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December 31, 2015

5 Story Structure Tips For Novelists: Dramatic Throughline

Your story structure is the foundation of your story. It will determine what the end result will look like. Because of this it is frequently overlooked. In a previous article I talked about conflict and how it related to story structure.

Today I’d like to talk about another simple, though fundamental, concept; the dramatic throughline.

Story Structure: Does The Hero Win, Lose Or Draw?

This is a pretty important question to know the answer to because it will effect everything else in the story. The story of someone who wins their fight against cancer is significantly different than the story of someone who loses their fight against cancer, wouldn’t you agree?ego-1010035_1920

Then again, the story of someone surviving with cancer on a day to day basis is a completely different story still.

OK, now you see what I’m getting at?

Let’s take a look at how each of these possible end results effect your story structure.

There are 5 of these little buggers that you have to choose from.

  1. The Hero Wins

This could happen in one of four ways:

flag-football-551567_1920             1 a. By Means Of courage: The hero digs deep within himself to slay a dragon. This is great for drama.

1 b. By Means Of Ingenuity: The hero relies on his mind or some sort of creative solution. This is great for mysteries.

1 c. By Means Of A Special Capacity: The hero has or obtains a magical weapon. This is great for fairy tales or other fantastic stories.

1 d. By Means Of A Special Weapon: Can anyone say James Bond? This is great for action stories.




  1. The Hero Loses

This can happen two different ways.

2 a. Due To Circumstances: It’s just not in the cards. Though the hero tries his hardest the clock runs out before the game is over

2 b. Due To Weakness Or Obsession: The hero is his own worst enemy. He just can’t get his act together and self destructs.

  1. The Hero Quits

This might be a situation where the hero just gives up and wimps out. This is possible but also makes for some pretty lackluster fiction, also known as YOUR READERS WILL STOP READING. Watch out for this. This is a trait of every writer you have never heard of and very few of the writers you have.

A better and more dramatic way to do this is to have your hero realize that his goal is no longer noble. The woman of his dreams turns out to be rotten to the core. The promotion he wanted looked much better than it really was.

Everything he thought was a lie or an illusion.failure-1043190_1920


These three throughlines are more traditional and everyone is familiar with them because we will all experience them in our lives at one time or another. But the last two are a bit nontraditional.

  1. The Hero’s Goal Is Undefined

This can be a more difficult structure to work within because there is nothing definite. Chekhov’s story An Upheaval follows a domestic disturbance in a well to do Russian family. The writer must be more skilled and engaging in this type of story than in a typical action/thriller novel.

  1. The Reader Creates A Goal For The Hero

This type of throughline has been seen in children’s books where the reader is asked to choose between two paths the hero may take. It is also seen in video games. It’s not a popular throughline but would be great for metafiction.

Dr. Victoria Lynn Schmidt investigates these ideas in her excellent book Story Structure Architect and if you’re interested in finding out more about that topic click here.

Otherwise, for more information on how to write a novel, publish it and market it online, click here.

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  1. Pingback: 5 Story Structure Tips For Novelists: Dramatic Throughline | Toni Kennedy : A Writing Life

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