Illusory- The Sky Pieces

I like jigsaw puzzles.

In the abstract.

Then there’s the moment where I dump a thousand pieces on my table-

-And realize that five hundred of them are pieces of sky.

It is tempting when constructing a puzzle to use sameness to baffle the solvers.

To distinguish small variations in the same is one of our most frustrating challenges.

We see this frequently visually, but it is also an insidious force in writing.

Any character who stands out too much, who displays divergent traits or personalities, becomes noticeable, recognizable, memorable.

How can characters like that be used for dramatic twists and revelations when readers are following their every movement with interest and anticipation?

If the clues aren’t hidden until the end, using characters that people are already watching makes it much harder to pull off the sleight-of-hand for a revelatory puzzle.

So either all of the characters become wildly over-the-top or the holders of secrets become bland or camouflaged in a larger crowd of sameness.

These are not the only options, of course, but often when I reach the end of a story’s twisting plot, I think of those sky pieces.

It is not that there is not a challenge in finding the right edges on five hundred pieces of blue.

It is that it is far more rewarding when everything has a point of interest and the cleverness of the puzzle relies on its construction rather than our boredom with sky.

I do not feel excitement when the secret villain is some unremarkable face in a sea of unremarkable faces.

I am excited by puzzles that present me a wealth of depth, of characters, of motivations, where my surprise is based on how much fills the sky rather than how little.

IMG_0026Let there be something other than five hundred pieces of blue

This is a week about the role of illusions, plot, and puzzles in stories.


If you are interested in my take on variety in puzzles, my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor, is available here.

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5 thoughts on “Illusory- The Sky Pieces

  1. I hate being hit over the head with clues or foreshadowing, my children and I discuss this quite a lot as they like to make short films. We watch films and when we see a piece of information added overtly we point it out and guess what will become of it. We all enjoy a story that is seamless in it’s delivery and we are left surprised or pondering about the character. When the pieces fit perfectly together everything works. it’s when the writer tries to shove a piece where it does not belong that it jut out and grabs unwanted attention.

    • This is such a great comment that I’m going to try to refrain from posting a blog entry in reply. Particularly since clues and foreshadowing are part of one of the other blog entries I want to do this week. đŸ™‚

      The heavy-handed clue hammer is one of my pet peeves as well. I think that many writers in other genres would find it helpful to take a look at how the best mystery writers set up their puzzles and plots. Even if someone isn’t writing an explicit mystery, there is a lot of craft and technique involved in seamlessly weaving foreshadowing and major plot points into a narrative that involves similar skills to building clues and red herrings in mysteries.

      Part of the problem, I think, is that in order to do a seamless blend of clues and plot, it is essential to pre-plan and set up outlines and structure before writing. As far as I can tell, most sledgehammer clues come from writing an end plot point, deciding that it needs foreshadowing, and going back and plunking several anvils in the midst of the rest of the narrative. There are a few other psychological tics that are useful to know about for planting clues, but the pre-planning is pretty important to create a seamless narrative.

      It is definitely a parallel to that frustrating moment at the end of the puzzle when none of the remaining pieces fit and you just jam those last sky pieces wherever there’s an empty space. Hypothetically.

      • I look forward to your future posts on this subject. This is precisely why I have been reading crime novels lately. All the top crime writers do say they work backwards, but i don’t think that throw the clues in anywhere, I think if you can get into the head of the character and know what they would do it helps to disguise any obvious plotting. BTW, i have to plot as I have many characters and scenes. i have written small pieces by the seat of my pants,but longer pieces it get too complicated and I’m sure to be caught out by an astute reader.

      • Yup. I’ve spent some time looking at what mystery writers have to say about their process, and there are a few consistent themes that I think are useful for anyone trying to write a more complex plot. They definitely don’t just plop those clues down anywhere! The real genius comes in the ability to take the outline and use the natural expression of the characters to make the delivery of clues authentic and seamless.

      • Yes,So I can do all of the above mentioned in my books, I’ve decided on what my superhero power should be, it’s definitely to best a great writer (and I might add; effortlessly).

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