Nikki Silva feels like she’s blown up her life even as her brothers tease her about blowing up a boat called the Mona Lisa. Divorced, funding for her shark research cut off, she’s moved back to Provincetown to live with her father in her childhood home. Nikki hopes to regain herself. She’s written a grant proposal for the newly formed Massachusetts Bay Commission to fund a study that will get her back to the sort of research she loves. The commission is run by her ex-husband Ned, who would rather have a migraine than give money to his ex-wife.
Marco Tornetti wants to turn a hole-in-the-wall Newark spaghetti joint into a trendy bistro. His silent partner, Fat Phil Lagosa, wants to use the place to solicit questionable business deals. When Fat Phil accuses Marco of a double cross and has him taken for a ride by one of his hit men, Marco knows he’s in too deep.
Marco escapes the hit man and takes the first bus out of the Tri-state area, a bus chartered by the Greater Teaneck Gay Men’s Choir and headed for Provincetown. Marco figures that Phil would never look for him in Provincetown‘s gay community. But when he meets Nikki and falls hard for her, he finds that pretending to be gay isn’t as easy as it would seem.
When I first heard the term “through line” I had no idea what it was. A special pass to go to the front of the line at a Disney ride? A train that doesn’t stop at all the little stations along the way? Through line, it turns out, is a screen writing term. Basically, a through line is the premise on which the entire screen play is hung. It may seem, at first blush at least, that the concept of through line wouldn’t be important to a novelist. But I’ve found it to be extremely helpful when drafting and re-drafting my stories.
There are two kinds of fiction writers: pantsers and plotters. Pantsers take an idea, a few characters and a setting and run with them to see where they will go. Plotters take an idea, a few characters, and a setting and draw a careful map of where they will go. There is nothing wrong with either method. At the beginning, writers will often try one and then the other to see which works best for them. After a time a bit of experimenting, you figure out which best suits you and then, generally, you stick to it
I’ve pitched my tent in the pantser camp. In fact, I’ve put up a picnic table, strung a few lanterns and planted some snap dragons around a kitschy but cute pink flamingo. In other words, I’m a tried and true pantser. I’ve tried plotting on for size but, like a pair of tight knickers, plotting makes me uncomfortable. My brain doesn’t work that way. And besides, I like discovering new things as I chug along the path of my first draft. I like when the story surprises me and wants to move in ways that I hadn’t expected.
Pantsing, though, does have challenges. One of the biggest is keeping the story in check. Since there is no story map, there is a tendency to roam hither and yon without any rhyme or reason. And this brings me back to through lines. If I can define my premise, or my purpose, in telling the story, then I have a through line. The through line becomes the central spine of the story. Every scene I write has to pertain, somehow, to the through line.
Let’s take The P-Town Queen as an example. P-Town Queen is a romantic comedy. Which means that at its center, it’s a boy meets girl story. So every scene in some way pertains to the relationship between the boy (Marco) and the girl (Nikki). In saying every scene is pertinent, I don’t mean to suggest that every scene is a love scene. That would get old pretty fast and wouldn’t make for a good story. What I mean is that every scene is somehow tied to Marco and Nikki and the relationship between them.
In the beginning, Marco and Nikki don’t know one another. And yet, every scene must work to set the stage for their meeting. By the last part of the book, Marco and Nikki have gotten together and now every scene must relate to the challenges of staying together. All of it hangs on the Nikki/Marco through line.
Of course, in novels there is a lot more wiggle room than there is in a screen play. The novelist is free to engage is backstory here and there, or to meander off the beaten path a bit to smell the wild roses growing in the meadow. Yet, even as you meander, the concept of through line remains important. The question here is still how relevant is this meandering to the story overall? In P-Town, Nikki talks about her relationship with her ex-husband, Ned, and her romance with her high school sweetheart, Eli. I kept both scenes in the story because they tell us a lot about Nikki and her relationships with men, which is relevant to how she handles her relationship with Marco. I mention in the book that Nikki was Valedictorian of her High School graduating class. I could have given this an entire scene. I didn’t, because it has little or nothing to do with the Nikki/Marco romance. I can’t hang it off the through line and so I can’t justify its place in the book.
Thinking about through line helps me make decisions about which scenes to include and which to leave out. It’s a valuable tool; keeping me on track as I pants my way through the story. Do you use through lines? If you’re a pantser, why not give them a try? They may be a valuable tool for you, too.
Ute Carbone Bio
I’m a novelist and sometimes poet who lives in Southern New Hampshire. I’ve been married to the same great guy for a lot of years. We have two grown sons. I love hiking, skiing, and generally communing with nature. I’m a big fan of wine, chocolate, theater, and really good stories.
I write women’s literary fiction, romantic comedy, and just a bit of romance. My women’s literary novel, Blueberry Truth, was published in August of 2011. I have two romantic comedies due for release: The P-town Queen, in June 2012 and Afterglow, in January 2013. My novella, The Whisper of Time is to be released in summer 2012. And my short story trilogy, I’ll be Seeing You, will be released in summer 2013.
You can find me at: http://UteCarbone.com ; or at my blog: http://ute-carbone.blogspot.com/ on twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/Wildwords2 and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ute-Carbone/234417796596443
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