Each tiny scene in a jigsaw narrative is is a puzzle piece, freestanding in its own right, yet intended to interlock with the others to evoke a whole picture of an unfolding story. Readers are invited to fill in the spaces between the missing pieces, bringing the full image into focus.
Jigsaw narratives are immensely gratifying to readers when it’s comparatively easy to put the picture together; it lets them feel like they are not only at play with the author, but winning. The drawback comes if the picture is too elusive, when the connections are hard to find. The leaves the reader feeling left out, thwarted, and cheated.
Jigsaw stories often work well when they’re stretching a smaller story over a long stretch of years—imagine seven pivotal moments from a fifty year space voyage—or when their scenic pieces imply a much longer story. Sometimes when they fail, it’s because the story in question really wants to be a novel, and the puzzle pieces on the table are less a complete story and more a suggested outline for the longer work.