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Month: February 2018

Throughlines: Threads of the Story Tapestry

Article length: 1,860 words (preview 553/wds)

Ok, so you’ve got a futuristic, dystopic, anime-inspired, story idea for a script, with male and female MC leads… They start off cold towards each other and eventually fall in love with one another. You’ve got that much and the overall concept in your head, so you figure you can get to writing.

Lots of folks take this approach.

If you’re a bit more organized, you may even throw together a spiffy comprehensive outline and nail down a few specific scenes that capture the relationship.

But what if you’re not exactly sure how it needs to play out… what if you’re having trouble developing this love arc when you sit down to write the outline?

This is where handy dandy throughlines can really help organize and pull together a story.

If you’ve read Storycraft For Comics, you’re familiar with the term Throughline;

“Throughline is originally a theater term developed to give actors a broader understanding of their motivation at any given moment in a performance… not just looking at the present moment, but looking at the decisions and materials that lead to the moment, and the repercussions afterwards.”

In essence a throughline is a mini-outline.

A closer look at a specific element, tracking its changes over the course of the entire story.

At its most fundamental level it consists of a beginning and end, but since it always benefits from something happening in-between to showcase (or lead the reader through) the transformation, we through in a middle as well, reminiscent of classic three-act structure.

(As it turns out, I used this story setup above as the sample story in Storycraft, so I’ll run with the concept here.)

To capture the core of our love interest I might jot down;

* Kai and Molly hate each other.

* Kai and Molly warm up to each other.

* Kai and Molly openly confess their love for one another.

Notice that all three of these throughline beats are non-specific. Kai and Molly hating each other could be expressed in a million different ways. When a throughline beat is general direction I bold them in my bulleted list, as they often become a heading, with more specific, expressive beats supporting them immediately below it (more on that in a second).

Sometimes inspiration will come at you generalized like this, other times, it will come more specific:

* Molly tries to arrest Kai, the two have a knock down, drag out fight.

* Kai and Molly share noodles with one pair of chopsticks realizing they have more in common than they originally thought.

* Kai gives up his chance for freedom and riches and faces certain death to save Molly from the killer robot.

Generalized beats help define the bigger picture and give overall direction.

Specific beats express that bigger picture and give distinct points to build toward (or away from).

Though ultimately in the script everything will be expressed specifically, both types of beats are good for throughlines. Having a three part generalized throughline, is better than having no throughline at all…

Of course, the most effective throughlines will have more than a basic beginning, middle and end… In theory a throughline can have as many beats as it needs, as long as they all serve the narrative. Let’s take another look at our love arc here:

// The full breakdown of the Robot Kids example follows, showing you first-hand how to implement throughlines in your work. I also discuss using throughlines to pace your narrative. Hit the full access page to join up and read the rest of the article!  //
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