Updated: Dec 12, 2022
Creating a piece of communication—a story, scene, essay, presentation, lesson—is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.
The first thing you do is dump all the pieces onto the table. You record everything you know or think about the topic, everything you discover through research, and any new ideas that come to you along the way.
Next, you group the pieces into categories. First you sort them into corner pieces, side pieces, and middle pieces. After that, pieces collect into themes almost unconsciously: leaves, water, sky, buildings, faces, and so on.
If you're writing an essay, you group notes into the major points, then order the points in a way that will most clearly or emotionally communicate your overall message. A beat in a scene "feels" right at the beginning, end, as a turning point, or before or after another beat. You may form a presentation into stages: introduction, problems, proposed solution, call to action, closing.
Finally, you compare pieces to find the ones that fit together. When two pieces obviously fit, this is pretty easy. But for many pieces, especially those that all look alike, such as foliage, water, or sky, it can be a painstaking process.
All the beats of a scene (an event, action, thought, feeling, decision) need to flow seamlessly together in an unbroken chain, each beat causing the next. For the scene to work (for the reader to believe that although none of it is real, it at least feels real), the causes and effects need to fit together as correctly as pieces of a puzzle. Just like puzzle pieces, you can't force two pieces together if they really don't fit. In the end, you have to find or create another piece (or series of pieces) to go between them. Only then does the flow feel plausible. (Ironically, sometimes it takes a bit of artifice to make a scene feel more natural.)
In an essay, if an example doesn't clearly support your point, you must cut the offending piece or move things around until they all fit harmoniously together to form a cohesive whole.
But crafting communication is also very much not like a jigsaw puzzle.
Unlike a puzzle, the writer isn't given a box with all the pieces and certainly not one that shows the finished image on the cover. Writing often feels like reaching for in the dark for both, striving to form a cohesive, coherent meaning from a sea of seemingly unrelated pieces.
However, like a 1,000-piece puzzle, after hours of tedious labor and strenuous concentration, once you finally form the whole, see the final image clearly, polish it up, deliver it to your audience, and see it succeed in the wild, oh boy. That is a fulfilling feeling.
Thanks for reading.