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Throughlines

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by FifthView, Sep 1, 2017.

  1. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Lately I've been listening to the Mythcreants podcast, and a recent topic was throughlines: 131 - Throughlines - Mythcreants

    I'd never thought of the things they address in the context of that term, although other terms and phrases relate, like "what's it about," "what's the heart of the story," "theme," and so forth.

    It's an interesting discussion.

    Problem areas like beginning too early, knowing where to end the story, switching the "throughline" midstream, what constitutes a prologue and whether there should be a prologue-ish opening, are addressed.

    Having a clear idea of the throughline can help you stay on course in the story.

    For a conceptual visualization of the throughline, I've been thinking of a type of may pole dance in which the ribbons are plaited down the pole. The pole is the throughline, and everything more or less circles it; the pole is the guide, the crux, the central structure holding everything else together.

    Edit: Also, I think, the throughline should be something the reader will recognize and experience, even if it's not always explicit. It's a little more solid than something like theme. In a way, it relates to the promises we make, the hook, etc.
     
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2017
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  2. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    You need a bunch of drunk Swedes pretending to be frogs too.


    ...on a more serious note. This was an encouraging listen. I think it ties back very much to the discussion about promise that we had a while back.

    I found that really helpful, and I used it in my outline for my current project. I've not applied the "fractal" theory that they mention in the podcast, but I think that too is a really good point, and I probably could make use of that too.
     
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  3. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    Found this rather interesting and it gave me a bit to think about. With my own WIP, I have said at times I don't really have an elevator speech for it, and now I kind of realize that is because the through line is not what one might call the major conflict of the story. Therefore, to say that is what the story is about would seem misleading, when really, it is about that. I am not sure what that would mean, but it might mean something.

    Kind of like saying LOTR is about the friendship between two hobbits, when the whole world is on fire about the ring. But, it is about the friendship of two hobbits...anyway.

    I see they have some other podcasts up. I am interested to hear some others.
     
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  4. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I'm interested in the way the discussion promotes the idea that making a promise early and clearly about the type of story being told, primary conflict, etc., is as important as fulfilling the promise later. Also, that continuing that throughline throughout will help to keep the readers hooked.

    I'm sure we've all experienced stories that started one way and later unaccountably shifted into a new direction, a different type of story, and felt cheated. We've sometimes encountered a scene or sections that seemed disconnected from that throughline, extra bits inserted for some purpose beyond advancing the story. Considering the throughline of our own stories should help when editing out the extraneous stuff or rewriting whatever doesn't yet seem to "connect" with the throughline.

    Since listening to that podcast, I've also been thinking throughlines relate to Sanderson's idea that the readers should always be feeling a sense of progression regardless of what they are reading in the book. There was a comment made in the podcast to the effect that "it will be important later" is not a good enough reason to put something in a book early; readers must be able to feel the importance of what they are reading as they are reading it, or at least have that sense of significance.
     
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  5. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Continuing that thought...

    For the metaphor of the may pole dance...The beginning of the story might have different drunk frogs hopping about and doing things that seem a little disconnected, but the reader should still feel that their ribbons are connected to the same pole. In fact, I think readers begin by assuming this is so: The author wouldn't put in anything that isn't important. The fulfillment of the dance (promise) is a pole that's entirely wrapped in ribbons after the dance has completed, in whatever cool weaves the author has made. (Actually just now, the thought has occurred to me that these ribbons, the dancing frogs, move closer and closer to the pole and each other with each circuit...Perhaps this helps describe how a story winds down when starting with seemingly disparate—but not totally disparate—events, character arcs, etc.)

    Straying from the throughline is like being in the process of describing that dance and then, for no clear reason, making a diversion and telling the reader, "Hey, wait, let's read a bit about this little girl over here to the side, waving her own ribbon in the air over her head, dancing to different music," when there's no clear indication that her ribbon is connected to the pole.

    That girl's dance might be interesting, the ribbon could have some cool colors, but her dance has nothing to do with the rest of it, and as far as the reader can tell, her dance is not contributing to the eventual end state of the pole.
     
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  6. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Ah, so there's a name for it! That's good to know. I always just say "You know, what the story [wild gesturing] is ALL [HUGE gestures] about!" :D
     
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  7. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    The confusion—something I experience on a frequent basis, it seems—arises because any given story can be "about" many things.

    But it comes down to what the focus is, sorting what is the main plot and what are subplots and the degree to which various characters arcs fit in with those.

    I can imagine a character/relationship story that uses the world as a backdrop and various exterior conflicts as mostly devices to explore that relationship....But I can also imagine a story that is "About" that world and exterior conflicts which also uses those character arcs and the relationship as a kind of depth-adding factor. Put another way: in the latter case, the effects on the characters and relationship are used to pound in the stakes of the greater conflict; in the former case, the exterior events are used to add sand into the machinery of that relationship, into the eyes of the characters, to draw out the inner workings of those by forcing change.

    That's probably a facile way of putting it, heh. The thing is, there could be two very different stories that include the same characters, relationship, and exterior events that would really, truly, be two different stories.

    It comes down to focus, how much time you spend on the various elements, and the roles those elements play in the overall story. Deciding which you are writing could help you in figuring out how to approach the telling of that story. Plus, being clear about this helps you hook a reader and keep a reader hooked.*

    *Edit: using the generic, universal "you."
     
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2017
  8. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    This ties in with the discussion in another thread that got reactivated at the moment, about infodumps. Don't add in information until the reader wants to know it. :)
     
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  9. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    The thing with stories being about more than one thing, could it be there's a difference between the throughline, the promise and the theme?

    When I began the outline for my current WIP I wrote a sentence for each story to sum up what it is about. I picture this as being the throughline. I also added an entry for the promise, which is similar to the throughline, but not exactly the same. Then for the theme I just added a few keywords.

    Throughline:
    Fading werewolf wrestling champion Roy is requested to lose his next match, but will his pride get in the way and cost him a comfortable retirement?

    Promise:
    This is a story about a man trying to stick to his ideals despite facing both corruption and temptation. There will be conflict and a moral dilemma and a last minute decision to do what’s right no matter the consequences.

    Theme:
    Morals, ethics, responsibility.

    Now, is that actually the throughline there, or did I misunderstand the concept?
     
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  10. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I kinda see the throughline as being something of a combination of the first two of these.

    Fading, prideful werewolf champion must find his path in a world where he may no longer belong.

    Here, the hook early in the story would require showing that

    1) he is both fading and prideful, and
    2) the world (his world) is changing in a way that forces him to find a new way of being in that world.

    The throughline is the movement toward a new way of being, from the starting point of fading/prideful/champion and the catalyst of the changing world.

    Things like the request to lose his next match and a last minute decision to do what’s right are a bit incidental in that movement; they are just devices used to show this movement, a description of specifics. These are fine for use in a premise statement or perhaps log line, but they aren't the crux of the throughline—and a reader who begins reading won't necessarily have such specifics.

    If you hook the reader by showing the key state he's in, suggesting the conflict*, then the reader will keep reading to find out what happens and how it happens, the decisions he makes and the consequences. The events, scenes and chapters would bear upon these key elements, be a kind of intricate dance between these elements.

    I'm not sure how theme ties into this. I suppose theme might describe, a bit, the paths of the ribbons and dancers around the pole, heh. Theme runs alongside the throughline, describes something of the dance.

    But I'm just working through these ideas still, grasping a little, heh.

    *Edit: And these two things, his current state and the conflict, will probably include those specifics.

    My thinking though is that those specifics aren't the focus, even if the story is "about" the corruption in that wrestling world—lowercase. The possible danger is writing a story About the corruption of the Werewolf Wrestling Federation, heh, rather than About Roy's personal journey. There's nothing wrong with that if that's what you want, however.

    There's some splitting of hairs here, but I think these are important hairs.


     
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2017
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  11. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Good callouts. I get the idea little better now, and I probably got the idea that the throughline and the log line where closer together. They're close, but not the same.

    I feel like I'm getting the basic idea, but I'm not sure I've got the language to properly discuss it with clarity yet - if you know what I mean.
     
  12. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Haven't listened yet, I should probably do that before commenting lol, but to me the throughline is directly related to the over arching "goal" of the MC, or the large story question presented in the hook.

    The beginning of the story sets up that goal and its stakes by presenting it as a hook,

    Goal: destroy the ring of power.
    Hook (question): can this little hobbit destroy the one ring of power?

    The middle messes it up, and at the end he either achieves it or doesn't.

    To go with LOTR, sure, the story was about "friendship", but it was also about "change, growth, overcoming evil, working together, etc".

    The throughline, however, is the goal, which is simply "destroy the ring". The start of the story sets up that goal (the why and the stakes) and at the end Frodo achieves it.

    Here is the issue. If you start the story too early the reader will grab onto anything the MC is doing and they will think that is the MC's goal. So if we saw Frodo fishing for twenty minutes and he wanted to catch the biggest fish to beat a hobbit called Walt in a fishing contest the we would assume the story was about a fishing contest or a rivalry between Hobbits. When Gandolf showed up later and asked Frodo to destroy the ring and Frodo went off and Walt was never mentioned again, then we would wonder wtf was the point of all the early stuff.

    Hence, start as close to the throughline as possible.

    As far as finishing, if destroying the ring is the goal (throughline) then it better take until almost the last chapter, because as soon as that goal is achieved the story is essentially over for the reader. Once Frodo destroys the ring I'm not sticking around for ten more chapters of some other dumb conflict that has nothing to do with the story I was invested in.

    This is the same for any type of story.

    For a heist story the throughline is the heist. The story better start very close to the "why they need this job" and and end at the end of the heist.

    For a romance it better start at the "why theses two need each other" and end at them getting together.

    For a journey it starts at "why the hero needs to embark on this journey" and end at him getting there.

    For a mystery it must start with "why did this janitor get drowned in a bathtub full of barbecue sauce" and end with the answer to that question.

    The throughline is directly related to the "goal" or the over arching question of the story.
     
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2017
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  13. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    All stories have one very simple, very linear throughline if you look for it, and it is almost always related to the main hook (over arching question).

    Will the people be able to stop the gigantic dinosaur from eating everyone in the park? - Jurassic world

    Will the old man catch a fish and save the people? - the old man and the sea

    Will the team be able to kill the alien before it kills them? - alien

    Will the woman be able to save the Englishman without any supplies? - the English patient

    Each story starts as close to the hook question (throughline) as possible.

    Jurassic park with the eating of the worker by the trex. The old man by worrying about the starving boy, alien by the first of the crew being 'impregnated', you get the idea.
     
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2017
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  14. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I'm also working my way to understanding the language. To some extent, shifting terms around could become confusing because they intersect so well and relate to one another. I'd probably say to anyone who is asking: As long as you have a clear idea of what your story is about and how to write it, don't worry whether you use premise statement, log line, or throughline to describe that understanding, heh!

    In general, I'm trying to see the throughline through the lens of how the reader experiences the book. A premise statement could help a writer write it, and a premise statement or log line could help the writer sell it, but generally a reader isn't going to have either to pull her through the book.

    Hopefully, having a clear idea of the throughline will also help the writer write it—in a way the reader will enjoy—by keeping the story tight, focused, and constantly dangling answers and questions for the reader that relate to the central question and potential outcomes.

    I have been rethinking my earlier comments re: specifics. I'd written the "example" throughline with some specifics about Roy but the rest was a generality—

    Fading, prideful werewolf champion must find his path in a world where he may no longer belong.

    —but in truth a reader might be pulled through the story better if "a world where" were more specific, maybe something like this:

    Fading, prideful werewolf champion must find his path in a world where he may no longer belong; will he be able to overcome his ties to the Werewolf Wrestling Federation and start a new life with The Girl, a life that doesn't include the WWF—or will he succumb?

    I don't remember the specifics of the story series you are writing, so I'm not sure how well this fits. But the point is that the WWF may play a central role throughout the journey, and readers could be really keyed into that. This is what separates one story from another about a man confronting a new world and being forced to change his circumstances.

    The idea of fractal plotting ties into this. The overarching throughline for the story series might simply be the more generic one above...or the more specific one, and then each story within the series could be a related but smaller—scaled version:


    [Examples are ad hoc here, heh.]

    Story One

    A fading, prideful werewolf wrestler is offered a choice between easy retirement if he throws a match and an uncertain future if he doesn't; what will he do?

    Story Two

    On the run from the WWF, a former werewolf champion wrestler must decide whether he'll follow a clue that may lead him to a lost love or risk losing that lead by ambushing and killing a former master in revenge for a past wrong.

    Story Three

    A former werewolf wrestling champion enters the city of Avrigard and encounters a novice werewolf wrestler whose family is being held hostage by that city's WWF league, to force him to fight; does that champion continue on his journey to find his lost love or does he help this novice wrestler?


    And so forth. It's kind of fractal.

    If the throughline is the more general one above, maybe the WWF doesn't figure into each story, not even tangentially, but a series of other adventures relating to the central throughline of encountering a new world and trying to find a place in it could be created.

    Readers could like either series. But it's important to be clear about the throughline for a connected series of stories. If you "promise" that the WWF is going to play a central role throughout—it's a major part of the conflict—and then you insert stories that don't relate, a reader could grow bored. Maybe, maybe not. But if you promise the WWF is going to be important throughout, and then entirely drop the WWF in Story Four and all remaining stories, this could be a more significant problem because readers might want to see that conflict play to its conclusion.

    And I think this sort of thing could be done for individual chapters in a novel as well as for individual stories in a story series.
     
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2017
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  15. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    It's funny how your ad hoc examples aren't all that far from the actual stories. Sure, there are differences in the details, but there are similarities in the bigger picture.

    Story one is pretty much the same as what you describe.

    Story two is similar. Roy (the wrestler) is tracked by the WWF flunkies and has to make a difficult and important decision (which may or may not haunt him through the rest of the series).

    Story three is actually story five, but only because stories three and four introduce the novice wrestler. Also, the novice wrestler is traveling journalist and not a wrestler at all. Roy's still going to have to decide whether to help them or leave them to their fate though.

    It's like the building blocks for the stories are the same, but they're painted differently, if that makes sense.

    Also, the overarching theme of the story is about finding your place in the world - a home, or a place/situation where you belong.

    Roy starts out feeling more and more like he doesn't belong, and when he learns that Toini is alive he realises that he belongs with her.
    Alene (the traveling journalist) keeps telling herself she belongs on the road and that she enjoys being free to travel, but at the same time she also wants some kind of stability in her life. For the most part it's her suitcase (which was mentioned in another thread).
    Toini has returned to her childhood's hometown and she finds she no longer belongs there, but longs to get back to her real work which has her travel the world in her air ship.

    This theme is something the series comes back to over and over again, while the WWF thing kind of fades out after a while. I've heard the warning though. I don't want my readers to expect the conflict with the WWF to go on throughout the entire story, but rather to take an interest in Roy's journey.
     
  16. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Hey Svrt,

    Understanding what sort of story you are writing is key here. I love Blake Snyder's story types, and based on what I know of yours I'm fairly certain you are writing an "institutionalized" plot. Basically MC against "the man", and the man in this case is the wwf. He can't live with it, but he can't live without it and therein lies the rub.

    Have a read of this article

    Institutionalized - flying wrestler

    And here are some hints on writing loglines (or getting to the throughline) of each type

    Your Logline Template for Each Save the Cat!® Genre | Save the Cat!®
     
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  17. Aryth

    Aryth Minstrel

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    I had never heard of a "throughline" before. From this discussion it sounds like it is distinct from theme, though I'm not exactly sure how yet. Is it something that encompasses the entire story,or a single character like a character arc? Maybe I'll check out the podcast, thanks for recommending.
     
  18. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    I think the only issue with the throughline statement in this exercise is the lack of a clear (specific) goal. The statement here is still pretty abstract and doesn't point to the linear goal/stakes of the story.

    I don't know what the goal is, but if I were making it up it might be something like:

    Fading wrestling champion Roy needs to win one last fight in order to settle his debts and retire in comfort. But when he is asked by his manager to intentionally lose, Roy finds himself choosing between integrity and loyalty.

    I put the specific goal in italics to show what is missing from your throughline. The direct, concrete, start to finish goal.

    The book will start with Roy getting ready for retirement, and end with him retired... but retired how? With millions of dollars and no integrity left? Or poor, but soul in tact? That doesn't matter. What matters is the direct, concrete goal, which gives the story a linear throughline.
     
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  19. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Right, I think I'm getting it now. I was thinking of the goal as the making of the difficult decision, but it's not. It's just the climax of the story. Roy's goal isn't to make the decision, but the decision stands in the way of his goal, and once he makes it he's either achieved the goal or not.

    The goal then would be something like Roy needs to lose his big match in order to secure a comfortable retirement for himself and his manager?
     
  20. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Great resources. I missed this post at first. May have to get around to reading up on that cat thing already.
     
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