Thursday, June 28, 2012


Very few writers know that fiction, especially novels, need throughlines. Indeed I discovered that the majority of us don't even know what throughlines are....

Lois Peterson
Throughlines, according to Lois Peterson whose workshop "Reverse Outlining" I attended last week, are threads that weave through our stories to provide the forward momentum that keeps a reader reading.

A novel needs three to five; fewer for a short story. Throughlines relate to characters' goals and traits, and to themes. As authors we must know what they are:
  1. The main goal of the protagonist. It affects every aspect of the story and is supported by smaller goals as the story progresses.
  2. The main goal of the antagonist. This prevents your protagonist from achieving his/her goal and creates the ongoing conflict.
  3. The protagonist's character trait (strength or weakness) that creates the inciting incident and later affects the resolution. The trait may also be employed as a motif and/or in metaphors. For example, in my mid-grade novel this throughline is the MC's fear of water. 
  4. The theme that drives most of the story (not the theme of the book). For example: my mid-grade novel's unstated theme is learning to overcome fear, but the throughline theme is the threat of extreme danger to one of the characters that the protagonist must prevent.
  5. Another overarching theme that may be related to setting, time, or philosophy, etc. In my novel this thematic throughline is one of the last great sailing ships and all things maritime.
Lois encourages fiction writers to add these throughlines as elements to the reverse outlining chart (link below) so we can track and evaluate them through the story. She suggests that writers also use them as an outlining tool before actually writing the novel.

Related post:
Brilliant Technique for Fiction Revision at

Image: © Photos by Pharos 2012