Puzzled? Give your characters a closer look


While most of modern society swipes at their smartphones and punches away at computer keys, sometimes my husband and I will pour a puzzle out onto the kitchen table and settle in for a few days of quiet contemplation.

(Flickr: Bludgeoner86)

(Flickr: Bludgeoner86)

It’s a nice change of pace.

We turn on some music, pop open our beverage of choice and mindlessly chat about easy stuff.

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He works on the edges and I work on the middle, puttering around the table in search of shapes and colors that will fit my section.

We’re pretty content, but our kids think we’re kind of square. They laugh at how utterly boring and old-fashioned we are.

Why put together a puzzle when there’s Candy Crush and Wii, they snicker.

Years ago during one of our sessions, my husband and I worked tirelessly to complete a particularly challenging portrait of the Chicago skyline.

We toiled late into the night and resumed first thing in the morning over coffee. As we neared completion, we picked up our pace, each piece finally locking into its rightful place.

Finally, we reached the end, but one puzzle piece was missing. We searched everywhere – on the floor, under the kitchen rug, chair cushions.

But that last piece was nowhere to be found.

Until my son, who was probably about seven years old at the time, strolled into the kitchen, pulled the missing bit from his pocket and with smug satisfaction fitted that final piece into its spot.

My husband and I were speechless.

Our son had not just the foresight, but the patience to secretly pick up a random piece and hold onto it for days in anticipation of a sweet payoff.

And his reward was two-fold: the opportunity to crown the puzzle without having had to work towards that moment, and he also had denied and outsmarted his parents, who still marvel at his cunning.

That’s the makings of a great character, no?

So, if we think of our stories as giant puzzles, what pieces do you characters hold? As puzzlers, which is your characters’ initial goal – to form the framing foundations or to get to the heart of the portrait? And are they patient enough to see a project through to the end? Or do they hover around and wait to jump in as the project nears its end?

Kerri S. Mabee is editor at Learn more about her at


Kerri S. Mabee

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