Friday, October 26, 2012

NaNoWriMo Prep: Using a Throughline

NaNoWriMo starts in six days. Of course none of you would cheat and start writing, but you can and should think about the plot you'd like to write.

I don’t love plot. Yes, I can get to the end of a book and easily pick apart flaws in another author’s rising action and denouement, but keeping my work moving forward with a clear goal is much harder.

Author Nancy Lamb wrote THE WRITER'S GUIDE TO CRAFTING STORIES FOR YOUNG CHILDREN. In an excerpt from this book published in Writer's Digest, she talks about the concept of Throughline. It’s another way of asking what the character wants, but I like this label, especially when she describes it as “a forward-moving trajectory.” Whatever happens in the book, the momentum must always move the reader in a line (not necessarily a straight line) toward the conclusion. She gave five questions to ask as you get ready for NaNo or as you revise:
 What is the primary throughline?
What are the secondary throughlines?
How do the threads intersect?
How does each contribute to the story’s forward momentum?
How does each pull the reader through the story?

Another way to describe a throughline might be to call it the character's driving motivation. Lamb says somewhere near the end of the book’s middle, the character faces not getting what s/he desires most. Either because s/he can’t have it, or chooses not to have it. This roadblock makes the character discover a secondary throughline, the motivation the character wants more, or was originally unaware of desiring.

The introduction of the secondary throughline should not intersect, but not replace, the original motivation. As an example, in WRINGER by Jerry Spinelli, the main character, wants to avoid having to participate in the annual pigeon shoot. As the book progresses, he gains his own pet pigeon, which changes and deepens the throughline.

I've heard Wringer described as a perfectly plotted book. I've used the throughlines to BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA, as described by Lamb in her article, to help me analyze my WIPs.

As November ends and you begin revising, consider using a strongly-plotted book as a yardstick. A solid throughline is what keeps even the pickiest reader turning pages.

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