19 Sep Writer’s Block: What’s a through line and do I need one?
The central idea in a story has different names: through line, spine, narrative thread among others. Essentially, a story is about a series of events that happen. Usually, you have one protagonist or hero and the story is the journey we go on with him or her. The more complicated the story, the more you need a through line. This is what all the events hang off and I often liken it to the metal rod that you have in your closet with all your hangers on. If you have that single focus, you can afford to take a detour or go down a cul-de-sac in your narrative and the through line brings you back on track.
Sometimes it’s easier to turn the through line into a question — and your job as the writer is to answer the question by the end of the story. This is known as a ‘major dramatic question’ or MDQ. For example, if your story is a romantic comedy, the question is: will the boy get the girl? Or if it’s a travel memoir, why did my journey to Peru save my marriage and my sanity?