In 2017, after writing more than 70 articles on writing, I scribbled this in my notebook and this simple image brought home more to me about writing than anything I’d ever seen.
When I first put it on paper, I was deep in thought about how to achieve Unity in Writing, where it’s essential that the birds-eye-view structure mesh perfectly with the details. In other words, from ‘great idea’ to the exact linear order of words, everything has to harmoniously mesh over the levels of scale of a book (central idea, acts, chapters, sections, paragraphs, sentences, phrases, words).
This simple image summarizes everything you want in a book.
The scribble started with a rectangle, kind of like hieroglyph for ‘book’. The rectangle might look like a book cover, but image its a zoomed-out graphic of the whole thing.
Now it can be divided up. All books have complex internal anatomies, although the task of the great writers is to hide all the seams from the reader. This is a fact at the heart of Unity in Writing.
The power of this simple rectangular image lies in the ability to use it to explain so many individual concepts in writing. All of them in fact…in principle.
The circle in the middle the ‘core’, or center, of a book — the ‘great idea’.
This arrangement also helps highlight the importance symmetry between the start and end of great books. Openings and closings are two of the most important parts of a book, that’s super obvious, but less obvious is that they need to be tightly linked. If you read enough and look carefully when you do (or watch movies), you’ll know that one of the bits of magic in a great book is how the start dovetails with the finish. It’s one of those ‘obvious but secret until you realize it’ structures of great writing. They will be exceptionally connected by well-engineered details.
Most importantly, the flow of the book around the circle and can be drawn in any amount of detail from major plot points down to the words that run around the perimeter. The most basic lines block out the beginning, middle and end of the book. This division of the text maps perfectly to the famous 3 Act structure (corners and lines and what comes before and after them signify the major plot points and transitions). Act 2 is half of the book and is intersected by the all-important midpoint of the story. The 3 Act Structure has been endlessly diagrammed, but this offers a ‘cyclical’ version and adds the benefit of the flow of material around a ‘core’.
Additional lines can be used to add all the parts of the anatomy of a book.
This simple diagram can be used in teaching writing craft, to aid in brainstorming and structuring a new book or checking whether you have all the expected parts.
It can also be used to play ‘writer’s sudoku’, another topic that will be developed in future posts.
It is at the heart of using Unity in Writing as a Design Principle and End Goal.