Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Pieces of Your Puzzle

Imagine you took the pieces of a 50-piece puzzle and stuffed them in your pockets. Then you went around town, doing your daily activities, dropping a piece here and a piece there. You might leave one at your desk at work and one in the copy room. One will be left on the counter at the post office and another in your grocery shopping cart. One piece will get tucked into your child's backpack and one will be on the treadmill at the gym. When all the pieces are gone, they are so widely scattered that no one will ever be able to put the puzzle together again.

Now imagine that the pieces are figurative and invisible. The pieces to the puzzle are words that you say to your best friend, to your mother, as a comment on a stranger's blog. There may be a story there, but if they are still scattered, no one will ever be able to decipher what was being said.

Or perhaps your words are all delivered to one individual over the course of weeks, months, even years. Maybe they are hints to a special someone how much they mean to you but taken in small doses over time, they don't realize what it is you're saying. Maybe you have given them all of the pieces but they never knew there was anything to be assembled or other meanings hidden within.

Leaving pieces of a puzzle behind is one way to write a mystery (something I have never done) but it can also be used in any type of fiction writing. The pieces may all be leading somewhere or to some revelation that only the author knows. Keen readers might pick up on it before the truth is revealed, while others will only look back and discover that the pieces of the puzzle were there all along, they just hadn't been paying close enough attention.

Friday, February 3, 2012

What Doesn't Kill Us

I am not a winter person. I used to be able to handle it much better. In fact, whenever anyone asked me what my favorite season was, I would say that the start of each new season was what I liked best. That would, of course, include the first snowfall. Not anymore. This has been an incredibly mild winter, but the few snowfalls we have had have elicited no joy from me.

Considering how "nice" this winter has been for nonwinter types such as myself, you'd think I wouldn't have much to complain about. While it certainly is an easier winter in some aspects, it is not easier altogether. The bit of snow we have turns into radiation fog on days above freezing, which is most of them. Fog is depressing to me. The air is cold and wet and seeps through your clothing. Staying inside doesn't help because I feel claustrophobic, not being able to see to the end of the block. The lack of sun, sometimes for days on end, makes me feel like I am hardly tethered to the Earth, as if I am separate from everything and drifting away. Calling winter "soul-sucking" almost feels literal - as if there is a wobbly, quivering droplet in my chest that is trying to make an escape, to flee and find a place less depressing than this.

But there is something good that can come from all of this unhappiness. When something hurts us or scares us or depresses us, we can experience it, fight through it, and then document it. I believe that as writers, whatever doesn't kill us makes for good material. If I am feeling down, I can sit at my computer and write a scene in which the character is as low as I am and try to give it that genuine emotion that I am feeling as I type. Or, for example, if I do something out of my comfort zone, I can better relate to my characters when they are put in awkward situations. Any bad life experience I've had can be used to my benefit, as long as I have the courage to relive it and put it on paper. And the nice thing about writing fiction is that I can channel real negative emotions into a different storyline and even forget, if only temporarily, what it was that I was upset about. Writing is good therapy.