New Yorker nonfiction master John McPhee in the current issue of the magazine discloses more craft secrets. This time, McPhee delves into how he structures his books and articles.
Following rules of a beloved high school English teacher, McPhee prepares an outline before he writes. His blueprints don't necessarily follow the classic form of headers and subheaders marked with Roman numerals. Some of his examples are schematic diagrams, denoting the skeletal movement of plot and action.
He also describes how he rearranges his notes to find the right situation to open a book or serve as its central turning point. For years, he used the old-fashioned scissors and paste method, then found a now expiring computer program.
McPhee designs his pieces as elaborately as an architect does a building. Perhaps that's why I can find his sentences overly controlled, that he should let them breathe a bit more.