By Peter Turchi
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Additional resources for A Muse and a Maze: Writing as Puzzle, Mystery, and Magic
Has she chosen well, arranged all the pieces successfully? She’ll know as soon as she gets her response. A short story or novel is a different kind of puzzle; and it is more than a puzzle. The composition of a story is a puzzle for the writer, whose job is to decide what to include, what to exclude, and how to organize the parts. The problem is compounded by the fact that, as fiction writers, we begin to write without knowing precisely what we’re trying to create. The work continually changes form, and emphasis, and purpose.
They typically work like the one below, created by Michael Ashley. The solver answers as many of the clues as possible, one letter per numbered blank. Next, these letters are transferred to the correspondingly numbered squares in the diagram. This begins the spelling out of a quotation reading from left to right, with the black squares separating the words. The solver can work back and forth between the diagram and the answer words to complete the puzzle. The first letters of the answer words spell out the author and title of the work the quotation is taken from.
Those rules were not arbitrary; the puzzle had a serious purpose. It seemed unfair for a student to have his or her work discussed on the first day more than once, because on the first day the groups were often just getting up to speed, and on the last day they were sometimes running out of energy. It seemed ideal for a student to have his or her work discussed by as many different faculty as possible, so the writer could hear many different perspectives. And so on. Still, most people wouldn’t have bothered, in part because not everyone steps back to see the pattern in a particular problem, in part because the puzzle could be difficult to solve.