Here I’m summing up some ideas about structure. One that is important to me is the notion that a piece of writing may consist of various set-pieces—the portraits, the chronological episodes, the places where things happen, the revealing anecdotes—linked or juxtaposed.
I’m used to thinking of developing an argument, one logical step leading to the next. Undoubtedly John McPhee and I work on different kinds of writing, in different disciplines. I need logic; much as I admire his use of “half an inch or so of white space” (49), academic writing requires that I spell out what he can imply. Nonetheless, I want to think about how I could use set-pieces: whether I have them, and if so how many, and of what kinds.
It’s freeing to step away from the notion of strict logic.
Some structures McPhee writes about having used: the two-armed structure of his portrait gallery (quoted previously), in which themes gradually converge. The series of chronologically organized set-pieces hanging from a chronological narrative line. The spiral, beginning at a point that is not the chronological beginning, and using flashbacks to fill in the earlier events.