Visual artists have it easy if you ask me. I bet there would be fewer of them if they had to cut out cardboard pieces, toss them into a haphazard pile, pick one, two or three at a time to paint on, and then slap it all together for their finished work. That is, after making all the necessary snips and reshapings to each piece so they fit together properly. It would be kind of insane.
A dizzyingly chaotic process no matter how efficiently you go about it, and yet…
That’s pretty much what a novelist does. I’m not sure I want to presume to speak as one because I haven’t really shared anything beyond small bits of flash fiction. Small and relatively singular sparks of insanity. But from what little I’ve tried my hand at recently, especially the things I haven’t posted anywhere, I can tell you that writing anything longer than a short story is exactly like that.
Even short stories are like this though, if they’re lengthy enough. If they show more than just a snapshot. Because more than a snapshot means a series of them. Two, three, maybe four or five. But a novel… every chapter is one little puzzle piece. Except that with a puzzle… you wouldn’t have to make all the pieces yourself, and certainly not one or two at a time.
With an actual puzzle you definitely wouldn’t need to take a pair of scissors to each piece either, getting them to lock into the other pieces after they’ve already been painted on. You wouldn’t need to repaint them as you go, accounting for the cuts. You wouldn’t have to condense the size of it repeatedly before successfully putting it together. And you wouldn’t have to make sure the ultimate picture turned out to be something worth admiring once you’ve finished solving it.
No… if painters tried to do it that way, to get one of their paintings done, they would probably go mad. Especially if they had to imagine it all in their head, without being able to see any of the actual pieces. Creating, capturing, shaping, hacking away, and presenting chaos like that… I guess it’s a method best left to novelists and storytellers. Making puzzles, and then being damned to solve them before any hope of sharing. But if not the creators, then who?
In A Nutshell
For the reader it’s just a picture, a story.
For the creator it’s a puzzle, one to be made, solved, and offered up for judgement.