Puzzle Pieces

Letter of the Law 300 DPI


As I surface from a round of self-edits on my work-in-progress, Letter of the Law, I can hardly believe another month has gone by. Letter of the Law is the third book in my Lone Star Law series (think big oil, family drama, federal agents, and drug cartels). Somehow I thought my process would be different for this series. After all, the overarching plot stretches across all the books in the series and many of the characters appear in all the books. So, it should be fairly easy to plan the story, right?

Wrong. Well, easy probably isn’t the right descriptor. I suppose I thought the process would be more efficient, but what I’ve learned – fifteen books into my career – is my process, no matter how I try to change it, always plays out in the same way. I power through about two thirds of the story and then sit down and sort it out. Some stuff stays, some stuff goes. A lot of things get rearranged because once I’m that far in, I can actually see the whole story taking shape, whereas when I’m just starting out, I can usually only see a scene at a time.

I equate this to putting together a puzzle. It’s not a perfect analogy, but bear with me.

   I keep a puzzle piece with me as a reminder this process works

The picture on the box is the synopsis I provided to my publisher to get the contract for the book. It’s my guide and, since it’s likely already been posted on websites and in distributor catalogs, it’s important that the final product matches what I promised in that blurb.

After taking a good long look at the synopsis, my next step is to dump all the puzzle pieces out where I can see them. I do that by writing a bunch of story. Pages and pages containing all my thoughts even if they are a little crazy and I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to make them fit in the final version. No filters at this point because filters are story killers, at least for me, and I need all the story I can get at this point in the process. Once I have a big bunch of story parts – characters and scenes and plot devices – I spread everything out where I can see it and start the business of fitting all those pieces together. It’s messy and maddening and not nearly as efficient as planning it all out ahead of time, but as crazy as I get sorting out the puzzle, it’s what works for me. Once I start seeing it all come together, I have that “ah ha!” moment and then the pieces start flying into place until, puzzle solved, I have another novel on my hands.

This beauty from Pioneer Pens was a gift from my pal, VK Powell, whose process is the polar opposite of mine, but she loves me anyway 🙂

So, as Mercury retrogrades, I’m going to go back to my puzzle pieces to sort out the rest of this story because by springtime, this particular solved puzzle will be available for sale everywhere books are sold.

In the meantime, feel free to share any insights you’d care to about your creative process in the comments. Thanks for reading!



  1. Yes, I do! And I admit I’m always a bit in awe of your process even though it would drive me absolutely crazy. 🙂 It’s that puzzling process that makes you so very good at many things. Don’t stop…as if!


  2. Carsen, You are the first author I admire who has clearly written about my own haphazard process of forming a book. People often give me books on “writing” (maybe they’re trying to tell me something) which I utterly can’t relate to because the process is so linear and organized. So many times I’ve wished I were more like V.K. Powell, but alas, not to be. I love the pen. Thanks for your essay.


    • Absolutely. So, here’s what a lot of people don’t know: aqs a criminal defense attorney, a lot of what you do in a courtroom is done on the fly. Of course, you prepare in advance for all possible scenarios, but unlike civil cases where there are usually depositions and other very specific discovery in advance of trial, in a criminal trial that’s usually not the case. Many times you don’t have access to a witness’s prior statements until he or she takes the stand for the first time, so it’s not usual to be completely surprised by whatever comes out during testimony. You learn to plan what you can, but hone your skills to be ready in seconds for whatever comes your way. I think that has allowed me to be more open, as a writer, to going where my inspiration takes me and making it work.

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  3. Great blog, Carsen! Being an avid jigsaw puzzler, your metaphor makes perfect sense to me. Your process perfectly mirrored my own (although of course I don’t have nearly the experience you do.) Getting two thirds of the way through and then having to go back and figure it all out is exactly what happened with my first novel. I’ve always thought I could never plan one upfront. But as you point out, once you’re at a certain stage in your publishing career you have to know enough to do your synopsis upfront. I just finished my second novel and based on feedback from a number of readers (you included, Franci) I’m pretty much having to rewrite it, so any synopsis I would have given a publisher would have ended up not being accurate. Is the answer to keep the synopsis vague or is it just that you get to a point where you’re experienced enough to know how to make it work? (Or is the problem that I’ve done too many of those mystery jigsaws where you don’t have a picture on the box to follow, only a story to give you some ideas of what the picture might be!!)

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  4. Good question, Alison. I think it’s a bit of both. I think the synopsis should give the reader a good idea about the genre, plot, and the overarching conflict, but I think you can do that and still leave yourself a lot of leeway for future inspiration. Definitely gets easier the more you do it.


  5. “No filters at this point because filters are story killers…” Indeed. I’ve read this writing advice in countless writing guides, and it’s always important to keep top of mind (though not always easy for me to implement)! Looking forward to another great Carsen Taite novel.


  6. Beautiful pen, thanks for sharing some of your process with us. I’m so glad you keep writing as I am a huge fan of your stories and can’t wait to read the next one, and the one after that, so keep writing please.


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