The mysterious geometry of writing

In Becoming a Writer Dorothea Brande points out that it isn’t only themes and characters that emerge from the unconscious mind through writing. She says the unconscious is also ‘the home of form.’

So as well as trusting the flow of ideas if we open our mind by entering the ‘writer’s trance,’ we can also trust that the ideas will organise themselves into the shapes of books and stories.

I definitely find this in my own work.

When I’m writing, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, I start with a sketchy plan and head off from Start in the general direction of Finish, wondering how on earth I’m going to get from one to the other, until suddenly I begin to see the shape of the whole thing in my head like a geometrical figure or a pattern of numbers.

At that point, I become fully engaged. I dash along like a mad thing, joining the dots to make the beautiful shape of the book I’m creating.

This means all my books have a sort of symmetry in the contents – the four Peony Pinkers, for example, all have 17 chapters. Why 17? I’ve no idea, only that that was the number they needed, and I knew each story was on the right track the moment I could see how it could make 17 chapters.


The Peony Pinkers - 4 times 17
The Peony Pinkers – four perfect 17s

Writing in the House of Dreams came out as four parts, each part having three chapters.

4 Parts, 3 chapters each in the House of Dreams
4 Parts, 3 chapters each in the House of Dreams

My brand new book, The Binding, has three parts and each one seven chapters.

The Binding - 3 parts, 7 chapters each
The Binding – 3 parts, 7 chapters each

This mysterious geometry is very marked in my own writing practice but not all books divide so obviously into a balance of parts, so it can’t be exactly the same for all writers.

Still I imagine there must come a time for everyone when something clarifies in the mind; you see the finished shape of the whole book, and the writing steps up a notch to engage with it.

If you are a writer, do you recognise what I’m talking about, or am I just weird?!

9 thoughts on “The mysterious geometry of writing”

  1. It’s possible you may just be weird, Jenny. 🙂
    My subconscious is a huge help with many things – I credit it with all that’s best in my writing – but it hasn’t much of a clue about form.

    Usually, when I have a great sprawl of ideas, characters, places, and a notion of where it’s all heading, I then have to consciously apply some kind of shape to it – rather like a gardener providing a mad, mile-a-minute clematis with an arch to grow over.

    Even then, it’s all a bit of a fight – which I quite enjoy!

    I think you are so in touch with your dreams, your inner creator, that you’re able to cooperate with it in a much easier and more friendly manner than – well, than I am, anyway.

    Very interesting post!

    1. I suspected as much! I love your image of a mad clematis Sue – I’m always in awe of writers who get a wild abundance of ideas and have to trim them into shape. I’m one of those who write lean and have to add at the redraft stage. Such a fascinating business, writing 🙂

  2. Completely get this – I love numbers, counting, calendars and structure – perhaps connected to writing poems – 17 is an interesting one – 2 to the power of three plus 1 – and the others just as interesting. The writing process can be both additive and subtractive – building and /or sculpting … Funnily enough though, I have no clocks in the house (apart from a tiny alarm clock I use for workshops) and can’t wear a watch …

    1. Ooh how interesting, Vicky – I hadn’t thought about poets! But of course, with poetry, there must be a strong sense of the shape and numbers in the writing process. I’ve occasionally been on poetry courses because I enjoy the feeling of writing poetry (yours included!) but for my day-to-day I prefer writing prose. It feels less unnerving.

  3. Love the numbers connections Jenny. Strangely enough, I’m putting together the next book in my Healing Hurt Series and was adamant with my editor that I have to have 10 chapters in each book in the series. No logic to it at all. It just has to be!

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