We had the privilege of hosting a colleague and friend of my husband for dinner this week, along with his delightful wife and daughter. Although our cottage is chock full of toys for younger children– toys our own children played with that are now happily at home here for grandchildren and visitors–we did not have toys I thought appropriate for our eight year old guest. So while I was shopping, I decided to buy a jigsaw puzzle for her to piece together if she got bored.
Like everything else these days, jigsaw puzzles aren’t simple. Where once a puzzle had between 100 and 250 pieces, a fairly innocuous rural scene and several hours of guaranteed play, now puzzles range from simple pre-school varieties, through 1,000+ pieces with abstract art and holographic images, guaranteed to become entire summers of frustration and finally glory when the last piece snaps into place. After staring bewildered at an entire shelf of puzzles at our local discount store, my husband pointed out that we had puzzles in our cupboard that had come with the house.
“But what if they’re missing pieces?” I pointed out. He was more practical. “She won’t be there long enough to finish anyway.” Sold.
As it turned out, our guest adored the Fisher Price Play Family village we’d kept all these years, and sat on the floor creating her own “Chautauqua.” She was perfectly happy, and we dodged the possible issue of the missing piece. Sometimes things work out just the way you hope they will.
At the same time I was sweating over the complicated issue of age-appropriate jigsaw puzzles, I was also worrying about my novel in progress, Sunset Bridge, the sequel to Happiness Key and Fortunate Harbor, already on bookshelves. I had carefully outlined my story and pondered long and hard the backgrounds of my characters. I had created a complicated story for the newest resident of Happiness Key, and I was now in the final chapters of the novel. But all along, from the moment I created the background to each encounter my new character had, I knew something was wrong. I was missing an important piece of her story. What I had created did not fully explain some of her more extreme actions. The story I had designed for her just wasn’t working.
I discussed the problem with a brainstorming partner and with my husband, who’s a talented plotter. Nothing we came up with really resolved the issue. I tried my favorite plotting device, the list of twenty possibilities. No dice. No matter what I changed, my heroine looked willful and unsympathetic, even foolish at times. A piece of this puzzle was missing.
As it turns out, the piece was so simple, I’m surprised I didn’t find it sooner. The good news is that one day on my porch, as I was staring at my computer, the final puzzle fell into place. Like the old puzzles in my closet, my puzzle hadn’t been whole. Unlike them, the missing piece was waiting to be discovered. Yes, I’ll have to do some addition and subtraction when I do my final edits to incorporate my new insights. But now I have everything I need. I can assemble my puzzle and the picture will finally be complete.
Has this happened to you? Perhaps not with a novel, but with another creative project? Or perhaps most important of all, in your daily life when you realized that something you refused or were unable to see had to be retrieved and placed correctly in order to complete a moment or even a stage of your life. Have you ever discovered a missing something that puts everything back together for you? I hope so. Because nothing beats that moment of revelation. The moment when a puzzle is finally complete, when the last piece clicks into place, makes all the waiting worthwhile.