Puzzles and Novels


The other day I had an idea. It was an idea I had never tried before but one that I wish I had. What if I took my scribbled chapter outlines and turned them into the world’s biggest jigsaw puzzle?

When you think about it all we’re doing is creating a puzzle. As the reader turns the page the puzzle we create becomes clearer and clearer. Pretty cool, if I say so myself.


Going with that thought I took each page and placed them on the floor in order that I wrote them. At the time I didn’t think much of it. I knew each page by heart and figured I’d be reading them at a different angle.

But that wasn’t the case.

Once I laid them out something strange begin to happen. A movie of sorts immediately clicked in my head. Within seconds, like someone turning on an old movie reel, my scribbly notes began to move.


I could see my characters in action. Talking, walking living in the world I gave them. They were coming alive in our only room with carpet.

It wasn’t the little things that I saw. No highlights or bit parts or the epic ticking clock complete with bad guy vs. good guy….spoiler alert! No. It was everything.

Including the stuff that didn’t work.


Identifying the bad stuff I made a note on the pages and took them out and rewrote them. I experimented with a few pages, placed them back where they belonged and presto….

The movie I had created looked a little clearer.

Like you, I’ve read all kinds of advice. Some I’ve used, most I have not. But one thing I have never tried is this. I’ve heard writers talk it but it always sounded kind of nutty.

Why would I physically arrange notes on the carpet? The cats would have a field day. But cat field day or not, as you can see, it worked.


As I look at it now it all makes sense. I’m a visual person. Give me directions full or words and I’ll probably get lost. But give me a google map, now we’re talking.

So much of what we do is planning. Even the pantsers are planners in some way, but all of us can agree a game plan is always in the mix in one way or another.

Starting a novel is exciting and grueling….mostly grueling. But what if we discover something to ease the pain? I think we can all agree a little pain easing is worth a try.

I’m now planning on giving my notes a once over. I’ll make them a little tighter. Maybe shift the story a bit and see where it goes.

Whatever I do I’ll continue to playout my little movie. Hey, it works for me and let’s face it – This writing thing is hard and if we can find something that works, good for us.


Most of all if that something involves cluttering the carpet with pages of scribble so be it. Who needs all that gruel?


Happy 4th!!!

To all of my American friends please have yourself a fun and safe 4th of July. To my other friends from around the world I will see you next week. The 4th of July celebration is taking me out of town through the weekend.

Safe to all and I’ll see you next week.

July 4th 2


10 thoughts on “Puzzles and Novels

  1. This is a very cool way to discover what works for you. I like your metaphor about a novel being a puzzle being made clearer as the reader continues. I might give your idea a try. I’ve never written an outline except for an overall. Could be why my novels are stuck somewhere in “how did I get here?” ♥.


  2. Hi Niki,

    Tamara Drazic – https://tamaradrazic.com/ – wrote about chapter outlines on her blog. Her and I exchanged ideas about it and I liked what she came up with.

    Tamara explained taking a page and scribble down what you feel each chapter should be about. It worked for me when I saw the word scribble. There was no structure. I could write whatever came to mind and by thinking this way I relaxed. For me it worked and that’s all any of us want is to find something that works.

    Give it a try. Lay your work out on the floor like I did and see if your imagination creates a mini-movie.

    If you do this come back and share your experience. I’m curious what you found out.


  3. This was a very interesting post, it makes me want to try that. I’ve been getting stuck in my story so much I wonder if trying something like this might help. Thank you so much for sharing!


    1. For me it was a refreshing approach. I think it helps to try new things from time to time. It breaks up the repetition, plus it gives us a chance to find something that might work. Let me know if it works for you.


  4. It’s always great finding a new system that works 😀 When I “tab” up my novel, which is when I work out the scene order and chapters, I do the same – I spread everything on the floor and shuffle them around. It can make such a difference


  5. I’m not surprised, Ari. I can see you doing this. Did you ever write a post on your blog explaining all the different ways to look at your book in the early drafts? If not, I wish you would.


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