|photo courtesy google images|
...hawser (n.): a large, stout rope or thin steel cable, used for mooring or towing ships...
The term "hawser" was a new one to me, not being familiar with boating or, on a bigger scale, towing ships. But now it's a word I've added to my vocabulary. Can't you just see how the braided strands of rope work together to make a stronger product, strong enough to pull a ship, keep it headed in the right direction, and help get it safely to its final destination?
Mr. Hall has certainly come across an apt metaphor for a story's throughline, a subject I've taken more of an interest in following the latest critique of my manuscript, one in which the throughline was mentioned as needing strengthening (thanks again, Cathy :-)
And so I went back to the basics again--to review, chew on, digest how to make improved revisions to my story's throughline and, ultimately, the story itself. I found the following sources helpful:
From Nancy Lamb in her book, The Art and Craft of Storytelling (p. 72): "The best way to travel the length of your story is to grab hold of the throughline--the driving force of the book that you set up in the opening pages--and refuse to let go."
Again from Ms. Lamb (p. 76): "From beginning to end, the throughline is the constant in your story. You can have any number of other things happening in the book. But the matter of what drives the hero and compels him to act is never in question because the throughline is there to maintain the reader's attention and to pull him through the story."
She also elaborates on these thoughts in the online Writer's Digest article What Is The Throughline of a Novel (And Why It's Important You Have One). Here she says, "Some writers think of the throughline as the embodiment of the main character's conscious desire. The character knows what he wants and knows that he wants it. This personal hunger, shared by the viewer, drives the story and shapes the narrative."
Author Nancy Kress, interviewed at Writer UnBoxed, was asked "What is a 'throughline' and how can you use it to make writing the middle of a manuscript easier?" Her answer: "Draw an upside down 'U.' Left-hand leg (call it A) is the state of the character and the situation at the start of the story. The right-hand leg (B) is the story's end, where character and situation have changed (if they haven't, you usually don't have much of a story.) This is the throughline. Your task is to create and relate all the incidents that occur to plausibly turn A into B." Other writers have described the throughline as an invisible thread that binds your story together.
So a throughline? A hawser or rope that pulls the reader through the story. A line of compulsion. The story's driving force. A character's personal hunger. An upside down U that shows the character's growth, change. An invisible thread that binds it all together.
How to strengthen that hawser, that's the question! Ms. Lamb gives insight on the subject in a section of her book subtitled, "Take a Ride on the Throughline," where she lists a series of questions to consider including:
- What is the primary throughline of my story?
- What are the secondary throughlines of my story?
- What does my hero want, why can't she have it, what is the driving force that makes her do, endure, overcome?
- How does each throughline pull the reader through the story?
And so another revision calls. You can bet I'm going to cast that hawser out there in hopes of pulling a stronger story through the waters to its final port and make it a more engaging ride for the reader at the same time. Let's hope!
How would you describe "throughline"? Any tips on how to capitalize on it so your WIP sails forward with purpose, and not drift into troubled waters?