Over the weekend I drafted out the top-level chapter names for the fifth-first book, again. I read them off to Katie and explained a little bit about each. She lit up like a Christmas tree and exclaimed:

“Yeah. I really like how the through lines work.”

I nodded, agreed, thanked her, and replied with an eloquent, thought-provoking follow-up:

“What’s a through line?”

She went on point out that a through line is also called a “spine,” and at that point I got it. It’s funny. I forget most people have to see how it’s going to work out. I usually have to hear how it’s going to work, then see it.

To most, a through line shows a character’s journey with respect to how they are tied into the story.

It’s often described with the literary equivalent of a mission statement. Script Magazine used the classic line on how most all Hollywood boils down:

“boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl,”

To me, through lines are like a bass line to a modern pop / rock / roots song.

I see through lines as foundational structures to a song. I have to be able to feel like they’re blowing my hair back before I feel like they’re ready for use. For example, I picked and prodded at outlining this Fifth First book because I couldn’t quite hear it yet. I couldn’t quite tap my toe or bob my head to the story. I worked backwards, end-to-beginning. I outlined what I came up with, re-worked back to front until enough changed, and whittled & whittled until it I felt like I could play guitar to it.

Eventually, I’ll finish drafting out the extrinsic, intrinsic, immediate, short term, long term etc…until I have a proper spider web of relationship connections.

Or until I could dance as each character. Whichever comes first.

We started as an oral tradition. I figure I’m just keeping with the old traditions.

You don’t even think of taking an apple pie out of the oven until its incredible smell emanates from the kitchen. I don’t think a through line / bass line is near completion until the story is starting to flow and I want get up and dance.

To use a line from a song that will start Katie’s day off on the right foot when she reads this:

“Sing a song, play guitar, make it snappy.”



Below are some articles I used to jog my memory on what a through line is.

Anyone else have a unique perspective on a through line?

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