Finishing a Puzzle

My apologies for this post going up late.  I am in the throes of finishing a book, which is always a good place to be, but which always leaves me tunnel-visioned and addle-brained.  So I’m late with the post and I have absolutely nothing to say.  And I feel badly about that.

Finishing a book for me is utterly consuming.  As I’ve described it before, a book sometimes feels like a puzzle.  I start with the outline, or, to work within the metaphor, with the border pieces.  I set aside the internal pieces until later, and just get that broad exterior in place.  Once that’s done, once I have some sense of what the puzzle is going to look like, I start to fill in the middle.  It’s slow going at first — so many pieces, and so little sense of how they will ultimately come together.  There are fits and starts.  Sometimes I put a piece in one place only to discover later that it doesn’t fit there as well as I thought.  But the more it comes together, the better my understanding of what the final product will look like.  And as I come to the final chapters, the number of unused pieces diminishes, as does the number of gaps that need to be filled.  By the end of the book — the puzzle — which is where I am right now, fitting in those last pieces is easy, and I am in a rush to finish, to see the finished image.

This is an imperfect metaphor, of course.  My book outlines tend to be more informative about the content of the vast middle than the border of a puzzle could ever be.  And my progress in writing a book tends to be at least somewhat steady — certainly steadier and quicker than the early moments of putting a puzzle together would be (especially for me, since, ironically, I really suck at puzzles….).  Still, as a way of describing where my head is at right now, this works as well as anything else.  I’m trying to fit all those last pieces in place, I’m trying to meet a somewhat arbitrary and self-imposed deadline of July 1, and I’m desperately trying to make certain that when I’m done, there are no spare pieces left over — always a bad thing.

So, I hope you will forgive me for the belated posting and for the brevity of the post.  I will do better next month.

David B. Coe

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  1. 1. David Jace

    Excellent metaphor, David! I’m feeling that way myself right now, but the puzzle is kicking my butt! Sadly, I”m only on the “edge pieces.” Imagine a 12-layer puzzle, where the pieces all interact and come together to make this giant, integrated puzzle in the end. It’s quite the challenge I’ve set for myself, but the puzzle is coming together. Just turning over all the pieces has been a job!

  2. 2. Wolf Lahti

    I often have spare pieces left over when I’ve finished a book, story, or -especially- a screenplay, which of course has more stringent limitations on length.

    I don’t consider that a bad thing; they’re just ideas that didn’t quite fit into the current work. Some can even be used for another project, though that doesn’t happen as often as I would like. I like to be efficient in my recycling.

  3. 3. Elias McClellan

    Mr. Coe, I like the metaphor. For me it’s like a dynamic relationship. Not sure at first if I like this person. Me and the subject work to strip away pretenses and lies we tell each other, (why, yes, I am a successful author, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more). And only at the end, when I’ve gotten to completely know this person, can I decide if they’re someone I’d like to hang with or not.

    @Wolf Lahti, I like the idea of recycling ideas. This is something I should consider when I’m jettisoning entire chapters/sections of the MS.

  4. 4. L.S. Taylor (@ls_taylor)

    Oh, wow … that makes perfect sense. What a fantastic metaphor, David. I think I do something similar. Which is why anytime a discussion about plotting vs. pantsing (such as yesterday’s at MW) leaves me having to settle for the “spectrum” answer I gave there. It’s too difficult to describe when thinking about it in linear fashion. But a puzzle? That’s exactly how it feels!

  5. 5. David B. Coe

    Thanks, David. Glad you like the metaphor. The complexity of multibook projects always blows me away — the larger story arc often constitutes a puzzle of its own. Thinking about them, I’m often reminded of those chess sets they used to show on Star Trek: TNG — the ones with a triple layer board.

    Wolf, I agree with you. Having leftover pieces can be a good thing — and I never, ever throw anything away. Every scrap goes into a separate file so that (maybe) I can use it again. I just meant that just as I don’t want to have pieces left over when I finish a puzzle, I also don’t want to forget to tie up one loose thread or another when finishing a novel.

    Elias, yes, to reiterate what Wolf said, and what I mention in my comment above, I never throw away old chapters. I keep it all. You never know when you might find a way to use something from an old project. Best of luck with that dynamic relationship. This is a difficult and interesting process….

    Laura, glad this post worked for you. I hadn’t related the puzzle metaphor to the pantser/plotter discussion, but you’re right: they fit together quite well. You know as you start a book that you have certain pieces that you need and want to fit in. But it takes some time to figure out how they work together. Thanks for the insight.

Author Information

David B. Coe

David B. Coe ( is the Crawford award-winning author of the LonTobyn Chronicle, the Winds of the Forelands quintet, the Blood of the Southlands trilogy, and a number of short stories. Writing as D.B. Jackson (, he is the author of the Thieftaker Chronicles, a blend of urban fantasy, mystery, and historical fiction. David is also part of the Magical Words group blog (, and co-author of How To Write Magical Words: A Writer’s Companion. In 2010 he wrote the novelization of director Ridley Scott’s movie, Robin Hood. His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages. Visit site.



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