ANYWHO, I’m talking about the concept that there are multiple possibilities in any situation — in the case I’m making, in a writing project.
I don’t know about you, but it’s really, really hard for me to write. A blank screen or a blank piece of paper is hard to attack. Because why? Because every decision you make as a writer collapses all the possibilities of the situation into the one you choose.
Henry Hero is tall. That means he isn’t any other height. It means he isn’t named Josephus Filliatreaux or Sabra K’tenik. He’s in love with Darla Sweetwater. That means he isn’t gay. Or maybe he is, but he’s still in love with a woman. That opens a world of possibilities. BUT YOU HAVE TO CHOOSE ONE.
This is why I plot/outline, even though my natural inclination is to write by the seat of my pants. Because all the shiny possibilities dazzle me and distract me and keep me from taking the story arc anywhere. So many interesting byways and tangents…. So many minor characters who seem so interesting to me….
Outlining forces me to PICK SOMETHING and FOLLOW IT THROUGH.
There’s a term in acting that’s been adopted by writers, a term I like very much: the throughline. Even in short stories, which I usually don’t outline, I need to come up with a throughline. In short stories, they’re often like the episode abstracts TV Guide used to have, back when there were only three stations: “Kirk and Spock must find the traitor aboard the space station before the adorable Tribbles eat all the quadrotriticale.” (Waving at Pete.)
Meanwhile, all the other possible throughlines and their concomitant characters and subplots collapse into nonexistence. And I weep.
Or, you know, don’t.
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: What is the throughline of the last book or story you read?