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The Writing Puzzle

A few years ago I entered the world of Sudoku. I’d seen a report about the game on TV and just had to try it. Yes, I really am that kind of person. I enjoy trying new things, and the game intrigued me. It looked ever so simple, and yet, it hid its complexity in that subtlety. 

It took three actual puzzles to make an addict of me, albeit one who can take long periods of respite between bouts of puzzle mania. Recently I struggled through one such bout, and while I hunted for the proper placement of a nine, a magnificent truth struck me between the eyes with a proverbial two-by-four and left me gasping. The allegory sparkled before my eyes like a crystaline Christmas ball complete with tiny scenes painted in pixie dust about its rotund body.

Writers tend to take inspiration where they find it. And, for me, that moment provided breathless inspiration, which answered a nagging question. I saw the reason why writers in general tend to enjoy puzzles, be they number or word.

Puzzle solving has little to do with mysteries resolved. Instead, at least for this writer, it focuses on the fact that the process of doing the puzzle mimics the one used when developing a good article or story. Each element of the puzzle represents a facet of story development.

I realized that the organization of the outline or synopsis echoes the ordering of the numbers in each playing grid of the Sudoku puzzle. In return, each playing grid echoes a segment of the story. Everything must fit a certain order so that the puzzle is complete, just as the segments of a story much follow a specified order to produce the desired finished piece.

As I continued to place numbers in grid cells, working toward a successful conclusion, I could see myself using the same process on a story board. Scenes are numbers, chapters replace grids.

When I paused to think about the similarities and differences between writing and the puzzles, I saw that the numbers and grids symbolize so well how any decent writer produces a working story. Scenes can only go together in a particular order to paint a chapter’s desired picture. That picture can only flow in a logical manner of organization to create the moving picture of the story toward its conclusion.

Writers create their own puzzles every day, whether fiction or non-fiction. We hum along, making adjustments here and there, looking for holes where something from out on the fringe should go. We arrange bits and pieces of business to glue it all together and then begin looking for the flaws. Did we place this scene too soon or did that conversaton really do its job? What about the climax? Should it force itself into the picture more brazenly or tease the reader first?

All of this fiddling with words is our puzzle. We make new ones or work on old ones as opportunity arises. We can’t help ourselves. Even when we didn’t create the thing, we have to challenge ourselves with finding a solution for it. Hence critiques are born. Could we do our chosen job any differently? I doubt it. I doubt any of us could be satisfied with allowing the puzzle to slip by us without just one poke at it.

Here’s hopiing everyone continues to enjoy their puzzles in this world.


Categories: Writing and Poetry
  1. September 27, 2009 at 2:41 pm


    I love the analogy between Soduku and writing. It is very true, and something I would never have thought of until now. I also do those puzzles,and you’re right…as we fit the proper numbers into the cells to make the block complete, so too do we fit our characters, dialogues, scenes and chapters into the correct sequence to make our story complete. Fantastic!

  2. claudsy
    October 3, 2009 at 12:21 am

    Thank you, Mikki. We spend so much of our time worrying with those tiny details that plug the holes within the stories that we never really take a look at how we choose those fillers. Sometimes I’m amazed when my brain comes up with the answer to a nagging question in the middle of a conversation, a dream or even the shower.

    Suddenly, a bolt of insight stabs through the consciousness to deliver the one puzzle piece that’s been missing. Isn’t it lovely how unexpected surprises handed to us always seem to fit a slot that didn’t show much of a crack until you wedge in the new piece. And then you discover that the plot you thought you had wasn’t going there at all.

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