comply to the spaces allowed by the plot. If you like that character, idea, setting, plot point, or whatever a whole lot, great! Use it in a different story. If you force what doesn't fit, you'll end up in some shit. By the end, you should be looking at a flawless puzzle of a plot, and you're not going to get that with the wrong pieces.

Once you're done, though, you shouldn't have any pieces left over either. If you get a 1000 piece puzzle, you're probably not going to call it done at 700 just because the picture you've already made is fine. You should want to expand it to its full potential. The same goes for your plot. There should be no shrugging and "good enough"-ing. Strive towards your idea of perfection, whatever that is (just don't get bogged down in some definition of perfection that isn't yours). Your puzzle, even with a lot of snug, perfectly fitting pieces, will still look ugly with holes and jagged sides. If there's still true potential for development, don't settle, keep building. You'll be surprised just how great it'll look when the day comes that it's finally done.

Know when to stop your development though. When the sides of your puzzle straighten out, don't try to keep building onto them, then soon all you'll have are jagged sides and bloated ugliness. This balance is the hardest part to any plot-builder. Know when you're finished, when good enough is actually fantastic. This isn't something I can help you with, unfortunately, it's all up to you to know when your puzzle is fully complete. Every piece should fit together completely and comfortably, there should be no jagged edges or empty holes where pieces should be, and each piece should work with the others to form one, cohesive, crystal-clear picture. If the picture is confusing and cloudy, switch some pieces around, replace some entirely, and get that clear and cohesive plot every writer should strive for.

Now, if you liked what I said about plots, check out a few of mine on AMAZON (also available on B&N, Smashwords, iBooks, and Kobo).

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