LexIcon: Jigsaw Narratives

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.

LexIcon: Cube Farm Purgatory

Nobody snatches up a novel after work hoping to be immediately transported back to the worst parts of the day they’ve just been paid to live through. A reader ends up in Cube Farm Purgatory in any workplace scene that amounts to colleagues, bosses and rivals gnashing through their professional relationships, pushing paper, attending meetings, or dealing with bureaucratic minutiae.

Fictional depictions of work and workplaces, whether those workplaces are realistic or speculative in nature,  need to be heightened. If your characters have a hell job, the workplace scenes must be cringingly, agonizingly hellish. If they are getting something interesting done, that something better be so cool it reaches out and grabs us by the throat.  If they’re just trying to get the zoning changed on the building across the street, somebody better be getting killed or laid. Otherwise you’re just inflicting unpaid overtime on an audience that could be playing Angry Birds.


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LexIcon – Bouncing out of a manuscript

Bouncing occurs when some small detail within your manuscript causes the
reader to pause and consider whether they believe your facts, agree with your narrator’s opinions or otherwise buy into the assertions or events in the text. Rather than being swept along by suspense or the power of your writing, their attention has shifted. They are questioning your construct, heading to Google to find out if you’re right, looking up the definitions of terms they don’t understand, or otherwise trying to evaluate the viability of something in the text.

The problem with bouncing is, of course, that sometimes the reader doesn’t come back to you. And if they did look up your facts and you weren’t quite right, they’ll bounce higher next time.

The things that make us bounce can be entirely valid, well researched points, things that happened in the real world…  which makes it even more frustrating. You have to be convincing whether you’re lying or telling the truth. Fail to beguile, and face the consequences!

(Bouncing is also often referred to as being thrown out of the manuscript.)


Hey, what gives with this LexIcon thing?