Over the past few days in Hong Kong, I've been talking a bit about stories - how to write them, specifically in terms of structure. It's a subject I teach in Australia, and there are some simple (and more complex) structures that are used over and over. The reason they don't become boring is because they are simply that - a frame on which to hang all the elements of your story. Characters, plot, setting, theme. People often confuse plot and structure, but a framework such as the hero's journey can give rise to a thousand different stories. Using the framework helps you get a handle on how to order events to create the most tension. And of course, with more experience, you can then twist and recreate it for your own devices.
Hong Kong is a place that makes you think a lot about what lies beneath. What is holding up all these immensely tall buildings? Much of the foreshore is built on landfill. Surely the weight of the skyscrapers might somehow force the land down? I'm not a geologist, but my imagination can create all kinds of disasters, if I let it run free! Yet everywhere I look, there are amazing edifices of concrete and steel reaching skyward, perched on crags and mountainsides, looking as they grew out of the rock.
This morning I went for a walk that involved a large number of steps upwards. You can start at the "bottom" and wend your way up the side of the mountain by following whichever stairway presents itself to you next. I went as far as I could without collapsing, and then began to follow a winding street back down again. The photo above is of the underneath of an apartment building I passed (not the very tall slim building in the top photo). Underpinning and strong foundations are important here - very important. Hillsides are not pinned with wire netting and layers of rocks like they are in Australia. I saw concrete blocks, tight rolls of wire fixed into more concrete, and more concrete again covering slopes and set with drain holes. And then there are trees like these whose roots are able to exist above the earth, or bricks, and cling like jasmine creepers or ivy. Hints of what lies beneath, tenacious threads that together form a strong network. Everything holds everything else tightly. Like all the parts of a great story, working hard underneath while above rises the "construction" that reaches for the sky.