47. Structure

Keeping the structure of your story present in the front of your mind is desperately hard work. Some writers speak bitterly of being driven ‘insane’ by the effort of keeping track of who knows what, when and how in their mystery stories.

People who smoke often do so to pass the time, or to relieve the stress of passing time. Some people smoke and keep their hands busy, the better for their minds and tongues to run on, freewheeling …

Can you call to mind the intolerably boring sensation of being in a lift? The numbing nothingness – nothing to look at, nothing to occupy your mind.

Some airport lounges manage the same deadening trick in beige and brown.

Our brains are equipped to do several different tasks at the same time – genuine parallel processing. We are capable of deducing a whole picture from a glance or a few fragments in a decorated mirror. We are brilliant at pattern recognising. In fact, evolution has gifted us with a genius for inferring and enjoying patterns. As writers, we exploit that enjoyment.

A great deal of the satisfaction of reading fiction comes from the gradual or piecemeal revelation of patterns in the relationships between characters and actions in a book.

Like the toy in the image on this page, there are pathways and junctions in your writing. The connections are your business as a writer. As you play with the toy, you feel some pieces slot into place with an encouraging snap. As you write, some ideas give you the same instant recognition of being ‘right’. As you revise your work, you try to achieve what the carpenter calls the ‘snick factor’ – the satisfying engagement of the lock as a well-hung door is pulled shut.