Revising with Jigsaw Puzzles of Mist

Mist reflectsOne of my daily exercises for cognitive health is to do one digital jigsaw puzzle. My favorite puzzles are of mist scenes. They evoke feelings of mystery, promise, and anticipation. And for some reason, the puzzles are easy.

Revisions remind me of puzzles, especially ones of mist. When I’m doing a developmental edit, I focus on LIGHT, REFLECTION, and REVELATION. If these elements already exist in my discovery draft, then I say hurrah. If they exist, but need refinement, I chisel or form elements to ensure they are part of the story’s journey. If they don’t exist, then I’ll need to create them and ensure their threads continue till resolved.

Mist HeadlightsLIGHT: Oh, how we writers fret on how to unfold events in the story. As the book opens, do we shine the spotlight on the main character or start with an exciting event or open with the setting? How much backstory of the main characters do we tell in the opening chapter. When do we tell about the twin sister who died three years before? How soon should we introduce blood evidence, the Black Moor, or the heel bone? If we tell too much too fast, the reader will suffer from sensory overload. If we tell too little, the reader will either be frustrated or confused or bored. Sometimes the mist of a scene foreshadows what light will later reveal. Showing or hiding story elements is a delicate process.

BW MistREFLECTION: The story needs two types of reflection. The first concerns how the events of the story affect the characters. That impact is shown either by internal thought, dialog between characters, or a physical reaction. The second ensures that the events of the story resonate. A subplot may reflect a theme (or the theme) of the main plot. For example, if the main plot is about a girl who decides to to steal her best friend’s boyfriend, then the subplot may be about her helping the boyfriend’s brother return a necklace he’d taken as a child. If a ghost hunter takes a case to uncover who is haunting a house in Maine, along the way we may discover that he is shadowed by the death of his wife.

MIST Man on BridgeREVELATION: This is the other side of LIGHT. It’s not when story elements are revealed, but in how they are revealed. Light is the camera focus and timing. Revelation is about the twists and turns a plot (or character) may take till we reach the last page. Revelation resolves the mysteries and the character arcs. It shows us what is behind the bank of mist. And the mask. And his motives. It is why we read to The End.

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About mlknowlden

In 2011, I left engineering to write full-time. Between the years 1992 and 2011, I’ve published 14 stories with Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine that have featured the hypochondriac detective Micky Cardex and two stories that did not. The 1998 story “No, Thank You, John” was nominated for a Shamus award. Many of these stories have been included in anthologies and translated in multiple languages. With Neal Shusterman, I’ve also published a science fiction story for the More Amazing Stories anthology (Tor) published in 1998 and co-authored with Neal Shusterman an X-Files Young Adult novel (DARK MATTER) for HarperCollins in 1999 under the name Easton Royce. For Simon & Schuster in July 2012, we published an e-novella UNSTRUNG in Neal's UNWIND world. I have graduate degrees in English and Electrical Engineering.
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4 Responses to Revising with Jigsaw Puzzles of Mist

  1. Rebecca Lang says:

    Very interesting contemplation about the nature of writing. I find the Light element hardest, especially in the beginning when you need to decide what information is vital and what can wait. Timing is tricky.

    And I like your image of fog. Do you really do puzzles of mostly grey/ white mist? How do you solve them? They don’t seem easy to me.

    • mlknowlden says:

      I so agree about timing.

      Usually mist is layered which does make the puzzles easier. That and how light diffuses in mist. At least from my viewpoint.

      Thank you for your comment, Rebecca. Made me think even more about a tricky subject.

  2. dayya says:

    I have the most trouble with Reflection. This was excellent. As I edit and revise A Useful Blind one more time, this gives me a way to think about the parts.

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