It’s Puzzling

I can thank Jill Weatherholt for my new puzzle obsession.

Actually, it’s not a new obsession—more like an awakened obsession. I used to love putting jigsaw puzzles together when I was a kid. Back then, I gravitated to the 1000-piece puzzles, particularly if they had an image by artist Charles Wysocki. There was something comforting about his paintings—these visions of simpler times.

One of Charles Wysocki’s paintings turned puzzle

I breezed through Target the other day and happened upon some puzzles made with images of his paintings. They brought back memories of many autumn days of my childhood and the large piece of cardboard on which I would assemble my puzzles. But that day in Target, I selected a puzzle with a different image—one that reminded me of summer. (Yes, in the photo above and below, those are ice cream scoops.)

I’m an edge builder. I gather all of the pieces of the edge and put those together. With that framework, I work the rest of the puzzle. What is your strategy for putting jigsaw puzzles together?

I’m sort of the same way as a novel writer. By “sort of,” I mean that I only partially work on an outline—the framework of a story. I’m a hybrid writer—pantser and plotter. I usually work through some of the plot off the bat. But the rest comes as I write. Still, I find it helpful to know the boundaries of the story—what pieces need to be there and how they might fit. Like with my main character. I have to know who I am writing about.

I ask myself: Who are her



Family and extended family?


How will any relationship conflicts work thematically with my main character’s desires? How much of her back story will I include? How is the setting emphasized? These (character, setting, plot) are the puzzle pieces that I and other novelists sift through as we draft.

Yeah, I know. I didn’t coin the usage of the puzzle metaphor in regard to writing. But as I work on a puzzle and a novel (not at the same time of course), I can’t help being reminded of the connection between the two.

The puzzle metaphor sounds nice and neat, doesn’t it? But if you’ve worked on a book, you know that writing is often messy. So the puzzle metaphor is apt in another way: we’re puzzled about how we’re going to take our mess—all of those pieces we come up with—and make a cohesive whole out of it. As with many difficult puzzles, we often have to roll up our sleeves to solve them. But the satisfaction of seeing the whole puzzle put together is worth it! (And no, I didn’t finish the puzzle above. Look at the first photo. That is what the finished puzzle is supposed to look like. 😀 😁)

Charles Wysocki puzzle from Other photos by L. Marie. Shopkins Shoppie dolls and Apple Blossom by Moose Toys. Black Panther figure by Funko. Shuri action figure by Hasbro.

39 thoughts on “It’s Puzzling

  1. I love that you’re puzzling again, L. Marie. As someone who struggles to keep my focus, puzzling is something that keeps me in my chair. Like you, I collect all of the edge pieces and build my frame. My puzzling technique is much like my writing. I keep the box with the picture face down and complete the puzzle by flying by the seat of my pants. 🙂 I love the Charles Wysocki puzzles!

    • I remember that about you–that you like to put puzzles together the hard way, Jill. 😀 😁I love that you challenge yourself that way.

      I’m going to have to return to Target and get one of the Wysocki puzzles. They’re too good to keep passing up.

  2. I do the edges with puzzles too. Helps give me some guidance and I’m not making big clumps of the puzzle with no idea how they connect. I do the same with writing in that I work from the small (character bios and outlines) to the final product. Where do the extra or missing pieces come into play?

    • I also thought about your outlines when I wrote this post, Charles. I know you always write such detailed outlines.

      I often have too many pieces–not in a puzzle, but in a story. They were extraneous characters who didn’t really do anything in the story. I cut them as per the suggestion.

      I’ve never had a puzzle with missing pieces. But in a book, I’m grateful for beta readers who help point out what might be missing.

      • The extraneous characters can be fun to work with, which hides their unnecessary purpose. I try to go back and see what brought them to my attention. Either I rework them to fit them in at a smaller, but still important, level or put them aside in case they work better for another story.

      • Good plan. At least you’ve already worked on character profiles and know where these characters can best fit.

        I usually put everything I cut into a Cut file for possible use later.

      • I should do a file, but I tend to do most cuts during the outlining. So, I just have to remember them or go through my years of notes in search of a ‘missing piece’.

  3. Knowing the boundaries, building the edges. Like Jill and Charles, I like that technique in story telling too. Today I look at the second set of revisions from my editor. Missing pieces? Who knows . . .

    Good metaphor, great post!

    • Thank you, Marian. 😊 I thought about you as I wrote this, since you’re writing a memoir. I recall a post of yours where you showed all of the pages laid out, and talked about the hard work of putting it together.

  4. I find the center piece and work out from there . . . round and round in circles . . . OR I work from the center to each corner to create a big “X” that gets fatter and fatter with each additional piece.

    And . . . if you believe that . . . want to buy a bridge in Brooklyn? 🙄

  5. Hi L. My family never did puzzles, but when I got married, my husband’s family did them and I learned to enjoy them. They showed me how to start with the frame. I love you metaphor to writing. I think I write similar to you, and I like the pieces you mentioned to get a frame for the story. I’m going to save this one. Thanks. 🙂

    • Glad it was helpful, Lori. What kinds of puzzles does your husband’s family like? I went to a wedding once where the bride, who is an avid puzzle person, had a puzzle made out of her engagement photo. Everyone invited was given a piece to bring to the wedding reception. 😀

  6. I pick out the edges first, but then so does my Hubby…in addition, as I’m sorting through the box of pieces at first, I find myself drawn to certain colors and hoard those pieces!
    Once again, a post that’s a fine example of why you were selected for that Eclectic Blogger Award!
    Keep on pantsting and planning and puzzling!

    • Thank you again for the nomination, Laura! 😀😀😀
      Once I get the edges done, I like to hoard certain colors too. That’s why the puzzle shown was so attractive to me! I loved the colors.

  7. From: El Space–The Blog of L. Marie To: Sent: Wednesday, October 3, 2018 1:09 AM Subject: [New post] It’s Puzzling #yiv7355522585 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv7355522585 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv7355522585 a.yiv7355522585primaryactionlink:link, #yiv7355522585 a.yiv7355522585primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv7355522585 a.yiv7355522585primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv7355522585 a.yiv7355522585primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv7355522585 | L. Marie posted: “I can thank Jill Weatherholt for my new puzzle obsession.Actually, it’s not a new obsession—more like an awakened obsession. I used to love putting jigsaw puzzles together when I was a kid. Back then, I gravitated to the 1000-piece puzzles, particular” | |

  8. Like you I grew up with jigsaw puzzles. I have fond memories of my mom breaking out the card table and laying out the puzzle pieces. Different members of the family would work on it through the winter (those long, dark nights). I’m pretty sure we always started with the frame. These days I’m stuck with a puzzle app. Sigh. No way can I have a jigsaw puzzle in the works with three cats. The boy, Junior, is a jumper who usually sends magazines and other things flying as he skids across our tables. So I use an app. Better than nothing 😉 I do like the synergy of puzzles and writing. Although I’m very much a pantser. That’s fine when writing a first draft but a real roadblock when trying to revise 😬

  9. Yes, edges first! I can’t imagine working from the middle out. And then if there’s a big boring section, like sky, I do it next, so all the fun bits come at the end… you’ve put me in the mood now! 😀

  10. My mother, my daughter and I also like jigsaw puzzles, but for me Lego superseded them. Very similar in many ways. We also start from the edges and missing pieces are very upsetting to me. Once we bought a puzzle of Gaudi’s Parc Guell in Barcelona, and there was a piece missing. Grrr! There were also instructions on how to order replacement pieces, so they were well aware of their quality control issues.

    • How frustrating! No one wants to go through the trouble of putting a puzzle together only to find a piece missing. While I’m glad they know about the quality control issue, it would be nice if they would beef up that side of the business.

  11. My husband is fond of puzzles. I can help him only in that I’m good at putting like colors together, but after that I cannot see how the whole thing snaps together. I just don’t see the big picture… and I’m sure a psychologist could have a field day with me about that comment.

    [FYI: Tuesday Mornings, if you have those stores near you, have a wide variety of reasonably priced puzzles.]

  12. Ahhh . . . knowing the boundaries. I sometimes have trouble with that, always pushing against the edge. 😦 I love puzzling and putting the edges in place first. Having said that, there is a puzzle (not a Wysocki, though I like him) with the edges all done and some of the center. Unfortunately, it has been collecting dust under a bed for eons.

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